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Mercurio dances into ‘Beyond’

“Strictly Ballroom” star Paul Mercurio, fresh from toplining Garry Marshall’s “Exit to Eden” for Savoy Pictures, has signed for “Back of Beyond,” a romantic drama set in the Australian outback.

Beyond Films general manager Gary Hamilton, who’ll serve asexec producer, will start pre-sales at this month’s American Film Market for the pic, which rolls in June.

It marks Australian writer-director Michael Robertson’s return to films after eight years (his last feature was “Going Sane”). Robertson, who has been shooting commercials in Australia and Asia, co-wrote “Back of Beyond” with tyro American writer Rick Sawyer.

“I spent six months in L.A. last year trying to figure out how to make low-budget pictures originated from Australia,” said Robertson.

He thinks the answers lie in salable scripts, using a U.S. lead or someone of Mercurio’s stature, and keeping budgets under $ A5 million ($ 3.5 million).

Robertson showed the script toBeyond’s Hamilton, who brought in the experienced John Sexton (“Burke & Wills,””Phar Lap”) as producer, and committed to the pic within four weeks.

Beyond handled sales of Baz Luhrmann’s “Strictly Ballroom,” which has grossed more than $ 50 million worldwide.

“Back of Beyond” deals with a group of troubled souls whom Robertson likens to a microcosm of Australian society, a mixture of young and old, black, white and Asian. Mercurio will play the Mechanic, a mystical figure who has a profound effect on the group.

Robertson said he did not write the script with Mercurio in mind but met the actor socially and decided he was right for the role of the Mechanic, whom he calls a fixer not of cars but of people.

Sexton says he hopes to raise production coin from the Australian Film Finance Corp.

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