Epic off to ‘Great’ start

De Laurentiis, Luhrmann seeking Oz assist

SYDNEY — Dino De Laurentiis and Baz Luhrmann met the press in Sydney on Friday to talk up their “Alexander the Great” opus, dropping broad hints that it will shoot in the New South Wales outback if the Oz government gives them a bit of help — namely, the services of 500 soldiers for at least eight weeks, as well as 1,000 horses.

The producer and director were not, however, willing to discuss the rival “Alexander” project from Intermedia/Warner Bros., which Oliver Stone aims to crank up in September.

“We don’t want to talk about our competition; they are two different movies,” said De Laurentiis, flanked by Luhrmann in a screening room at the Fox Studios, where Luhrmann shot “Moulin Rouge” (and which hopes to snag the interiors for “Alexander”).

The two flew to Canberra Friday afternoon to meet Prime Minister John Howard to plead their case for government assistance; Luhrmann noted that other, unspecified, countries had already offered soldiers and horses.

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The vet producer confirmed the budget is $150 million and said that sum was fully covered by Universal (which has U.S. rights) and DreamWorks (which took foreign but has agreed to let the producer sell off some key territories, subject to approval).

He disclosed Gaga has pre-bought Japanese rights to the pic, which will topline Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman. Tobis has acquired the rights for Germany, and De Laurentiis said he is closing deals for Italy, Spain and the U.K. He added that he met Aussie distrib Roadshow at Cannes and named his asking price, but Roadshow said it was too high.

Asked whether Mel Gibson is in the frame to play Alexander’s father, Luhrmann declined to comment and De Laurentiis playfully covered the helmer’s mouth, but the latter’s broad grin suggested this casting coup is in the cards.

They said filming of some digital scenes will start in November and principal photography is due to commence in March.

Both enthused about the New South Wales mining town of Broken Hill and nearby desert, which they visited earlier in the week. “Potentially, the town is a fantastic base for our movie,” said De Laurentiis. The director indicated an abandoned mine in the center of town would make a great open-air studio.

Luhrmann said he’s wanted to make a film about Alexander for 10 years, seeing the character as a fascinating example of a person who is driven to success, which in turn leads to failure.

The helmer described De Laurentiis as the great general he needs to help him realize his vision.