Universal flies with Crowe

<b>Variety Exclusive:</b> Duo reunite for Robin Hood

Universal has nabbed spec script “Nottingham,” in a deal that will reunite Russell Crowe with Imagine Entertainment.

Crowe will receive $20 million against 20% to star as the Sheriff of Nottingham in this revisionist version of the Robin Hood story from the creators of “Sleeper Cell.”

Scribes Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris will receive seven figures for the script.

Imagine’s Brian Grazer will produce the pic, expected to start lensing at the end of the year or early 2008.

William Morris, which reps Crowe and the writers, put together the package.Deal reps the second big bidding battle U has won in past few days. Last week, the studio landed the rights to a pic about the Fugees, a refugee soccer club (Daily Variety, Jan. 25).

“Nottingham” is based on the premise that Robin Hood was less virtuous and the sheriff more noble than previously depicted. Story also involves a love triangle between Robin Hood, Maid Marion and Nottingham’s sheriff.

“He’s trying to do the right thing, but he’s up against Robin Hood, who’s becoming heroic while not necessarily acting in the nicest way,” explained Reiff, a history buff.

He and Voris were halfway through the script when they started working on the first season of “Sleeper Cell”; ironically, they closed the deal days after learning Showtime would not be picking up their Emmy-nommed skein for a third season.

“It was a bitter pill, but this is a pretty good antidote,” Voris told Daily Variety.

Bidding was very competitive, with New Line and Warner Bros. vying for the project and Sony, New Regency and DreamWorks also expressing interest. Helmers Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi and Jon Turteltaub were attached at other studios.

Crowe has worked with Imagine several times, most recently on “American Gangster,” skedded for a Nov. 6 bow. He previously toplined “Cinderella Man” and “A Beautiful Mind” for Imagine. Crowe also stars in “3:10 to Yuma,” an upcoming Lionsgate pic helmed by James Mangold.

Reiff and Voris hadn’t written a spec script since 1995.

“We figured that this story was going to be hard to sell as a pitch,” Voris said. “We also knew that this would be very castable, since most of the leading men now are either English or Australian.”

Beyond WMA, writers are repped by Field Entertainment and attorney David Feldman.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)