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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Nottingham': Will Russell Crowe ever romp in Sherwood Forest?

August 5, 2008 |  5:58 pm

There are so few high-profile studio movies being made in Hollywood today that it was something of a surprise to discover last week that "Nottingham," Ridley Scott's much-anticipated Robin Hood drama, had been postponed, even with Russell Crowe on board in the role of a more likable-than-usual Sheriff of Nottingham. Crowe_2 Universal Pictures, which is financing, cited labor uncertainty, an unfinished script and seasonal concerns about shooting during winter in forest locations that needed to have the rich green hue associated with leafy Sherwood Forest.

The original script, by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris ("Bulletproof Monk"), had been such a hot property that Crowe signed on immediately, prompting a big studio bidding war that was won by Universal and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment, which will produce the film. Even though Scott had tried to take the film (as a producer) to Fox during the initial bidding war, he had a good-enough relationship with Grazer (they made "American Gangster" together) to still sign on as the director. Scott immediately passed muster with Crowe, who had starred in the director's Oscar-winning "Gladiator" and the more recent (ahem, not quite as successful) "A Good Year."

So if the film has a huge star and a A-plus filmmaker raring to go, what's really slowing it down? I had lunch today with Universal Chairman Marc Shmuger, who offered some answers:

The original script had enormous appeal because it had what Hollywood craves--a great part for a big movie star. But it wasn't exactly the kind of character Scott imagined for his vision of Sherwood Forest. "The script had the sheriff of Nottingham as a 'CSI'-style forensics investigator, set in medieval times," Shmuger explains. "It was really well written, but Ridley's interest took him in a different direction."

Ridleyscott_2 Scott brought veteran screenwriter Brian Helgeland on to do rewrites, but wasn't entirely happy with the results. So now, Hollywood being Hollywood, the movie is getting a new rewrite, this time by British playwright Paul Webb. He has worked on several highly regarded unproduced scripts, most notably "Lincoln," which has Steven Spielberg attached to direct, and a civil rights drama called "Selma." Webb is supposed to turn in his new draft later this month, which--if everything goes right, which it usually doesn't--could allow filming to begin as early as late October. It is more likely the project won't gear up until early 2009, making it impossible to make its original November 2009 release date.

The delay could help on one front. Crowe, who has looked, shall we say, like he's been feasting on the king's venison in recent films, needs to lose some weight before he's ready to play such an athletic part. (After all, he's not playing Friar Tuck in this movie.) As encouragement, the production team plans to send Joe Abunassar, a top Las Vegas-based trainer who works with NBA stars, to Australia to get Crowe into fighting shape. Still, Universal is bullish on the movie, which it sees as an elevation of the many different TV and film renditions of Robin Hood over the years.

"This is an enduring myth that people love," says Shmuger. "It's a story that offers a new understanding of the origins of a real folk hero. You get a real understanding of--this is how Robin Hood became an outlaw and this is how those guys became the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. Ridley's vision of the movie is very visceral, very physical--you're really in the forest, pulling back a giant bow."

Sitting in his booth in the Universal commissary, Shmuger mimed pulling back a giant bow and almost tore a biceps muscle. "Those bowmen were extraordinary athletes," he said, after catching his breath. "I don't know the pressure per square inch, but it surely took a real athlete to handle the kind of bows they used back then. But that's the point--this movie is going to feel real. It makes a legend we all know feel historically relevant."

Of course, it's not a movie yet. It needs a new script, a budget and a start date. That's a tall order. Maybe Russell Crowe can relax for a few more weeks before rushing into that killer workout regime.

Photo of Russell Crowe by Luca Bruno / Associated Press; Ridley Scott by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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