New sheriff in Nottingham town: Crowe

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Universal Pictures has scored a bull's-eye, winning a heated bidding war for a revisionist take on the legend of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe attached to play the Sheriff of Nottingham. The project hails from Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, creators of Showtime's "Sleeper Cell." Imagine Entertainment is producing.

Reiff and Voris are experiencing what might be the fastest comeback in Hollywood. On Jan. 25, their Golden Globe- and Emmy-nominated miniseries was canceled when Showtime decided not to pursue a third season. But Friday, they learned that Crowe had read their spec script -- between TV work, they had worked on it off and on for the past three years -- and quickly attached himself to it. The actor sparked to the idea of playing the sheriff in a tale in which Nottingham is investigating a series of murders in which Robin Hood is the suspect.

"Part of the strength of the script was the simple idea of doing Robin Hood by making the sheriff the good guy," Reiff said. "That's something we didn't talk (about) with anybody all the time we worked on it."

After strategizing over the weekend, WMA sent out the package Monday with the instruction that no offers were to be entertained until Tuesday morning.

"You get nervous," Voris said. "People are reading it, and you hope they like it. When I heard we got an offer, I was like, 'Thank God somebody wants it.' "

The bidding war came down to Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema, though Regency Enterprises, DreamWorks Pictures and Columbia Pictures were said to be involved as well. About 36 hours after the script had gone out, Universal won. And the writers became part of one the biggest deals in some time.

Reiff and Voris' share of the deal is well into seven figures. Sources said the deal for Crowe is $20 million against a 20% backend.

Such high-wattage directors as Ridley Scott, Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi are circling the project, which the studio wants to put into production by year's end.

On Wednesday, Reiff and Voris were breathing sighs of relief because their gamble of turning one of the most infamous villains in literature into their protagonist had paid off.

"Anybody who continues to have a career beyond a couple of years in this town has to make at least one comeback. We've had a few," Reiff said. "But even in comeback standards, this was pretty fast."

For Universal, the deal is the latest in a string of aggressive moves it has made in recent months. Last week, the studio paid $2 million against $3 million for the movie rights to a New York Times article about a group of soccer-playing refugees. In late October, it was involved in a $42.5 million deal to secure Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up movie to "Borat."

"Nottingham" will be the fourth joint outing for Crowe, Imagine and Universal. WMA-repped Crowe starred in Imagine and Universal's "A Beautiful Mind" and "Cinderella Man" as well as starring in "American Gangster," which is due this year.

Reiff and Voris, repped by WMA and Field Entertainment, also were behind the TV series "Brimstone."
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