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Jackman rustles up a role in outback epic

RUSSELL CROWE'S loss will be Hugh Jackman's gain.

The star of X-Men: The Last Stand and the stage show The Boy From Oz has signed up for the director Baz Luhrmann's outback epic due to shoot in northern Australia early next year.

He will play "a rough-hewn cattle drover" in a romance opposite Nicole Kidman, who will be an English aristocrat who takes over a cattle station the size of Belgium before World War II.

When English cattle barons plot to take the land, the couple drives 2000 cattle across country only to run into the Japanese bombing of Darwin in the as-yet-untitled film.

Jackman was being considered for another role - described as "a dark rival for the heroine's love and land" - until Crowe's departure. He has claimed the Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox "moved on" after demanding he waive script approval.

There has been speculation Heath Ledger was offered the role but was already committed to Phillip Noyce's Dirt Music, also shooting early next year.

Making his first film since Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann told the American entertainment trade papers that Ledger was still a chance for Jackman's former role in a film he has likened to Gone With The Wind in terms of its epic scale.

"I rarely make a film and my process is unorthodox but this fell into place nicely with Hugh," he told Variety. "He's a tremendously strong choice."

The role confirms Jackman's in-demand status in Hollywood. As well as starring in The Boy From Oz in August, he has The Fountain, Scoop and The Prestige heading for cinemas.

He has also voiced animated characters in Happy Feet and Flushed Away.

Jackman recently said he wanted to generate movies to be filmed in Australia.
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