'Insider' Star Blackmailed

11/12/1998 at 12:00 AM EST

Australian actor Russell Crowe -- a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination for his role in "The Insider" -- was the target of a blackmail scheme in his homeland, a legal proceeding revealed yesterday. Brian James Mercer and Phillip Anthony Cooper, who allegedly had a videotape of Crowe enmeshed in a nightclub brawl (the actor allegedly bit a man's face, punched a woman and ripped off another's top) appeared in a Sydney courtroom on Wednesday, charged with conspiring to extort more than $125,000 from the actor in exchange for the video. The blackmail plot stemmed from a Nov. 18 incident, according to court evidence. Crowe refused to ante up in the scheme, so the pair reportedly sold the video to a Sydney TV station. The case will be tried on Feb. 14.

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