21 APRIL 2009

As Gladiator's toned and trim Maximus Decimus Meridius, Russell Crowe had female fans across the world swooning. Now the Aussie actor is back to his fighting best for his latest role as legendary outlaw hero Robin Hood.

Early images from the set of the Ridley Scott-directed film, which stars fellow Aussie Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion, show a slimmed-down version of the hunky New Zealand-born actor striding though the forest with longbow in hand.

To be able to play the frequently reprised prince of thieves – famed for robbing the rich to give to the poor – Russell, 45, embarked on a regime of exercise and dieting. He reportedly shed around four stone after piling on 63lbs for his previous roles in Body Of Lies and State Of Play.

And while he was able to shift the additional weight, Russell was never in the market for certain aspects of Robin Hood's costume, having refused to wear the forest dweller's traditional leggings.

"He doesn't have the old Robin Hood tights," the film's producer confirmed. "He's got armour. He's very medieval. He looks, if anything, more like he did in Gladiator than anything we're used to seeing with Robin Hood."

The $130-million epic opens in the UK in May.

Photo: Universal Pictures
Pictures from the Robin Hood set show leading man Russell has recaptured his hunky