May 15, 1998 12:00 AM

Breaking what appeared to be the couple’s tight-lipped silence over their six-month relationship and recent split, “Gladiator” Oscar nominee Russell Crowe has discussed Meg Ryan with an Australian newspaper — saying that they will remain friends but that he belongs Down Under. “I have a big life here,” the hunky star, 36, quoted as speaking from his cattle farm in New South Wales, told Melbourne’s Herald Sun, which published his comments over the weekend (Russell’s remarks have subsequently been picked up by Reuters and TV’s “Access Hollywood”). “I can’t sustain myself through the course of the year without filling up on home, and Meg needs the same.” Crowe met Ryan, 39, last year on the set of their film “Proof of Life” (at the time she was still married to actor Dennis Quaid), and they two remained an item until their apparent split last month. “Meg is a beautiful and courageous woman,” Crowe added. “I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I haven’t lost her friendship.”

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