August 27, 1998 12:00 AM

Matinee idol Russell Crowe, 36, figures prominently in this week’s PEOPLE cover story on the surprising marital split — after nine years — of Meg Ryan, 38, and Dennis Quaid, 46. The New Zealand bachelor has been spotted out on the town in London with the perky blond star, with whom he stars in the upcoming film “Proof of Life.” After numerous sightings of the couple spending time off the set, Friday’s New York Post ran a photo of Crowe and Ryan holding hands as they left Tom Cruise’s party for the London premiere of “Mission: Impossible 2.” The snapshot reputedly marks the first time the two have stopped going out of their way not to be photographed together.

  • Meanwhile, the Oscar nominee (for last year’s “The Insider”), who has gained hordes of new fans since donning his “Gladiator” skirt, will next star in “Flora Plum,” a relatively low-budget ($30 million) movie to be directed by Jodie Foster, whose role will be confined to behind the camera. The Associated Press says Crowe will play a circus freak who takes a starving young woman (Claire Danes) under his wing. The flick is due to start shooting in central Florida come September.

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