Russell Crowe: The Early Years
Sydney Boys High School
Just Don't Mention That Word 'Cousin'
By Jean Norman
NZ Woman's Weekly
February 6, 1989
Russell Crowe has spent years trying to escape the cricketing image associated with his famous cousins. His image is very different indeed ... as Jean Norman found out.
RUSSELL Crowe has flashing green eyes, a sultry pout and an aversion to being known as the "singing cousin of the cricketing Crowes".
He is Martin and Jeff's cousin and he is a musician but Russell Crowe deserves better than the popular description.
At 24 he has just finished playing the lead role in a Sydney play for which he received rave reviews and which led to him appear on the cover of an Aussie glossy. He is about to star in a major new musical and he has just recorded a demo tape with EMI.
"I'm not going to do some rock star trip," he sighs as he goes off into a cute sulk and says, "I hate talking to reporters but I really was perceived wrongly when I was working in New Zealand."
Well, well. Really? How?
It all started when as a student at Auckland Boys Grammar, Russell hated having to wear roman sandals and objected to the way a pupil's worth was apparently judged not by creativity but by their prowess (or lack of it) at rugby and cricket. Being a Crowe meant there were some pretty high expectations aimed at him.
"Sure I had the potential to possibly play in an under-11 side but not really the ability or the desire and, besides, everyone else was bigger than I was.
"I wasn't expelled or anything but let's say it was a very amicable parting."
The acting bug, as they say, had already bitten and bitten deep. His parents were location caterers in Australia so as a child Russell hung around a lot of film sets. "It was a case of being in the right place at the right time and I was soon playing kiddie roles. I was in Spyforce when I was six and The Young Doctors when I was 12. 1 played this kid who lives down the road from the hospital and his parents are never there so he hangs around the hospital.
"I was also a real tennis racket guitar hero of my time."
He had formed a band at high school and says he has always approached acting with a rock and roll mentality. By the time his cousins were playing on champion turf, 17-year-old Russell was singing in a rock and roll band with Tom Sharplin. Sick of being asked about Martin and Jeff he renamed himself Russ Le Roq.
Le Roq became well-known as he toured the country with his band Roman Antix, released a few records which he relentlessly promoted and started up the underage Venue in central Auckland.
"I'm really proud of the Venue . . . it was a place where kids could go to hear live music and it wasn't licensed. Kids tend to think of live music being a special event rather than the inherent part of their lives it should be."
He then became the entertainments officer for Pakatoa Island resort in the Hauraki Gulf. He laughs when reminded of that time. "Yeah, it was lovely living on an island but I got sick of organising Bingo tournaments."
Perhaps as a result of being in showbiz from such an early age, Le Roq was known as being a touch arrogant. "A lot of people saw me as being a self-promoter but, remember, I'd lived in Sydney from when I was four to 14 so I had a different view of what you had to do to get ahead. And until you get to the point where someone voluntarily offers to be your agent you have to do it yourself.
"I only kept it up because I was worried that all the people who heard about me as Russ Le Roq -- all 16 of them (he laughs modestly) -- would forget about me or not know me as Russell Crowe. But I eventually grew up and got bored with all that."
Then Russell got the role of Eddie in the Rocky Horror Stage Show. During the tour ("416 performances," he says proudly) he learned from professionals including Wilton Morley (son of actor Robert Morley) and Daniel Abineri (Jake the Snake in the soapie spin-off of the Australian mini-series Return to Eden).
Shortly afterwards came the play Blood Brothers written by Willy (Educating Rita) Russell which was reviewed in Sydney newspapers as "unquestionably one of the major theatrical events of 1988".
Russell Crowe's performance was described variously as "raunchy", "hilarious", "strong" and "convincing"; the critics seemed to agree he was a young man of much promise. The play, which has just finished its successful run in Sydney, tells the story of a working class mother who is manipulated into giving away one of her twin sons at birth to her rather unpleasant upper class employer who has never had a child. "It was a wonderful role," agrees Russell Crowe who has miraculously stopped pouting.
"Into one part are crammed all the highs and lows of one life from adolescent to adult... which are not necessarily a lot when you're looking at an unemployed working class man. It gradually grinds a man down. My character started out loving life, enjoying it simply because he was there and then he realizes how awful it is and loses hope.
"A broken man is a dangerous person. The part affected me badly... it was heart-rending for the audience, let alone me. I put a lot of myself into it. I'd feel a bit funny after each performance and find it difficult to talk to people.
"I like to perform with everything I've got and the reaction of the audience is far more important to me than that of the reviewers."
Liking to keep busy, Russell has been recording a demonstration tape with EMI, engineered by Guy Gray who has worked with bands Midnight Oil and Mental as Anything.
On the tape is a song entitled "Turning Point" which is personally significant for Russell. It is about his father. "To be honest today's music is hard, as it is so easy to manufacture emotions and a lot of the music around is so bland that they can mix them into one another without even so much as a break. This song is about the values of my father and how they are under siege in the modern world."
What sort of values? "Well, when I first arrived in Sydney, I spent 22 weeks in this grotty $50-a-week place with just a bed and a cupboard and the toilet halfway down the corridor. For the first time my parents were some distance away. I did a lot of thinking and realized I really appreciated what my father had instilled in me.
"A lot of people think that because there is a dole there they should use it and that there are a lot of ways to misuse the system. I believe in singing for my supper. I'll never accept a grant because what I do should be able to be founded purely on free enterprise.
"And so I'm learning to live by my own standards... by working out what's important to me. Most of the people who do this (acting, singing) for a living live through other people's perceptions of themselves. I don't want to know what other people think of me. I find that really boring. I'm not really cool at all." Cool or not, he nevertheless conveys that impression as no doubt Russell Crowe né Le Roq is fully aware.
If you're visiting Sydney soon, look out for him in the lead role of a forthcoming musical which will probably make Rocky Horror look like a school play.
Called Bad Boy Johnny and the Prophets of Doom, it's about an altar boy who is managed by his priest into becoming a rockstar and eventually -- via what Russell describes as a "perfectly logical set of circumstances" -- becomes the Pope.
Don't roll your eyes -- we're living in a world where a B-grade movie star can become President of the United States. Anything is perfectly possible. (Thanks to Carolyn)
Russ Le Roq and the Romantics
Russ Le Roq and the Romantics (Record sleeve / front and back)
(Thanks to Gloria)
Russell Crowe has Proof
By Eva Friedman
(Australia, September 1991)
A passionate young star of 'Proof and 'Spotswood" speaks his mind
Actor RUSSELL CROWE comes with a label. It reads -- the new Bryan Brown of the Australian film industry. The tag displeases Mr. Crowe. Makes him downright mad.
"Give me a fuckin' break," bleats Crowe with contempt. "Look at me. Is this Bryan Brown? Bryan is this gigantic, bronzed Australian. I'm a skinny, innercity slob."
True. Crowe lacks the hulking muscularity of Bryan Brown. The face is softer and fleshier and his eyes betray an intellect only partly fueled by instinct. He is also utterly urban. Yet he has Bryan Brown's molten temperament. Both on and off screen Crowe is prone to temperamental flare ups. Every once in a while the conversation between us capsizes, as we hit something which displeases Mr. Crowe. He snaps. Just like that. The temperament can only be described as tropical.
Crowe's emotional volatility is a potent screen elixir. It won this newcomer a nomination for Best Actor at the AFI awards last year for his performance in George Ogilvie's The Crossing. In the film Crowe played Johnny, a country boy bound to the land who is wrestling with first love. Explains Ogilvie: "Johnny has an explosive thing in him and at times it has to be released physically. At the same time he had to be played by someone with a very gentle nature. There is that duality."
According to Crowe, director George Oglivie gave him lots of space: "In The Crossing, George let me take risks. He let me be wild and go for it because he trusted me. Other directors frame a shot and say 'don't bloody move!'. If you move outside the script they say 'cut'. I think once you're inside the character, let it come out. People try to stop you and that's hard. George said right from the moment we met he trusted my instincts."
And the instinct in Crowe is feral. Visceral. He digs deep and is not frightened by what he discovers there. "I get really passionate about what I do," admits Crowe. "Some people get threatened by that, threatened by the passion. George doesn't. So you pump it out for George an all he says is 'give me some more.' So you do. You reach in and pull it out."
In his latest project, Spotswood, directed by Mark Joffe, Crowe pummels equally hard at his role. "I play a small part as a slimy businessman," says Crowe with glee. "He's a bit of a bastard, a parody of ambition, I don't know if I've gone too far. I always think I go over the top with whatever I do. Mark Joffe doesn't give a lot of direction. He let me go. He said, the camera is gonna be here and you are gonna be there. Now do something. "
And Crowe knows the directive to do something is a hell of a lot easier than doing nothing. Crowe recalls his first job, Blood Oath, where he was required to trek around the jungle behind Bryan Brown and very little else. "I just walked around the back carrying Bryan's pencils," he recalls, laughing. Crowe adopts a thick Yankee drawl. "Pencil, Mr. Brown?
"It's hard to look like you're not trying to get your head in the shot. People asked me if I was tempted to do that." So was he? Crowe's gnarly temperament unfurls. "No, Of Course not. Don't be stupid," he snaps. "I tell you though, I learnt a hell of a lot on that set. It was my first feature and Bryan was great."
In actual fact, Crowe grew up amidst film crews, gambolling in the vast techno-playgrounds called sets. This was on account of the fact that his parents were film caterers. "When you're a kid and you get the opportunity to see the technical side of it all, it loses its strangeness," he explains. "I was exposed to it from such a young age, the camera doesn't scare me. I did a small part in Spyforce when I was six and The Young Doctors when I was a bit older."
In a film industry bludgeoned by a lack of funding, work continues to find its way to Crowe. He has just finished work on Jocelyn Moorhouse's Proof, a film which was invited to the Cannes film festival this year.
Proof explores the relationship between Martin (played by Hugo Weaving), a blind photographer and the hapless youth Andy (played by Crowe). The film has been toured as a brave project which tests the parameters of perception. Although Martin is blind, he persists in taking photographs of the world, in the hope that one day someone he trusts will verify that the world he has been told about does indeed exist. When he meets Andy his world expands and contracts in unpredictable ways.
"It's all about a search for truth and honesty," says Crowe. "Love is also a theme, although it's a very strange sort of love. Jocelyn Moorhouse is not your average director. She's got a very intense imagination and an extremely oblique level of observation. She seems to be able to find something new in old themes. She sees another dimension.
"My character, Andy, has rebelled from his middle-class background. He's a bit rootless and directionless. But he has made himself that way. I enjoyed playing Andy." Crowe stops to consider this, gazing at me intently. "But Andy gets stuck in a lot of things, you know? I hate people like that. He gets caught and can't work his way out, the son of a bitch."
Crowe has a keen mind. He is always considering the kinds of roles he would like to play, sifting through the good, the bad and the downright awful. He recently did a small role in a series called Brides of Christ. It seems to have pleased him a lot. Recalling the experience Crowe breaks into a wry smile: "I play a boy who loses his virginity before he goes to Vietnam. He goes through the sex act and finds it's not the release he'd expected it to be and reverts to his Catholicism. He intones the Hail Mary during sex, which I found to be quite a fun thing to do."
Typically, Crowe has some fairly strong opinions about the film industry. "Do you know what killed this business in the first place?" he asks, hardening. "A lot of people who didn't understand what passion was, who didn't give a zip about art but thought, 'gee whizz, I can get a great tax break here. I'll make a movie.' We ended up with a whole lot of shit and we're still recovering from that."
Crowe thumps his fist down on the table and tells me he has to make tracks. He is not working right now but is considering a few projects. His work in Proof and its subsequent screening at Cannes should give him some exposure overseas. But right now Crowe is restoring an 130 year-old piano. It is his current passion.
"Can you play?" I ask.
"Nup," he says sharply. "But I just might one day. Right now that piano is taking up my whole life. I got to go."
That's Crowe. Interviewing him has been like snuggling up to sandpaper. He gets up abruptly and says "See ya round sometime". Like lightning he's out the door. His piano is calling. (Thanks to Carolyn)
As the Crowe Flies
By Paul Fischer
Preview (Australia, September 1991)
Despite rumours to the contrary, the Australian film industry is surviving the recession. Just ask actor Russell Crowe, AFI nominee for The Crossing, who has enough work to keep him occupied until November. His latest film, Proof, for which he has been nominated for a second AFI award, opened last month to rave reviews, while Spotswood is due for release in January.
When Paul Fischer caught up with Russell Crowe for this interview, he was in Perth busily completing work on the comedy The Great Pretender. He is currently in Melbourne shooting a new film before heading on to Adelaide to star in Hammers Over The Anvil. But as the actor admits, his new-found success is a combination of luck and sheer hard work.
How often are we told that the Australian film industry is in the doldrums or that nobody sees local films? Russell Crowe is the first to admit that he's lucky to be working and that he has participated in some high quality projects. "I'm very choosy in what I do," he admits from his Perth hotel room. "I knocked back the lead role in one film which paid a lot more money in order for me to play a good support role in Great Pretender, because I didn't want the responsibility of a lead in that other film." Quite clearly, the actor would rather be out of work than risk his reputation on a below-average movie. His list of film credits thus far is impressive: Blood Oath, The Crossing, Spotswood with Anthony Hopkins, and Proof are all films in which Crowe's diversity and skill are in perpetual evidence.
Born in New Zealand, Crowe arrived in Australia when he was 3, but remains loyal to his adopted country, "except when it comes to sporting encounters." So who does he barrack for? Always the diplomat, Russell's philosophy is simple. "The bottom line is, I tend to barrack for whoever is the underdog in that particular sporting encounter, which is intrinsically an Australian attitude anyway."
At 27, Russell is considered one of a handful of Australian actors who is fast emerging as a major force in this highly competitive profession. At the same time, he is somewhat philosophical and pragmatic about his level of success. "I first tested for my next film about 14 months ago and I was also unemployed for five months from the beginning of the year. When you've been in this business for as long as I have, you know that things come and go; they happen in cycles. At the moment I'm getting a lot of jobs, and they're jobs that I really want to do but they just happen to be coming up one after the other. I appreciate that I'm very lucky but I also acknowledge that the reason I get these jobs is that I put a lot of work into what I do."
Crowe has been acting since the ripe old age of six when he appeared as a guest in the TV series Spyforce "and from then on I as always performing." At 14, he had a true sense of performance when he began playing in a rock band and made his professional stage debut in a New Zealand production of Rocky Horror.
It was no surprise that he found himself back in Australia trying to carve a niche as an actor. His first film was Blood Oath, in which he went around "running behind Bryan Brown carrying his pencils." It may not have been a huge role, but it allowed him the opportunity to test for other parts, one of which was that of Johnny in The Crossing. Despite it receiving lukewarm reviews, Crowe's sensitive portrayal of a 1960's country boy caught in the midst of a love triangle won him a well deserved AFI Award nomination. Even though the film was a commercial disaster, it is now being rediscovered on video. "When I first saw it, I thought it was a very beautiful film and I am very proud of director George Ogilvie and his achievements. I don't think it worked commercially because, despite its universal themes, a lot of people couldn't relate to its rural setting."
After The Crossing, he returned to the theatre before taking on a small but pivotal role in the much talked about Spotswood, which stars Ben Mendelsohn, Anthony Hopkins and Alwyn Kurts. He may not have enormous screen time in this gentle comedy about a time and motion expert, but what he does is memorable to say the least. "1 have four scenes with Ben and in each one I verbally abuse him, slap him across the head, strangle him and then punch him in the face, in that exact order. What more can an actor want?" Having seen the film, which is due for release early next year, he is pleased with the result. "The film as a whole is lovely and it made me smile. It's a very entertaining film and I think it will be very successful." Does he think Spotswood will work internationally? "I think it has more than a fair chance, because I don't think it's so intrinsically Australian as to be not understood. It's a very gentle and simple story that is very well acted and directed."
A highlight for Russell was the opportunity to work with the brilliant Anthony Hopkins. "I already knew that he was a great actor, so that wasn't a surprise. The fact that he's a great person was an added bonus. He's an extremely nice guy and exceedingly professional, and I think what I learnt from him the most was that great actors remain generous," he recalls reflectively. He disagrees when I question him about Hopkins' apparent cynicism towards his profession.
"You can take that as cynicism if you want, but I think it's more a protectionist thing. It happens to me a lot when people ask me about my preparation, which ultimately has nothing to do with anything, apart from what I give the performance; it's the performance that counts, which is what you judge. So whether I do 5 minutes preparation or 5 years, it doesn't mean anything, because what comes out of the screen later is what finally counts. Therefore I think Hopkins is possibly a little sick of going over and over that sort of thing, so he says: this is my job. And it is a job, and it's damn hard work, because if you don't concentrate or put some effort in, nothing comes out. There isn't a secret of being a great actor that somebody can read in a magazine. You're born with it from the first time you open your mouth. You can get better or worse, but you either can or can't do it."
Quite clearly, Crowe has proven that he is one of those actors who can do it, for following Spotswood, he co-starred in the critically acclaimed Proof, in which he plays Andy, a good natured kitchen-hand whose befriending of a blind photographer has major ramifications on his ordinary life. When he initially read the script by first-time writer/ director Jocelyn Moorhouse, Crowe was nothing short of impressed. "It was a fantastic script," he says unhesitatingly. "it was the best script I've ever read as far as its completeness is concerned, because it's quite a complicated concept and Jocelyn takes it through and explains everything to the audience just when they need to know exactly what the hell is going on. The simple fact is, as soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to do it."
"When you read a lot of scripts, you know the difference between a good one and a bad one. When you're talking about the situation where the writer is actually going to direct you, one can be very confident that the subtleties contained in that script will come out, because they come out of her head. Jocelyn and I are pretty similar in some ways. She's really committed and passionate with a unique creativity. All of those things tend to add up to possibly fiery moments, but we had one of those relationships where every single small point we discussed we went through. Of course we were bound to disagree on a number of things, but all that happened is that, through those conversations we hit upon the best idea, not just one idea or an option and that's the way I like to work."
He describes his character, Andy, as "a strange combination of being open but at the same time not necessarily needing anybody. I think he's the only person in Proof who can give love, and he does that instinctively." Is there much of the actor in this character? "I tend to be a little closed off as a person. It's like the way I work on a film. It's very easy for me to say: These are my four walls, I go through that door to work then I come back here. And that's my life at the moment while I'm doing this gig. Andy also has that side to him, in that if nothing is going on, he's not necessarily looking for it, but if something presents itself, he's open to it. So there are many of my attitudes in that, but I think his lack of self-awareness or ambition are not present in me."
While Russell admits that Proof is a thematically complex film, for him, the dominant theme of the movie is blindness. "To me, the blindness factor is very important, whether that's literal or analogous, and how we all can be blind to our actions or, in Andy's case, the outcome of our actions." Sounds serious, and certainly Proof has its serious moments, but it's also "a very funny film. No matter how much Jocelyn as a director and storyteller draws you into the hearts of the characters, she gives you quite a few moments of relief." It came as no surprise that the film was a huge success at this years Cannes Film Festival "because of that mix between comedy and tragedy." He has no doubt the film will be widely seen on its own turf as well as overseas.
Having worked hard on Proof, Russell's next stint was a small but important role in the coming-of-age comedy The Great Pretender, directed by David Elphick. Set in 1957, it tells of Ken, an artistic 16-year-old with a high libido rate, desperately trying to rid himself of his virginity. "I play Arthur, a Baptist Welshman, who's the warehouse supervisor where Ken works. His small amount of authority has really gone to his head, but through the course of the film, he spreads his wings a little bit, possibly to become a little bit more Australian, after having spent so many years in a closed Welsh environment."
For the film, Russell had to master a Welsh accent with a hint of Australian, a feat which he feels he has accomplished. After shooting was completed, Russell was off to Melbourne to begin work on the controversial new film, Romper Stomper. Then he'll be off to Adelaide to star in the film Hammers Over The Anvil, "in which I gel to play my first hero, which I'm looking forward to."
The Australian film industry is always on the lookout for new blood. Russell Crowe is an actor whose future is well and truly assured, and there's no doubt that we'll be seeing more of him in years to come. (Thanks to Carolyn)
Russell Crowe / Actor
By Paul Fischer
Video International (April 1991)
One of the talented newcomers from The Crossing, being released this month on video, Russell Crowe was nominated for an AFI Award for his performance in it. With two other major films due out this year, this remarkable young actor is going places, no question about it. He has the qualities of a star: a hypnotic screen presence, attractive and feet planted well and truly on the ground.
Crowe began his showbiz career as a rock 'n' roll performer and is now rapidly emerging as one of our hottest stage and film performers. 'When I was six I appeared in Spyforce and from then on I was always performing.' Born in Wellington, New Zealand, he left his homeland when he was about three, but still has a strong affinity with ft. His first taste of performing came at age 14 when he played in a rock band. He continued doing that with all the trappings of that game until he landed a major role in a New Zealand production of The Rocky Horror Show.
"The producer of that show, Wilton Morley, suggested that I was wasting my time in New Zealand. He told me 1) stop playing in a band and concentrate on acting and 2) come to Australia where he would have employment for me.' Once again, Russell left New Zealand, came here, found himself back on stage in a touring production of Rocky Horror.
He made his film debut in the powerful Blood Oath, "running behind Bryan Brown carrying his pencils. That film gave me the opportunity to observe my performance on film now." But it was his second film, The Crossing, which gained him critical acclaim. In this film, Crowe plays country boy Johnny, settled in his town and in love with the beautiful Meg (Danielle Spencer). Meg used to be in love with Johnny's best friend who left for the city years ago. But on his return, friendship turns to jealously and anger when they bitterly fight over the love of Meg.
"I always wanted to play that laconic, laid back Australian male who has an emotional outpouring," said Crowe of his role. He's very proud of it and the film, and rightly so. "When I first saw it, I thought it was a very beautiful film and am very proud of George Ogilvie, the director, and his achievements." While he admits disappointment at the film's lack-lustre performance in cinemas, he has confidence that a broad audience will discover it anew on video.
Crowe has two other films due for release later this year with the bigger of the two being the comedy Spotswood, which stars Ben Mendelsohn, Britain's Anthony Hopkins and Rebecca Rigg.
"Mine's a small part but when I read it I thought it was very funny. I have four scenes with Ben and in each one I verbally abuse him, slap him across the head, strangle him and then punch him in the face in that exact order. What more could an actor want?" He predicts that Spotswood will be huge for the local film industry. Despite the current recession which is biting the film industry, he remains eternally optimistic, and given his wonderful performance in The Crossing, Russell Crowe seems destined for stardom; and it couldn't happen to a nicer bloke. (Thanks to Carolyn)
For more photos from the early years -- be sure to visit our Photo Scrapbook
More coming soon!!!
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