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Russell Crowe: The Early Years: Page Two

Russ Le Roq

Russ Le Roq and the Romantics
Thanks to Gloria

Russ Le Roq

Russ Le Roq and the Romantics
Thanks to Gloria

Russell Crowe has Proof
By Eva Friedman
Rolling Stone
(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)

Russell Crowe

(Thanks to Susan C)

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