Russell Crowe: In Print


At Home With His Range (1999) || Suddenly Hot (1999) || Australian Confidential (1997)

At Home With His Range

How does gifted actor Russell Crowe, a man comfortable in many roles, keep himself Down Under on the farm after he's seen Hollywood? It's easy, mate.

By AMY WALLACE
Los Angeles Times, October 31,1999
© Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times

Russell Crowe wore a crocodile tooth on a cord around his neck.

In town the other day to promote "The Insider," Michael Mann's new movie about tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, the 35-year-old New Zealand-born actor interrupted an interview at the Argyle Hotel to shout epithets at a televised rugby match. He took a reporter to task for describing him as proud. And at times he was so blunt in his assessment of Hollywood that when he revealed that he had wrestled a tiger on the set of the upcoming Roman epic "The Gladiator," it was easy to picture the cat in a headlock.

In other words Crowe--whose pent-up portrayal of a brutal cop with a vulnerable heart in the 1997 noir hit "L.A. Confidential" let American audiences in on something Australians have known for years--appears in person to be exactly the tough guy you might expect.

Russell Crowe in L.A. "People accuse me of being arrogant all the time. I'm not arrogant, I'm focused," Crowe growled at one point, responding to reports that his strong opinions about acting can make him a challenge on a movie set. "I don't make demands. I don't tell you how it should be. I'll give you [expletive] options, and it's up to you to select or throw 'em away. That should be the headline: If you're insecure, don't [expletive] call."

But if that's the headline, here's the surprising story that goes with it: This man's man, who recently rode 4,000 miles around his adopted Australia on a motorcycle, also has a sweet streak a kilometer wide. He is a collaborative--and unusually generous--performer who has fought to cut his own screen time to protect others' roles. He's a softy for animals--he can't bring himself to slaughter any of the cattle he keeps on his 600-acre farm seven hours northwest of Sydney, so the cows (some of whom have names) have become his "mates." He thinks women who have children are sexy ("They really get to me"). And wait--is that big, bad Russell Crowe singing a love song?

"You know she's gone and left me," he crooned midway through a spirited three-hour interview, singing along with the CD track of "She's Not Impressed," a song he wrote and performed with his longtime rock band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. Clad in jeans, a white T-shirt and black boots, with his blue eyes sparkling meaningfully, he delivered the emotional punch line: "I don't provide the safety she needs to build her nest."

There's absolutely nothing safe about Crowe on screen. He brought a neo-Nazi skinhead to scary life in Geoffrey Wright's 1992 "Romper Stomper" and played a computer-generated killer opposite Denzel Washington in Brett Leonard's 1995 "Virtuosity." And when not inspiring fear, he's often taking roles that some might see as risky: playing a gay plumber in the Australian film "The Sum of Us" or a sarcastic gunslinger in the spoof "The Quick and the Dead."

But it is Crowe's leading role in Disney's "The Insider," which opens Friday, that has everybody talking these days. He plays the tightly wound Wigand, whose decision to reveal a tobacco company's secrets to CBS' "60 Minutes" made him and his family the targets of a smear campaign.

Crowe is 17 years younger than the 52-year-old Wigand (he gained 35 pounds for the part and wears a gray wig), but his physical transformation is not what you'll notice first. Instead, what's most striking is Crowe's restrained fury. From his carefully knotted necktie to his practiced golf swing, Crowe's Wigand is a painstaking and deliberate man, and one you don't want to cross.

"What Russell is doing, which is so difficult, is he's conveying the anomalies of the man, not what's symmetrical and easily observable," said Mann, who believes Crowe and his co-star, Al Pacino, who plays "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman, "have one thing in common as actors: courage. They have no fear of embarrassment. [The trick is] nailing awkwardness. Not nailing grace. Nailing grace is a lot easier."

Mann laughed at the memory of Crowe's discovery that the real Wigand wasn't as good a golfer as the one the director planned to portray in the film. Crowe saw Wigand's sorry golf game as a key detail that helped explain why Wigand ultimately failed to fit into corporate culture. Conversely, Mann wanted to use a few scenes of a more proficient Wigand hitting balls at a driving range to highlight the man's self-discipline and loneliness. The director was willing to fudge the truth a little to make his point. But for Crowe, it didn't fit and he said so. Repeatedly.

"He's totally an actor. Totally. I don't know what goes on between roles," said Mann, his voice deeply respectful even as he remembers the golf debate. Crowe, he said, resembles a young Marlon Brando. "Look at 'On the Waterfront,' at 'Streetcar' or even 'The Young Lions,' and you see this raw, powerful talent that's dead serious and accomplished. That's Russell to me. I'm dying to work with him again."

Crowe has similarly glowing words for Mann, whose clear vision and unflappable confidence completely made up for the fact that he is--and Crowe says this fondly--a "megalomaniac." Crowe and Mann spent six weeks together before the "Insider" shoot began, during which Mann involved him not only in character discussions but also in every meeting about Wigand's props, clothes and accessories. Finally toward the end, Crowe begged off.

"The last week before we started shooting, I said, 'Michael, it's been a very interesting thing hanging out with you, but I need to learn the dialogue.' I mean, he was driving me nuts," Crowe said. "If any actor tells you that it's an easy gig working with him, they're lying through their teeth, because he works really long hours and he's extremely intense. But he works on the principles that I've tried to hold to in what I do: detail and collaboration. . . . The bottom line is, he cares. And there's that kind of forthrightness about him."

Crowe values straight talk, and he rarely stifles himself. For example, on the set of "The Gladiator," in which he plays a Roman general who is unlawfully imprisoned and condemned to participate in the blood sport of the day, he spoke up about the accent, which he thought was all wrong.

"My character was Spanish, and I wanted to do Antonio Banderas with better elocution. But they wouldn't let me," said Crowe--a proven vocal chameleon who believes a proper accent is essential to a fully realized character. "They didn't want people to be distracted by it. But I felt when you say you're Spanish 50 times in the course of the movie, I should be doing the accent. Instead, basically everybody in the movie does, you know, Royal Shakespeare Company two pints after lunch."

He demonstrated what he meant, his normally relaxed Aussie twang suddenly theatrical and overzealous--"I am Maximus, commander of the armies of the North!" He paused, rolled his eyes and added: "Olé!"

Nevertheless, he loved working on the film, due out next year from DreamWorks, partly because it is so rare as an actor to get the chance to do an epic and partly because director Ridley Scott, he says, "is Picasso."

"I really like him as a chap," said Crowe, who signed on to "Gladiator" before there was even a script. "Seeing him orchestrate five different camera crews on five monitors, you know, with 3,000 extras--he'd say, 'I want this here, I want that there. OK, now if you can bring me in the 500 German guys--and get hairy guys in the front. Not those little skinny ones, hairy guys!' He gives everybody's instructions and he gets ready for another take and I say, 'What should I do?' And he says, 'Oh, no. You're fine.' "

Crowe has been acting since he was 6 years old, when he got his first speaking part on a TV show. Show business was in his blood--his parents were location caterers, and his grandfather was a cinematographer. Crowe jokes that he was the only one in the family stupid enough to work on the other side of the camera.

At 14, he started playing in bands, which led to musical theater. In 1983, he had a part in "Grease," then starred from 1986-88 in live productions of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," performing more than 400 times as Dr. Frank N. Furter. He made his film debut in director George Ogilvie's 1990 "The Crossing," which landed him a leading part in Jocelyn Moorhouse's 1992 film "Proof." That same year, "Romper Stomper" was released--and it was that role that would eventually catch the eye of Curtis Hanson, the director who cast him as the rage-filled Bud White in "L.A. Confidential."

"I knew from that picture that he had the stuff to hold the screen, and that he was able to play violence and still keep a character interesting," Hanson told The Times in 1997, explaining why he chose a relative unknown to play White, a character who was supposed to be the largest man in the LAPD.

Just shy of 6 feet tall, Crowe himself is no giant. But Hanson felt he exuded the power of a bruiser, with something more: "He understood the duality of the character. Bud White appears to be a mindless thug, and Russell handled that well, but he also brought a courtliness to Bud that lets women know there's more to him than that."

Crowe waited 14 months before working again, turning down numerous tough-guy parts to play a thoughtful sheriff who won't carry a gun in this year's ensemble hockey movie "Mystery, Alaska."

"I just thought it was very ironic for me to, after 14 months, play a lawman that holds conversation above the law," he said. "I'm a great fan of irony."

Jay Roach, who directed "Mystery, Alaska," said Crowe's intensity can yield something almost lyrical on screen.

"It's a kind of poetic approach to acting. That's what makes it so powerful," Roach said. "He's very controlled and disciplined about the externals--timing, blocking, choreography. But in addition to that he has a way of connecting to his subconscious that adds all these other layers of subtlety and nuance to what's on the outside. A four-second reaction shot from Russell can be equivalent to a full minute of dialogue. He can be supremely articulate without words."

Crowe can also be stubborn. During post-production on "Mystery, Alaska," executives at Disney, which financed and distributed the film, suggested that the too long first cut be trimmed to be more of a Crowe-centered film and less of an ensemble piece. Thinking of his fellow actors, Crowe sided with Roach in arguing that the movie should remain a portrait of a town--a decision that meant Crowe lost some screen time.

"There was a debate, and Russell backed me up entirely," Roach said. "He felt like he had signed up for something that was an ensemble. . . . He saw that the film would be better off if he was not elevated above the other characters. He became the kind of defender of the greater good."

Crowe is not selfless, but he has genuine admiration for other actors. He's such a fan of Jodie Foster (whom he's never met) that when she had her baby last year, he sent her a couple of tiny rugby jumpers. And when his movies wrap, he always tries to trade the canvas director's chair with his name printed on it for the chair of one of his co-stars. ("I've got Kim Basinger," he says happily. "Now that's [expletive] cool, isn't it?")

"I think you've got to be a fan first to be able to be a performer," Crowe said. "Acting has a lot to do with living in the real world."

Crowe does a lot of that. Unless he's shooting a film or promoting one he's already shot, he rarely leaves Australia. He's got his motorcycle to ride (his recent three-week trip, from the Pacific Ocean to the Timor Sea, was so rugged that he needed "medicated nappy rash creme"). He's got his rock band to write for (he's lead singer, guitarist and songwriter). He's got his farm to tend--horses, dogs, chickens, roosters, turtles, snakes and even a platypus. He's got a new swimming hole he just dug and a small mountain of chicken manure (25,000 tons of it) that needs turning.

"I had no idea I'd be such an abject failure as a farmer," he said with a grin, referring to his inability to cause animals even the slightest discomfort. He took a drag off a cigarette. (No, not even a movie like "The Insider" could make him quit a habit he's nursed since the age of 9. "It's indicative of the power of nicotine," he said. "Because after all the research material [Mann provided], I really know the dangers of smoking.")

Next up for Crowe: "Proof of Life" opposite Meg Ryan, in which he plays a hostage negotiator who falls in love with the wife of the man he's trying to save. Director Taylor Hackford has asked Crowe to play the role in his own accent, and Crowe is clearly pleased about it.

"Part of the reason for my expanding and going overseas in the first place was to try to attract investment money back to Australia and to also hopefully at some point get to play Australian characters in big-budget Hollywood movies," he said, sounding like a proud son from Down Under. But when he heard himself described that way, he looked stung.

"It's got nothin' to do with pride," he said fiercely. "Pride is something that happens when you block out information that you really need. You no longer are open. You know, you're full of yourself. Do I love where I come from? Yeah. Is it important to me that the culture be seen in many different ways and not just in generalized terms? Yes, it is.

"But the only way that they're going to trust me to do that is if I do it their way first."

In the meantime, it's back to the land for Crowe, who was hurrying through a weekend of interviews in order to return to Australia for a cattle auction.

"Got to keep the grass down," he said, when asked why he needed more cows. He fiddled with the crocodile tooth around his neck--a souvenir from his recent cross-country excursion. Asked if he had wrested it away from its original owner, he grimaced.

"I wouldn't hurt a crocodile," he said. "Unless, you know, it was a dentistry thing and he needed a hand."

Amy Wallace is a Times staff writer. (Photo: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)


Russell Crowe

RUSSELL CROWE’S SUDDENLY HOT AS TOBACCO WHISTLE-BLOWER IN ‘THE INSIDER’
By ROBERT PHILPOT
c.1999 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Things you might not know about Russell Crowe:

Although he’s best known in the United States for playing tough detective Bud White in 1997’s “L.A. Confidential,” the Australian actor’s latest movie — “The Insider,” which opened Friday — is his 20th feature film.

Now 35, he has been acting since he was 6. His stage experience includes “The Rocky Horror Show,” in which he played the dual role of Eddie (a biker played by Meat Loaf in the movie) and the wheelchair-using Dr. Scott. He also once assumed the lead role of Frank N. Furter, the sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.

He began playing in rock bands when he was 14, and sings and plays guitar for 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, a “blues-based folk/rock band” that has recorded three albums. Its most recent gig was in January at Los Angeles’ Viper Room, owned by actor Johnny Depp. Crowe’s “L.A. Confidential” co-stars, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito, were in the audience.

Given his experience, Crowe takes in stride praise for his performance in “The Insider,” directed by Michael Mann. Crowe plays Jeffrey Wigand, a research scientist who blew the whistle in 1995 on chemical manipulation of tobacco by cigarette company Brown & Williamson. “The Insider” is not so much about Wigand as it is about “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) and his struggle to get Wigand’s story told after CBS — threatened with a lawsuit by the cigarette firm — squelched a Mike Wallace interview with Wigand, who endured death threats and the breakup of his marriage because of the case.

“I can remember being aware that there was something going on with ‘60 Minutes,’ but I wasn’t aware of the specifics at all,” says Crowe, who has worked in the States since the 1994 western “The Quick and the Dead.” “I read newspapers, but its significance wouldn’t necessarily have affected me at that time, because it’s a very intrinsically American story.”

Pacino may have the bigger role, but Crowe’s performance is the one getting the Oscar buzz. The actor says that although this is the first time he has played a real person, he prepared for the role the way he normally does, researching the part by reading various news and court reports about the case.

“I didn’t necessarily emphasize, at all, that I should meet Jeffrey, because I didn’t want to be told how the individual wanted to be portrayed, which is always a danger,” Crowe says in his throaty Australian baritone during a phone interview. “But having met him, I realized that the thought process that I was going through was not sufficient, because what it was missing out on was the huge emotional impact that these real events had on a real person.”

For Crowe — who’s a smoker, by the way — there was physical impact as well. The actor is nearly 20 years younger than Wigand, and he packed on 30 extra pounds for the role, which came between the shoots for the hockey movie “Mystery, Alaska” and Ridley Scott’s upcoming “The Gladiator,” each of which required Crowe to be in tiptop shape.

“Michael left that choice up to me,” Crowe says of the weight gain. “But I’m 35 and Jeffrey’s 52, and a lot of people had told me that during the course of these events, his diet changed dramatically. He was drinking maybe a little bit more, and so he gained weight, y’know? And I thought that it was very necessary for me to carry a little bit of that, because that would help me with the age.”

Crowe talks about acting like cops talk about police work and reporters about journalism — it’s just a job, y’know? To him, a praised performance isn’t so much about winning awards (he’s won several in Australia) as it is about opening the door to better work. But he says that his “Rocky Horror” experience was pivotal in his career. cm-bd

“It was in the middle of the ’80s, and I was, y’know, in two minds about what it was I really should focus on,” he says. “As a 19- or a 20-year-old, being asked to play an old fellow in a wheelchair ... What that gave me at that age was the opportunity for character study.

“It may be a musical and all that, but if you’re not playing the truth of the character when you’re sitting in a wheelchair, with all these other people around you with fishnet stockings on and everything, you’re not going to get noticed.”

As for the band, Crowe says that his day job keeps him from concentrating on it as much as he’d like to.

“There’s a new song on the Internet that fans can download now that’s our kind of Christmas present, because we’re not going to be touring this year,” he says. “We only sat down together as a group two or three times in the course of a year, so it’s been a bit of a barren year.” You can find the song at www.gruntland.com.au.

(Robert Philpot is film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.) (Photo: Robert Sebree for Time 11/1/99)


Russell Crowe at Cannes


We'd like to extend special thanks to writer Paula Nechak for allowing us to reprint her 1997 interview with Russell. You may remember Paula, not only from her film reviews, but from her letter in GQ responding to the magazine's cover story
Man On Fire. In our opinion, Paula's interview gives much more insight into him than the GQ article did.

AUSTRALIAN CONFIDENTIAL
Russell Crowe Interview/L.A. CONFIDENTIAL
BY Paula Nechak

Australian heartthrob Russell Crowe ignites in the screen adaptation of James Ellroy's gritty, tragic and ultimately redemptive hard-core crime novel about police corruption in 1950's Los Angeles, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

Directed by Curtis Hanson, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL features a stellar ensemble cast, including Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Kim Basinger.

Crowe based Bud White, his violent, images-are-deceiving, cop on '50s "B" actor, Aldo Ray and appears to have finally found a break-out role after years of sturdy, constantly good work.

Too, it's the first film Crowe has made in America about which he waxes euphoric. After a string of critically acclaimed performances Down Under in such diverse films as ROMPER STOMPER, THE SUM OF US and PROOF, Crowe flocked to Hollywood, starring in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD and VIRTUOSITY, both of which turned out to be dismal experiences for the 33-year-old actor.

With L.A. CONFIDENTIAL hitting theatres, Russell Crowe met to chat about his career and the film that could launch him to stardom.

PAULA NECHAK: Few people know you have extensive training in the theatre. Did you find it difficult to jump from fluid, cohesive stage work to the non-linear way of making a film?

RUSSELL CROWE: Theatre was my driving ambition in life as a young man. I couldn't think of anything more magical than working in an Arthur Miller play at the Sydney Opera House. But the film director, George Ogilvie, offered me a chance to work in a film [1990's THE CROSSING] and it initially confused me because of the things you mentioned. Actually though, a lot of the things young actors get hung up on don't exist. But it takes a real specialist, a theatrical performer like Geoffrey Rush, to make sure the guy in the 40th row of a live theatre house gets it. I never felt in my heart of hearts I could achieve that. I had never imagined making movies then because I didn't think anyone would want me to be in their movie. Once I got onto a movie set, I realized this was my medium.

PN: Did you find when you made peace with your limitations as an actor that it was ultimately liberating?

RC: As a theatrical actor? Absolutely. Because what I discovered in the process was I had no limitations as an actor in the cinema. After George saw me in a number of theatre roles he said, "You're going to make a great cinema actor." At the same time he offered me my first part and asked what character I'd like to play. I said, "All of them." He laughed and told me, "We don't have the budget."

PN: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL will make you a star and a big sex symbol. Yet you're a wonderful, thoughtful actor. How will you reconcile your talent with the celebrity and fantasy? Will being a movie star distract you from your true goal or will you take small, idiosyncratic character roles to subvert the onslaught of media attention?

Russell Crowe at Cannes RC: I don't think of myself in the terms you mention but I do have a sense of humor about what I do. For example, I very much wanted to play [the gay son] in THE SUM OF US because I knew the first people in line would be the guys who loved me in ROMPER STOMPER (Crowe plays a neo-Nazi named Hando) and I wanted them to pay their ten bucks, go into the cinema and just freak out. (laughs)

PN: Okay, so then how do you reconcile art and the public media circus?

RC: You can't ignore it, it's a contracted part of the job. I think in Australia through trying to simply do that part of my job I've gotten myself into this negative place where people have seen too much and the perception is they know too much where in reality, they know hardly anything except I spell my named with two L's. It's part of the gig. On one hand, it can be destructive and paltry but on the other hand, when you have a conversation with someone who just loves film, it makes your day. I'm here because I love it, it has nothing to do with ego, just the work and the story. I don't want to be one of those people who says "I hate the press" because once you get that in your mind, it makes your day job very hard.

PN: You are part of the second Australian Renaissance of films - PROOF most obviously. Do you plan on balancing your career between Australian and American projects?

RC: Yeah. I made six films in America three years ago and last year I went home to make HEAVEN'S BURNING. I'm very much a product of the Australian film industry and I'm aware that I owe that industry. Working out how I'll return the favor is another kettle of fish. Making movies may not be sufficient for me, I may want to do something that will give other young actors a chance. We'll see, but definitely the Australian film industry is going to be a continuing part of my life. I keep as knowledgeable as I can about who's coming through the film and TV schools and I have a number of people I talk to about the great new minds.

PN: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is a terrific film and you play a seminal role in the dreamy duplicitous city of angels landscape that acts as a prototype for the self-deluded characters moving through its corruption and mystery.

Guy, Kim and Russell at Cannes RC: It's a really nice movie. Guy [Pearce] does a great job, Kevin Spacey is fabulous, Kim Basinger gives her best performance. I shouldn't say that because it sounds like I'm judging her work, but she takes you to a fluttering, emotional core that she hasn't brought you to for quite some time. She's been doing WAYNE'S WORLD 2 type celebrity stuff and this is a real acting role. My favorite moments in the movie are hers. And it's got Danny DeVito in it, it's a wonderful ensemble cast. We went to Cannes together and the thing I really felt was how much we all liked each other and we had a wonderful time of discussion and discovery on the movie. It's the first truly ensemble piece I've done in America. I don't mean that negatively but so often when you work here, you're in your corner, the other actor's in his corner and somebody rings a bell and you come out and do your business.

PN: L.A. CONFIDENTIAL was directed by Curtis Hanson. How did you like him as a director?

RC: We all kind of ganged up on him and he was pleased because he saw we were so passionate. The great thing about Curtis Hanson is, you ask him a question, he'll answer it. It might take him seven days or fourteen days to give an answer but as long as you're working, as he is, he's fine and dandy. When he does give you an answer, it's thought out and considered and every single thing you asked is given a satisfactory conclusion. Curtis loves the fact that you pick up the ball. I really enjoyed myself. I'm not saying I didn't annoy the hell out of him, but he was a big enough guy to allow me to annoy him.

PN: Last of all, do you dream about your characters? Do they become real people to you?

RC: Yes, because you're going to blow life into them. Some things just come without any real understanding. I don't bother to question it or myself anymore. If you get into a situation like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, where you can just totally get inside the character, that's a privileged position. Now that I'm more aware of the process I realize it's the position you always want to aim for.


Special thanks to Paula Nechak
Color photo: Thanks to Lynn.
Black & white photos: by S&G (Movie Star, September 1998)


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