Russell Crowe: In Print (page 2)

Russell Crowe: The Actor (1999) || Crowe's Inside Story (1999) || Crowe: the Hero (1999)

Russell Crowe Russell Crowe: The Actor

By Robert W. Butler
c. 1999 The Kansas City Star

Actor Russell Crowe builds his characters from the outside in.

Russell Crowe: The Actor

By Robert W. Butler
c. 1999 The Kansas City Star

Actor Russell Crowe builds his characters from the outside in.

For Bud White, the thuggish police detective he played so memorably in ³L.A. Confidential,² Crowe began with buzz-cut ¹50s hair and a too-tight jacket that seemed to be bursting with Bud¹s barely contained rage.

For his role in ³The Insider² as real-life tobacco industry whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand, the 32-year-old actor had to put himself in the body of a man 20 years his senior.

³We went through a long period of preproduction when we did costume, makeup and hair tests,² the New Michael (Mann) told me, ŒYou don¹t have to physically look like Wigand.¹ But in my mind ‹ maybe because I¹m stupid and literal ‹ I had to look like him. I couldn¹t do it otherwise. It would be like playing Abraham Lincoln with a mustache.

³So we bleached my hair seven times, we cut big swatches out of my temples to give me a receding hairline, took out 70 percent of my hair¹s volume. And in the end I wore a wig anyway.

³Meanwhile I led a sedentary lifestyle, ate and drank whatever I felt like so that I¹d put on weight. Michael didn¹t think it was important for me to do that, but I disagreed. I had to understand how Jeffrey Wigand feltphysically before I could deal with what was going on inside him.

³Of course I don¹t spend the whole time walking around in character. That¹s pretentious nonsense. But I do adjust my life to match that character, because something ridiculously insignificant might help me find my place.²

Apparently it worked. In a separate phone interview, the real-life Wigand has nothing but praise for Crowe¹s work.

³My hat¹s off to Russell,² Wigand said. ³He¹s got it down. He even looks like me.²

What makes Crowe¹s performance even more remarkable is that he didn¹t meet the man he was portraying until just before the cameras began rolling. Because of his confidentiality agreement with his former employer, Brown & Williamson tobacco company, Wigand could participate in the film in only the most tangential manner.

³When I finally met Jeffrey, I felt pretty good,² Crowe said in his thick Australian accent (think ³Crocodile Dundee²). ³I knew then that I had a good grasp on the character. Said to myself, ŒWell, all right then, I¹ve pegged it.¹ But I did learn something important from the meeting. It made me realize there was a massive emotional impact on this guy, that what we were doing in the film was a real series of events and a real person. What I came away with was the idea that this was a man under siege.²

In fact, during a long period of harassment ‹ legal and otherwise ‹ from his former employer, Wigand saw his marriage and career crumble. For his willingness to speak out on what he saw as the tobacco industry¹s pattern of lies and deceptions, Wigand lost almost everything.

³Playing somebody who¹s still alive and kicking is a tightrope job,² Crowe admitted. ³And it¹s complicated by the fact that Jeffrey is by no means a simple person.

³He¹s flawed, as we all are. He¹s a human being. Ultimately I think the social impact of his actions was a byproduct of a man trying to protect his family. Jeffrey didn¹t set out to be a hero, and he doesn¹t consider himself a hero now. There were true and real reasons in his mind for doing what he did, and most ofthem had to do with how one man protects himself and his family against a powerful corporation.²

An actor since the tender age of 6, Crowe dismisses the idea that Wigand turned whistle blower out of revenge or anger at having been fired.

³If there¹s anger,² the actor said, ³it¹s impotent anger. Mate, if your family was receiving death threats, how would you react? I think Jeffrey¹s a hero because he didn¹t pick up a gun.²

Meanwhile, Crowe continues his assault on Hollywood. His next role will be as an international hostage negotiator in director Taylor Hackford¹s ³Proof of Life.² It will mark the first time in an American film that Crowe will employ his Australian accent ‹ ironically, many moviegoers in this country assume that he¹s one of us.

But then, Crowe takes great pleasure in being a human chameleon whose looks and manner of speaking vary from film to film.

³Ah, mate, that¹s when my job is the best, isn¹t it? I¹ve had conversations in bars with people, and they¹re telling me about movies I¹ve been in and they just have no idea that I¹m the bloke they¹re talking about. But that¹s when it¹s good. Immersing yourself in another personality ‹ that¹s the important, satisfying part of the job. After all, being a film actor isn¹t about being an insipid, good-looking bloke. If you¹ve ever seen ŒRaging Bull,¹ you know what I¹m aiming for.²

So Crowe is a big admirer of Robert De Niro. Has he ever met his idol?

³Oh, I don¹t just want to meet De Niro socially,² Crowe said with a low chuckle. ³I want to get in the ring with him!² (Photo: Thanks to Jaimes!)

Crowe's Inside Story
By Natasha Stoynoff (October 31, 1999 )
c.1999 Toronto Sun

Aussie hunk beefs up as stool-pigeon tobacco exec in The Insider

HOLLYWOOD -- En route to being interviewed about his role in The Insider and on the evils of the tobacco industry, Russell Crowe pauses in the non-smoking hallway of a Beverly Hills hotel for a quick puff.

"I'm a fan of irony, mate," smiles the Australian actor, waving away a waft of second-hand smoke as he enters the room.

"And," he adds, of his 25-year-old cigarette habit, "I've never accused myself of being smart."

But taking on the role of Jeffrey Wigand, a former tobacco corporation executive and central witness in lawsuits against the tobacco industry (the suits were settled for US$246 billion in 1995) was a smart, if not controversial, move.

Opening Friday, the film is based on the May 1996 Vanity Fair article, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and details Wigand's internal struggle within the non-ethical business, and the betrayal of 60 Minutes execs for backing down from airing his whistle-blowing interview.

In lieu of the film's forthcoming release, those at 60 Minutes -- including Mike Wallace (played by Christopher Plummer) -- are none too happy.

"They haven't even see it yet, so how can they complain about it?" Insider director Michael Mann says.

For Crowe, who shot to fame in North America after starring in L.A. Confidential, the role is just another challenge.

He bleached and shaved his head, and overdosed "on bourbon and cheeseburgers" to gain 50 pounds to play the balding, heavy-set, 52-year-old exec.

"I was fat and bald and looking like Marlon Brando on a really bad day," laughs Crowe, 35, who has now regained his lean, 180-pound athletic build and shaggy, puppy-dog hair.

"It took me about six weeks to start seeing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. It took me five months to remove it."

But the cheeseburgers paid off, says co-star Al Pacino, who plays 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman in the film.

"To see him transform himself was just remarkable," Pacino says. "I was stunned by it."

Before fame, Crowe had done his share of transforming in front of the camera in films such as The Quick And The Dead, The Crossing and Proof (for which he won a Best Actor award from The Australian Film Institute).

"I didn't get a leading role in a film until I was 25," says the actor, who ironically has been dubbed by the New York Times as the next Marlon Brando.

"Ten years ago (they) said that," he says with a smirk. "It didn't change my life."

Crowe has embraced the Hollywood life, he says, but not the lifestyle. When he's not working, he spends his time on his 560-acre ranch Down Under,where -- "If you want to check on the cow that's going to give birth, it's a half-day's walk," he says.

"Having space and the time to think is imperative for me, mate." And though he has become an expert at playing an American on screen, off screen he's just a beer-drinking Aussie who wants to watch sports.

Ask about his (and Tom Cruise's) favourite rugby team, the South Sydneys, and he'll give a speech about their stats, the nuances of the game, and the threat of big business to the dying team.

"My team has been around for 92 seasons. I've been watching them, rain or shine, since I saw my first game when I was five. I think it's very, very sad that after 92 seasons, and the greatest win-loss record in the history of the game, apparently they're not required anymore."

Always up for a good battle, Crowe has just finished shooting Ridley Scott's film, The Gladiator, in which he mounts horses and tosses weaponry.

"I got beaten up on that film, big time," he says of his war wounds. "Ridley Scott had five camera crews operating, two-and-a-half thousand extras, 500 horses and 10,000 flaming arrows flying through the air." His kind of director, he insists. (Photo: Thanks to Jaimes!)

Crowe the Hero
by Katherine Monk (11/5/99)
The Vancouver Sun, c. 1999

As a tobacco-industry whistleblower in The Insider, Russell Crowe is a martyr for a noble cause.

"The sound of my own voice is boring me to death. I've been chin-wagging about this movie now for three weeks. I understand how this all fits in to what I do for a living. But at some point, it feels like some sort of inhuman marathon," says Russell Crowe over the phone from New York City, where he is hunkered down in the publicity trenches for his latest film, The Insider.

Crowe certainly can't be accused of not speaking his mind, a character trait that can be either a giant liability in the ego-sensitive entertainment business or, by contrast, a sizeable asset if those around you are confident enough to respect your honesty.

In Crowe's case, it tends to be the latter. Gifted with rugged good looks, an uncanny ear for accents and a face that's equally believable as menacing or heroic-as witnessed in movies such as Romper Stomper (in which he played a tattooed, violence-loving racist) or L.A. Confidential (in which he played a tough but heroic police officer), Crowe has experience and a success record that can't be argued with.

If he speaks his mind, you have to respect him for it. In fact, it was Crowe's ability to speak the truth with passion and conviction that landed him the leading role in The Insider, director Michael Mann's look at one man's struggle against the black-toother Goliath of Big Tobacco.

Cast opposite Al Pacino, who plays an ace news producer for CBS, Crowe plays the part of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, the real-life tobacco-company executive who blew the whistle on the industry's orchestrated denial of cigarette addiction and its inherent dangers.

In doing so, Wigand not only opened the floodgates to several billion dollars worth of class-action suits against the big tobacco companies, but also made him the target of death threats and a smear campaign that cost him his home, his wife and his family.

For "tough-guy" Crowe, being asked to play the role of Wigand, a plump, white-haired executive with the generic look of comfortable affluence in a golf shirt-the request seemed like a case of "stunt casting."

"When I got the script, I thought someone had made a mistake. It was a well-written piece of work, but I had no idea why it was coming to me," says Crowe, who was working on the Alberta set of Mystery, Alaska at the time. "They assured me it wasn't a mistake and on my one day off, I flew down to Los Angeles for a meeting with Michael [Mann]. I suggested he look for an older actor to play the part," says Crowe, 35.

"I was almost finished explaining to him why I thought I was the wrong guy when he stopped me mid-sentence and said 'I don't care about your age. I want you to play this part because of what's in here,'" says Crowe, explaining how Mann pointed at his chest and told him he needed someone with his brand of unmistakable integrity.

"I really thought it was a case of stunt casting at first, a casting decision that's so out of character it attracts attention, but quite frankly, if a director can see through me like that and get past my own doubt to see inside, then that's a director I want to work with."

Not long after that initial meeting, Crowe signed on to the project and threw himself into researching the life of Wigand. He put on 35 pounds to soften his athletic frame and age his face. He had his hair dyed silver. He read court court transcripts and pored over the infamous video footage of Wigand's testimony that 60 Minutes, the CBS news newsmagazine show, originally declined to air because network executives worried a lawsuit from the tobacco giants might hurt the network's share price.

"I even had a chance to interview Wigand in person, but I was a bit of a brat at the time. I asked him some hard questions, but he answered them all with honesty and intelligence," says Crowe, who refuses to disclose the contents of their discussion. "Let's just say that after it was all over, I felt we had to honour this man....He put everything on the line to tell the truth."

Crowe has already earned solid praise for his performance, prompting volleys of Oscar banter that the New Zealand-born, Australian-raised actor carefully ignores. "It was painful for me to watch the film after we'd finished, which normally is something I love to do. But here, it's a real person. And if I don't see Jeffrey Wigand on the screen, what am I going to do tomorrow?"

Crowe did eventually watch the movie and lived to tell the tale. And now, a year and a half after wrapping the project, he looks back on the experience with a statesman's munificence.

"For me, the pleasure in doing this part is was twofold. First, I was given the opportunity to explore an interesting character and work with some very interesting people. I think Michael Mann is a director of incredible artistry and intelligence. I also think this is his best film. I'm very pleased for Michael," says Crowe.

"Second, all the performers I was working with were on an equal level. Everyone was great....People ask me if working with Pacino was intimidating, but it wasn't at all. Yes, he's an icon of American cinema, but he's a man who's very comfortable with who he is, therefore he's easy to be around."

With two high-profile films under his belt and a third scheduled to hit theatres next year with the release of Gladiator, the latest Ridley Scott project, Crowe has become a sizeable asset in Hollywood. While he appreciates the recognition of his peers, he's not exactly in a hurry to trade in his Aussie identity and 19-year "apprenticeship" in the craft of acting for a hilltop house overlooking Cold Water Canyon and club-hopping in West Hollywood.

"I have no interest in the Hollywood way of life and everything that goes with it. I'm only interested in acting between 'action' and 'cut,'" he says.

"If I were to move to Los Angeles, it would be akin to putting down my sleeping bag in the office. I don't live here [in the United States], which I think makes me a little more objective. I can get a different take on a character and on the culture becuase because I live outside it.

"Also, to descend into thoroughly brazen cliche, I just feel at home [in Australia]," he says. "I feel free to be myself, which means I can have a lot more fun inhabiting other people's personalities when I'm working."

Crowe says a lot of actors make the mistake of believing they should love the characters they play instead of just loving the job. "I've made 21 movies now. Every part I've played interested me in some way or other, but I can't say I loved any of them. When I did Romper Stomper, I played a racist covered in tattoos, and every morning I had to look at myself in the mirror and cringe. That wasn't make-up that could be wiped off, it was coloured glass fibre that stayed on for weeks," he says.

"I like the act of inhabiting another person's identity, but only as far as work is concerned. I have no desire to become some sort of iconographic actor or playing someone who doesn't interest me. If that means changing accents from film to film, that's okay," says Crowe.

"Some people [in Australia] are bothered by the fact that I may be from New York in one movie and Los Angeles the next. They don't like the accents. But there's got to be a larger plan afoot if people are going to see Australia in a broader context than, say, a Crocodile Dundee. I think I have to get inside the machine to change it, and that's what I'm doing," says Crowe, who feels so passionate about national identities he added several "Canadianisms" to the recent Disney film Mystery, Alaska in an attempt to honour our contribution to the game of hockey.

"Ironically, I've just decided to do a movie with Taylor Hackford [An Officer and a Gentleman, Against All Odds] where I play an Australian. It's taken a long time, but now I get to play a serious, tertiary-educated, sentient character who speaks with my native accent in a big-budget Hollywood film." (Photo: Thanks to Jaimes!)

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