Source: New Zealand Woman's Weekly
February 6, 1989
Just Don't Mention That Word 'Cousin'
By Jean Norman
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."
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.
"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 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.