Source: Radio Times (UK, Feb 16-22, 2002) via MaximumCrowe.com
By David Gritten
Photos by Yariv Milchan
Already an Oscar winner as a sword-wielding Roman hero, Russell Crowe confirms his versatility with his latest role, as a schizophrenic mathematical genius. David Gritten meets the straight-talking Australian who's no slave to convention.
Wherever he goes in the world these days, Russell Crowe is instantly recognised - though fans' greetings take different forms. "I walk down the streets in Rome and 50 people are behind me, yelling 'Gladiatore!'" he says. In London, cabbies lean out of their windows and shout 'Orlright, Russell?' In his Australian homeland, people feel familiar and just bawl: 'Maaaaaate!'
It's no surprise they all know him so well. At 37, Crowe has emerged as one of Hollywood's most talented star actors with a terrific run of films, starting in 1997 with LA Confidential. Since then he has also been a major presence at the Academy Awards, which are beamed globally to hundreds of millions of TV viewers. Two years ago, he received an Oscar nomination for The Insider as Jeffrey Wigand, a tobacco firm executive who blew the whistle on corrupt industry practices. To play him, Crowe transformed his body, "ageing" 15 years and gaining 35 pounds on a diet of cheeseburgers and bourbon. Last year he won the best actor Oscar for is portrayal of Maximus, the general cast into slavery who becomes a gladiator as a way of avenging his family.
It's a racing certainty he'll be back at the Oscars next month. In his new film, A Beautiful Mind, Crowe plays John Nash Jr, the American mathematical genius who wrote a brilliant paper on game theory as a young man, before enduring a decades-long struggle with schizophrenia. Nash finally found some sort of equilibrium, continued his work and won a Nobel Prize in his sixties.
The performance won Crowe a Golden Globe as best dramatic actor last month. And Oscar voters also lap up such roles. Crowe, who does not resemble Nash, is reluctant to discuss how he plays such characters so authentically. "There is a certain amount of preparation you do," he says flatly. "You learn your dialogue and you don't bump into the furniture. Trying to explain every alleyway you go down to reach such decisions is pointless."
Crowe decided not to meet Nash until after shooting, but read about him and watched taped interviews with him and other schizophrenics. "You search for clues," he says. "One of his peers described the way he talked as 'Olympian and ornamental'. So I grabbed on to that as something I could use. You can't talk to a 74-year-old man who's had 35 years of mental illness and divine what he was like as a young man. I had to take the facts that I knew to be absolutely correct. He was born in West Virginia, so that was how he was going to talk. I had to construct who he was as a young man without meeting him, so once I had made those decisions, meeting him was a pleasure."
He recounts this in a matter-of-fact manner when we meet in a London hotel. Crowe is not one to waste time being falsely ingratiating: he is known in the film industry as something os a loose cannon. Meeting him, one sees why. Tall and rangy, he carries a slight sense of danger. His stare is insolent, his grin mischievous, and resorts often to four-letter words. Fame has not smoothed off all his rough edges -- one reason, of course, why many fans like him. His candour is bracing and rather funny.
Yet only a year ago Crowe's dismissiveness about Hollywood glitz and pretentiousness was landing him in hot water. Some industry bigwigs, Steven Spielberg among them, are said to have taken him aside and told him to be more diplomatic.
He responded magnificently with a humble, emotional speech on accepting his Oscar for Gladiator. "If you grow up in the suburbs of anywhere, a dream like this seems vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable," he said touchingly -- with the whole world watching.
And talking with me, he pays the British a graceful compliment: no cracks about 'whingeing poms' from Crowe. Mulling over the huge success of Gladiator in this country, he says "Maximus was meant to be Spanish, but he's obviously not. My accent's very English. I call it my 'Royal Shakespeare Company two pints after lunch' accent. But I see Maximus as a character who's close to the psychology and heart of this country. He's prepared to fully apply himself to what he believes in. That thing in the psyche of Great Britain is what people feel made Great Britain great."
Crowe was born in New Zealand, but moved to Australia with his parents as a small child. He was a movie brat of sorts: his parents were film-set caterers. After a stint as a child actor on Australian TV, his first break came in 1992 with the film Romper Stomper playing a vicious, racist skinhead. Sharon Stone saw it and hired Crowe for her 1995 western The Quick and the Dead. His success in America arrived just two years later, with LA Confidential, in which he played ruthless cop Bud White.
Crowe has ascended quickly into the ranks of global stars, and was reportedly paid $15 million for A Beautiful Mind. Between films, he likes to retire to his expansive Australian ranch. Yet trouble seems to follow him around; on the set of his previous film, Proof of Life, he and his co-star, Meg Ryan embarked on an affair that coincided with the end of her marriage to actor Dennis Quaid. And Crowe's name arose when his long-time friend, Nicole Kidman's marriage to Tom Cruise ended. Crowe has since intimated he wants to marry and start a family soon -- when the right woman comes along.
He remains tight-lipped about such matters. "Sorry mate," he says, a faint hint of threat in his voice, when I mention his personal life.
But he agrees that dealing with fame can be hard. "It's affected life greatly in some ways, but it does allow me to do the things I originally set out to try and do. I treat films really seriously, but not myself." He also knows it could be worse: his cousin is the great former New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe, who is even more famous back home. "He gets the same scrutiny, but with him it's even more intense. As a cricketer, if he makes a mistake, everyone sees it. If I fluff a line on camera, they just don't use it."
It doesn't happen often, as Ron Howard, director of A Beautiful Mind, confirms. "Russell is nothing like John Nash, so he's not a clone and it's not an imitation, but he does an extraordinary job. The fact that he's so charismatic isn't exactly bad for the movie, either."
Crowe has ambitions to direct his own film soon. "It'll be in Australia," he says. "I'll need to start off in a culture in which I'm well versed." His next film will be Cinderella Man, about boxing champ James Braddock. "He was a boxer," says Crowe, "but that doesn't necessarily maker it a boxing movie. Braddock was a tough guy; he could look after himself." Just like a certain actor one could name.
Eucalyptus set ~ 2005
Woolloomooloo ~ 2006
Wheeee! ~ 2007