Source: Air New Zealand Pacific Wave (The In Air Magazine of New Zealand)
Russell Crowe: Acting up in the U.S.
By Jessica Sully
Sharon Stone says that LA Confidential star Russell Crowe is "the sexiest guy working in movies today".
Thousands of women agree with her, but in the cutthroat, competitive world of movie-making in the United States of America, Crowe is achieving the impossible. This wild and dangerous newcomer from down under has become as respected for his acting skills as he is admired for his tough, macho-but-sensitive sex appeal.
Now his role as the obsessive, brutal cop Bud white in the stylish, Oscar-winning film has made Crowe the "overnight sensation" toast of Hollywood. Again.
Crowe, who made fifteen films before LA Confidential, sighs and smiles: "Everyone is always discovering me."
But Stone, whom he describes as "a great person", was one of the first to notice him and fought studio opposition to get him hired.
Explaining why she set her heart on Crowe to play a gunslinger-turned-preacher opposite her in the western The Quick and the Dead, the role that launched him into the stratosphere of international stardom, Stone says: "I thought Russell was not only charismatic, attractive and talented, but also fearless. I was convinced I wouldn't scare him."
Stone was right, but then it's hard to imagine what might have the power to scare this intense, ambitious, 34-year-old New Zealander. On screen he's played Nazi, shy homosexuals and a serial killer. Off screen he's been known to walk out of interviews if he's bored, reject presents of French champagne as a protest against nuclear testing, punch a fellow actor and even cross swords with the powerful Hollywood film studios.
"I don't know how long I can take it over there," Crowe admitted after the premiere of his sci-fi film Virtuosity: "I had to argue my way out of a discussion with the Paramount people about taking a limousine to the screening. It's ridiculous, I keep saying, 'I do have my own legs, mate, you know?' It's not just a frivolous form of rebelliousness for the sake of being cool or whatever. Aside from the practical consideration of the fact that a block and a half is a very small distance, it's such a waste of money. Doesn't Paramount know that whole countries are falling apart out there?"
Just what is it that made the controversial Crowe fly straight to the top of the Hollywood tree with the bolshie attitude and unfashionable bluntness? He's renowned for being demanding on film sets or swearing at the crew when he thinks he's being thwarted. Once he even pulled a fake gun on a crew member to get his command obeyed more swiftly.
But this is apparently not a man about whom anybody can feel lukewarm. For every detractor Crowe has a fierce defender. He's sweet and sensitive, say his friends; loyal, funny and brutally honest. He's kind to animals, generous to charities and intolerant of any form of pretence.
Everyone agrees that as an actor he is extremely talented, with the rare ability to play even the most challenging role convincingly.
This one-of-a-kind star certainly owes part of his unique appeal to his upbringing thousands of miles away from laid-back California. "My maternal grandfather's mother was Maori," he points out. "I have an option to vote on the Maori electoral roll in New Zealand."
Crowe is so often described in print as an Australian that he's tired of correcting people. "I'm caught between cultures a bit," he says. Having lived in both countries, he has developed his own point of view on the cultural differences that have moulded him.
"The catch-phrase in Australia is, "No worries, mate, things will be the way they will be," he says. "New Zealanders don't see it that way. There are mountains to be climbed. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb Everest, was a New Zealander. It there are things to be done, New Zealanders will get them done."
In Australia, says Crowe, "they're harder on you. You get a bit well known, and they put you through the 'threshing machine'. They call it the 'tall poppy syndrome' -- Australians like to put each other down. But mates are really important."
Although he's been working with a dialect coach since he's becoming one of Hollywood's hottest properties, Crowe admits: "On any given day I probably run through 20 or 30
different ways of speaking. It's an annoying habit that I've had since I was a kid." Russell Crowe was born in Auckland, New Zealand, on April 7, 1964, to Alex and Jocelyn Crowe. At the time, his father was working as a hotel manager, and Crowe remembers: "The nickname for the hotel was 'The Flying Jug' -- this place was famous for fights."
When their son was four years old the Crowe family moved to Australia, where Alex and Jocelyn became caterers, working on sets in the fast-growing Australian film industry.
After school and during the holidays, the young Crowe was a fixture on the sets too, deciding immediately that that was the life for him. (Two of his cousins have played in the New Zealand cricket team, but he insists that he was never tempted to try.)
"Even at six," he jokes, "I would look at the 28-year-old guy playing a war veteran in a film and tell my parents, "I don't know why the director doesn't see me in that role. I might be a little shorter, but I can do it."
Well, he was nearly right. While still a child, Crowe proved that he could act. He began as an extra on the sets where his parents were working and before he was seven was appearing regularly on television.
"When I was a teenager my parents kept telling me I needed something to fall back on, but I said, 'Forget it; although I might fall on my face, I have no intention of falling back'. I felt completely driven."
Although he got steady acting work in Australia, that drive made Crowe return to New Zealand with his family in his late teens, to finish high school and to make it big as a rock star.
"Here we go, true confession time," he groans now. "I worked under the name of 'Russ Le Roq' for a while. And I released a few records that went rocketing straight to the bottom of the charts. I actually have two or three of the worst recordings in the history of the New Zealand music industry. I've got that whole bottom end covered."
One of Russ Le Roc's singles was prophetically titled, I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando.
Deciding that his future in show business probably lay in acting after all, Crowe returned to Australia to try again, but he has his own theory about why his career took off just when it did. "I got my tooth kicked out when I was in a football game at the age of 10," he recalls. "I was 25 when I got it replaced, and that's when I started getting work. It's pathetic to find out how much people are tuned to the visual thing."
His musical training led Crowe to try the musical stage, landing him parts in Grease and The Rocky Horror Picture Show and jobs as a waiter, car washer and bingo-caller when work was thin on the ground. That all changed when director George Ogilvie saw Crowe in the musical Blood Brothers and offered him a movie part.
Crowe's film debut was in Ogilvie's The Crossing in 1990, and two years later he was starring in Geoffrey Wright's Romper Stomper.
To Crowe's regret, his role as the sadistic, skinhead thug in Romper Stomper made him into a poster boy for Australia's white supremacist movement, but with the shrewdness and humor that are the key ingredients of his personality, Crowe decided he would fix that.
He opted to play a gay plumber in The Sum Of Us for his next role: "There are very elemental, testosterone-driven rules for life as a male in Australia," he comments, "but I have a twisted sense of humour and thought it would be funny for people who had loved Romper Stomper to line up on the first day and see The Sum Of Us.
But ironically it was his performance in Romper Stomper, demonstrating his eerie gift for telegraphing violence on screen, that landed Crowe his LA Confidential role.
Director Curtis Hanson remembers: "I saw Russell in Romper Stomper and thought 'Wow! Who is this guy?' I knew from seeing the picture that he had the stuff to hold the screen and that he was able to play violence and still keep a character interesting. I love Russell in LA Confidential too, because he understood the duality of this 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 just thuggishness."
Describing LA Confidential, Crowe is quick to point out: "It's not violent in Hollywood terms, nor is the violence gratuitous. This is a story about policemen during a particularly ugly period of the 50s and the Los Angeles Police Department had a totally different relationship to society than it currently has."
On tackling his own role in the picture, Crowe says: "I'm not the sort of person who'd ever be a policeman, so it's a stretch for me to get into the authoritarian groove necessary to play a man like Bud White. I have a simple way of working, though. I research my character and pull in as much material as I can, then, once I've done my homework, I pretty much know the character I'm playing. From that point on, it's just a matter of commitment and focus."
For now, Crowe's professional commitment and focus are directed towards The Man Who Knew Too Much, a film in which he's just signed on to play opposite Al Pacino. The movie started shooting in April, and the buzz is that this picture is going to be big.
Fellow New Zealanders might have caught Crowe on Hey, Hey It's Saturday or singing in one of his gigs with his band 30 Odd Foot Of Grunt performing their new single What's Her Name.
Crowe spends as much time as he can with his family and his partner, an American actress, on his farm seven hours north of Sydney. "I'm actually living in the middle of a valley," he says, "so from where my shack is, the land stretches away on both sides of me. I have 48 cows, a horse, three dogs and five chickens.
"I'm just a big softie when it comes to the farm. These animals are my friends, and I enjoy spending time with them because they open my mind up when the small world of show business threatens to close it down."