Source: Famous Magazine
By David Giammarco
How do you tell a great actor? By the price he demands? No. By how good he looks on screen? Obviously not. You can tell a great actor by how different he appears from role to role. In other words: his acting. Accordingly, Russell Crowe, is a great actor.
The 36-year-old Aussie first became popular on North American soil as Bud White, the conflicted but sexy young cop in 1997's L.A. Confidential. Last year, he returned in The Insider, but this time was almost unrecognizable as a pudgy, middle-aged scientist with all the sex appeal of, well, a pudgy, middle-aged scientist. The performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
Now comes his third big role in a "Hollywood" picture--as General Maximus in Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Once again, Crowe looks completely different--black hair, muscular--and his performance is as powerful as his appearance.
From the Outback, Russell Crowe fought his way to the top of Tinseltown's A-list. Now, with the title role in Gladiator, he has a chance to carve that powerful position in stone.
He may not have won the Oscar, but in coming close, 36-year-old Aussie actor Russell Crowe feels he has conquered the world, "To me, it was an overwhelming privilege." Crowe says of the Best Actor nomination he earned for his turn as tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider. "I'm an Academy Award-nominated actor now for the rest of my career, no matter what crap I do."
Thankfully there isn't too much of that coming down Crowe's career pipeline. He is suddenly surfing a tidal wave of popularity and being offer A-list projects after years of toiling in Hollywood'' trenches. If L.A. Confidential (1997) first piqued audience interest in Crowe, and The Insider finally made his peers sit up and take notice, then this month's Gladiator will carve in stone his reign as one of the generation's greatest actors.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise) Gladiator is sweeping character epic of Cecil B. DeMille proportions that devotes as much attention to the gladiatorial brutality of ancient Rome as it does its assortment of Machiavellian characters. In short, it's an action film with brains. That's what intrigued Crowe, who says he'd been inundated with stacks of nonsensical action scripts each one worse than the last. But he admits that accepting Gladiator was still a giant leap of faith.
"They basically said to me, 'Look Russell, we don't have a script that you would care about, but we've got a concept. Ridley Scott . . . 185 AD . . . you start the movie as a Roman General. Do you want to talk to Ridley?" And I said 'Absolutely', because that really got into my imagination and I just couldn't let it go."
When Crowe finally did receive the script he wasn't impressed. "They were right it wasn't very good." He says with a laugh, firing up the first of many cigarettes. He's sitting in a suite at the Century Plaza in L.A., dressed casually in black jeans and a black shirt. "It was too modern, too cynical, had gags about advertising in it. It just didn't make any sense to go to that place with such a facile set of dialogue and scenes."
Remarkably, all elements came together resulting in what is one of the first real Oscar contenders of the year. But it's a chance Crowe doesn't want to take again. "It turned out really well, so we were lucky." He says. "But if it had turned out bad, then that would've affected me ever taking a leap of faith again. Because you can have 5,000 blokes charging through the forest on horseback, you can have lions and tigers, and you can have a spectacle as big as you want, but if you don't have a story that means anything to people then there is really very little point to making the movie. "The fact it worked out so well is really surprising," he adds, "because all we had was this concept and a belief in each other's abilities to pull it off."
That they did. The $100 million film pits Crowe, as beloved Roman General Maximus against the conniving Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who decides Maximus, must be executed in order to prevent his rightful claim to the throne. But Maximus escapes death, in dramatic fashion, by slaying his executioner and is then exiled into slavery, where he quietly plots the downfall of the young emperor. Shot on location in Malta and Morocco, director Scott even went so far as to build part of a full scale replica of the Colosseum and a gladiator "training area"--complete with ferocious felines.
"This was certainly the most physically demanding film I've ever done." Says Crowe "When I made (the hockey film) Mystery Alaska, I didn't think I would ever find a movie where I could punish myself any more than that, but I was wrong. I ended up cracking a bone in my foot. I fractured my hip (they had to shoot around him for a few days), both bicep tendons popped out. And I still don't have any feeling in the top of this finger (he holds up the index finger of his left hand) because it got slashed in the very first battle sequence with a sword that was covered in dirt.'"
But all the pain was worth it. "When I walked into the Colosseum and there's 5,000 extras shouting Max-I-Mus! Max-I-Mus! Max-I-Mus! and chariots and lions, are all around you--it was truly the most thrilling experience of my life. That is theatre on a grand scale. And nothing can compare to that feeling."
Crowe admits he is accused of being "arrogant", but it's simply a level of confidence that is often misconstrued. "See, I'm a very mediocre guitarist," he says, "so, I can't sit down and jam with Eric Clapton with any level of competence. But I can jam with any actor who walks the planet and know, with absolute confidence, I will fulfill the needs of my character and be open enough to take in whatever information is given at the time and expand it and keep that damn thing real. It's as simple as that."
Crowe is currently in Poland wrapping up production on Taylor Hackford's Proof of Life with Meg Ryan, and then jumps immediately into his good friend Jodie Foster's next directorial effort, Flora Plum, where he will play a freak show beast opposite Claire Danes. He says he's handling this unrelenting work schedule well, "but I don't get to spend enough time with the people that I love, or in the place that I love much anymore. I have become the king of Frequent Flier Miles. But I'm an actor, mate, and I've done it for a long time, and there is a certain level of the gypsy in the job. And I guess it's the change of perspective and the change of geography, which actually makes my life interesting. Otherwise it would just be the same series of cow bums in a cattle yard for me. "In order to complete the fantasy of my life, which is to work at the highest level in the art form that I've chosen to work in, then I've got to keep getting on airplanes," he adds. "But look at the people I'm getting to work with. Look at the experiences I'm having. Look at the diversity of characters I'm getting to play. So believe me mate, I don't have any complaints."