[Ed Note from Murph: I am a paid member of the UK Times Web site]
Thanks to Wendy.....
My name is Danielle, Commander of the house of Crowe -- Her music has charms to soothe the savage beast – but has Danielle Spencer succeeded in taming her volatile husband, Russell Crowe?
Published: 4 July 2010
Danielle Spencer is aiming to abolish all notions that she is just a celebrity wife (Harold David) As intimate gigs go, this one was scary. Downstairs in a candlelit room at London’s Langham Hotel, four British radio bosses were gathered to listen to the singer-songwriter Danielle Spencer. By a strange twist of fate, I happened to be among them. When Spencer came into the room to perform, it must have felt to her like a test, an audition. Not so much singing for her supper, but singing for her life on radio. She was unfazed, accomplished, weaving dark, mystical tunes.
Afterwards she chatted. Her accent is Australian, but she was born in Yorkshire, and until she was about 12 lived there and for a while in Cambridgeshire. In the candlelight she looks as if she is in her early thirties. I am amazed to discover she’s 41. Her father was the Play School presenter Don Spencer, an Australian who married an Englishwoman.
Spencer is wearing black skinny jeans and rock-star lace. A little bit gothic. Her performance is spellbinding, confirming the legend that it was this power that put a spell on Russell Crowe — marrying him, taming him and turning him into a mellowed beast.
He can be a volatile person. He’s passionate, creative and complicated. All of that makes him the person he is
I suggest this to her when we meet for coffee a few days later. She’s blunt: “That’s sort of silly to say that. He’s a guy who now has two kids. He’s married and a little bit older. People naturally mellow a little bit when they have children and have that responsibility.” Crowe is 46.
So, I wonder, is it really mellow in the Crowe household? “You know, he can be a volatile person. He’s passionate, creative and complicated. I think he’s learnt a little bit, but all of that makes him the person he is.
I don’t think I would want to change him. I think he’s having a natural progression from the person he is now as opposed to the person he was a few years ago.”
Obviously the person she’s married to isn’t as simple or as extreme as the person we know from movies and headlines. But five years ago he was being led out of the Mercer Hotel, New York, in handcuffs, for allegedly throwing a telephone at the receptionist because it didn’t work. Perhaps there’s a universal appeal about living vicariously through Crowe. I know I would have liked to have thrown a telephone at many hotel clerks when I couldn’t use the thing to communicate.
But Crowe mellowing? Maybe we don’t want him to. In May, when promoting his new Robin Hood film, he was interviewed on Radio 4 by Mark Lawson, who asked him where his Hood accent came from. Did he detect some Irish in there? Crowe seemed huffy and insulted, becoming increasingly irritated and commenting sarcastically: “No, I was going for an Italian [accent], yeah, missed it. F*** me!”
Spencer says: “I think it’s been totally exaggerated. We’re not making a big deal of it in the household. I think Russell had a joke with the guy.” Sounds like he didn’t get the joke. “Yeah, sounds like that. It’s one of those things that’s been blown up out of all proportion, where they’re trying to make a big story out of something that’s not a big story.”
Crowe is obviously sensitive to criticism and doesn’t see why he should pretend not to be. Spencer says, “I think people pigeonhole others in a particular way. As for the taming thing, it’s a kind of reductive way of putting things and our lives are three-dimensional and complicated.”
Being simplistic then, who lets it out more, you or him? Who cries the most? “I’m not a big crier,” she says. So it’s him. “I didn’t say that,” she smiles, “but I let it out in my music. That’s my form of therapy.” Crowe has said before: “I cry at anything. I’m the biggest softie.” And that helps fill in the picture of Crowe’s extremes; very soft and very hard. It’s a very macho combination. It’s not so much his wife’s ability to calm him, but his feeling of being awed by her. And being awed by her ability to control the very emotions he can’t.
Crowe and Spencer in Australia. Her husband says she had made him feel safe (Newspix) He has said: “My wife is a very contained person. She is passionate and creative, but she has a quietness and grace that I really appreciate. My template is my parents’ marriage.” Crowe’s parents have been together for 49 years. Despite everything that may cause volatility in his life, his marriage is the opposite. His wife doesn’t tame him, but she makes him feel safe. Talking to her is like being in the presence of a calm, still lake.
“I see myself as a realist,” she says. “I don’t get carried away with things. I stay centred — not always easy, but I get on with it. Although every guy is different, some are very capable of expressing sensitivity. Some mask it in anger, and some have a mixture of both. Russell is a very sensitive soul.”
Does he feel things more acutely than other people? “I definitely think he’s very sensitive.”
Spencer exudes strength in her songs and tries to remain unfazed by the fact that she took a new direction, from a career as an actress, to that of a singer. She was in films, and in soaps such as Home and Away and Pacific Drive, but wanted to concentrate on her real love - music.
The Sun report on Crowe's tantrums (STO)
In 2001, she put out a debut album, White Monkey, which was critically acclaimed, but when she got married to Crowe two years later, nobody was interested in her for herself, or her work, any more. “For weird reasons that had nothing to do with me,” she says. “And then I got pregnant while we were on our honeymoon.”
By the time Charlie, now six, was two, she started to work on another album, but discovered she was pregnant again, with Tennyson, four. It was as if she had been reinvented as Russell Crowe’s wife and mother of his children.
Her song lyrics are more English muddy evening than sunny beachy Australian. “There is something about England that ups your imagination and pulls me back. It’s very much part of my past, and my childhood is firmly entrenched in my psyche.”
Her parents separated, but they remain in Australia and she is great friends with both of them. “They managed the transition out of marriage into friendship very well. They probably stayed together for the amount of time they were meant to and then found their own paths.”
You feel she has inherited that knack of making complicated situations easy. “I try not to question myself too much,” she says, “but I do have a certain amount of inner conflict. I’m assuming everybody does. Whatever I’m battling comes out when I’m writing. And the rest of the time I think I contain it.”
She is extremely contained. Today in her jeans and not much make-up she is unassuming, undemanding, and un-needy. Is that the clue to it all? Is that why the marriage works? She is contained and he isn’t. “I think we see different things in each other. Yes, I think he likes the contained thing for reasons of his own. But saying that is a very broad stroke.”
She had to throw out a lot of the songs she first wrote for this album, Calling All Magicians, because she claims they were too “hormonally challenged” and dark. “When I look back on it, it was a bit like a depression.” Do you mean you had postnatal depression? “I was in some kind of bad head space. I don’t know if I was officially postnatally depressed. I didn’t feel the work had enough light in it. There was too much darkness, and it’s nice to have the contrast,” she says carefully.
“I think I ignored it for a certain amount of time. I’ve played music my whole life, but I’m inside myself. I don’t have that outside perspective. I’ve always been me who is a musician, and the distance between album one and album two has been long because of marriage and children, but I’ve still been a musician in that time, even if I haven’t been putting albums out. So it always surprises me when that is challenged by people who are thinking, ‘Why does she have to come out with an album? Why isn’t she happy being Mrs Crowe?’ That’s the worst possible scenario.”
She swirls the scenario around in her head for a little bit, and then, with one of those wise smiles, concedes that the worst scenario is not really that bad. She’s not one of these people who is precious about talking about her more famous partner. In fact, she wants to talk about him. The more open she is, the more she can be seen for herself and not just Mrs Crowe: “I’m not defensive about it. I totally understand the interest in him. He’s a very high-profile actor. I totally get it. So I’m open to talking about him.”
It does have an interesting effect. For a moment I am lost for words to ask about day-to-day life with Crowe. We know that Spencer doesn’t spend much time cooking, and that Crowe will cook for the family. They have two homes — a penthouse in Sydney, in Woolloomooloo, on a wharf, and a ranch in New South Wales where they keep horses that Crowe rides and Spencer used to, though now she worries about injuring her fingers. She needs them to play piano.
When he goes on location, she and the boys go with him. “I think it’s distracting from the music. It’s a double-edged sword. It opens up interest but creates resistance. It’s hard for people to see me as a musician before being the wife of Russell Crowe. That’s what happens. I wasn’t intending to get pregnant so fast.”
Spencer performs on stage at Madame Jojo's while promoting her debut UK album (Steve Thorne) They married on April 7, 2003, on his birthday, so he’d never forget the wedding anniversary. And soon she was pregnant. “Then I felt that I wanted to disappear. I didn’t want the attention of putting out an album. So it made me clam up. I thought people might laugh. I’ve got more of a writer’s personality where I’m an observer. I don’t need to be the centre of attention.
It was weird to be in a storm of attention that was about Russell, but it was raining down on me as well. So that’s why I couldn’t go out with an album before now. It was too much to take on: marriage, pregnancy, baby, travelling all over the place. We didn’t have a solid base. I did want to be the security in the baby’s life. In addition to that I didn’t think I could take on any more attention. There was no room for any more.”
She says she’s not planning any more babies, but she’s not not planning. “Tennyson in cut-and-dried terms is more like me. The other one is more like Russell in both behaviour and look.” She doesn’t say if this translates as Charlie, volatile, temper-tantrum playing, and Tennyson quietly playing his piano.
“Every day I feel slightly schizophrenic. It’s an ongoing learning curve for me. The last time I was working on an album, I didn’t have anyone to worry about except myself.”
Is there a sense that she and Crowe were destined to marry? She first met him way back in 1990 when she was 20 and played his girlfriend in a movie called The Crossing. They went out together for a couple of years, and rekindled their relationship some 10 years later. “At the time it felt like we came together and we parted — never with animosity,” she says, “but it felt like the right thing. We drifted apart and then drifted together again. And this time it was meant to be.”
It was not entirely a case of “drifting”. Crowe wanted to seize his moment. He didn’t want to be famous just in Australia — he wanted to take Hollywood. He was 31. It was the right age for ambition — so they went their separate ways. His breakout roles were with Denzel Washington in Virtuosity and with Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead. He had a big hit with LA Confidential, and, in 2000, became forever associated with Gladiator.
That’s a romantic way of putting it. I think it was more of a sense of ‘Here we are again’
He had a messy fling with Meg Ryan, his co-star in his next film, Proof of Life, after which she ended her marriage. When he returned to Australia, shell-shocked, Spencer was there to provide stability.
She has never wanted to go with him to Hollywood, preferring to concentrate on her songwriting career in Australia.
“I hadn’t shut the door on acting, but I’m not chasing that. I felt I had to keep going with music. We kept in touch and stayed friends. Even if we were both in relationships we would catch up and hang out.”
What made them get back together? Did she feel there was no way of escaping it? This just had to be?
“That’s a romantic way of putting it. I think it was more of a sense of ‘Here we are again’, and at that point we were both in a safe place and felt ready. It was the right time.”
Do you mean it was more the right time than being the right people for each other? “No, it wasn’t just about being the right time,” she says. We were both doing our various things. By the time we got back together we were both in a different state.”
This translates as Crowe had gone away, made it big, proved himself and now was ready to build a £150,000 chapel on his ranch for his wedding.
Last autumn Crowe directed the video for Spencer’s single, Wish I’d Been Here, where she plays a piano that looks like a sculptured staircase and she is in a haunted wood. Wasn’t that asking for trouble? “We did it because we needed it done in a hurry,” she explains, “and we know we can work together and just get it done. I knew there would be negativity. We didn’t relate to each other as husband and wife, just as: ‘I am doing my thing, we can work very quickly together.’ He’s very supportive. And on the positive side it was fun doing it.”
She plans to do a tour of Australia where she would want Crowe to be consigned to the back row of the audience. “It could be disconcerting and distracting to have him there.”
It would be a real mistake to dismiss Danielle Spencer as just Mrs Crowe playing at a keyboard instead of an ironing board. The songs are beautifully crafted, darkly moving and probably would have done better if she wasn’t Mrs Crowe, but it’s hardly something she can hide. “I’m looking for a niche market, I’m not trying to take on the whole planet.”
A Hollywood producer friend of mine knows them both. “I was so impressed with her when I saw her gig at the House of Blues in LA,” he told me, “and Russell certainly adores her. I think everyone expects Russell to behave badly, and sometimes people can’t help doing what’s expected of them, but together he and Danielle are beautiful to watch. He seems in awe of her. I’ve only ever known him to be funny and generous. The only difference is that when he’s with her he just seems complete and less sensitive.”
Crowe’s tweets around Spencer’s birthday suggest the same thing. He says: “‘Happy birthday beautiful girl. For you the city of Rome. Sorry I didn’t wrap it.” And then he goes on: “You want to talk about a lucky man. You should see my wife in her gown tonight. The most beautiful woman in the world.” When I refer to this gushy stuff, Spencer downplays it and shrugs. “I think I’m struggling forward like everyone else, trying to better myself and find my self-worth.”
Crowe says that his wife is the boss. Is that true? “Did he say that? Let’s just say we’re both strong-willed, and I don’t look at anyone being boss,” she says, not wanting to be drawn in to the broad stroke, the black or white. “Simple things make me happy. I don’t need grand pleasures. A lovely meal. A DVD. I love reading. I love walking. It’s what I do if I want to shift energy. I have to say some of my happiest times in life have been eating and finding absolute happiness.”
It would be difficult to dislike Spencer and her priorities — the sense that for her there is nothing so terrible that a walk in the park and a chocolate biscuit won’t sort out. Has she tamed Russell Crowe? Probably not. And does she care? Absolutely not.