Do you know what drives me mad here?” Russell Crowe takes a long drag on his cigarette and stares across the Beverly Hills skyline outside his modest motel room. “People hype me all the time. They tell me I’m great. They slip it into the conversation so that it seems normal. You’ve got to be really careful you don’t start believing it.”
Such are the pitfalls of life in La La Land. When Crowe arrived in Los Angeles, he planned to stay for two weeks and find an agent. But Hollywood’s maxim is: make haste slowly. Six weeks later he has signed with the prestigious International Creative Management mega-agency, but feels increasingly frustrated as each day snags him deeper and deeper into the city’s fabric.
His stay has developed into a succession of ritual meetings and auditions as Hollywood checks him out. “I’m getting appointments with people who’ve never seen one inch of footage that I’ve done,” Crowe says with an incredulous laugh.
“At the same time they hand me scripts with roles I’d love to do.” He gestures towards a pile of scripts strewn across the floor. “These are great. I’d love to do any one of these. But the reality is I won’t. Russell Crowe doesn’t mean anything here. I’m way down on the list, standing in the carpark at the back of the lot.”
Still, Hollywood is curious about Crowe. His show-reel – eight films in three years – spotlights a remarkable versatility. Crowe seems determined to avoid typecasting, segueing from likeable larrikin (Proof), through to slimy hustler (Spotswood), narrow minded Welsh Baptist (The Great Pretender), to nihilistic skinhead (Romper Stomper) and romantic lead (opposite Charlotte Rampling in Anne Turner’s Hammers Over The Anvil).
In short, Hollywood senses that the 27-year old New Zealander has box-office potential. And despite his new-boy-in-town status, Crowe knows the score. “The bottom line is this: somebody wants to be the one who discovers you. However,” he continues ruefully, “not everyone is in the situation to discover you right now. Without a profile it’s bullshit.”
Building a profile in Hollywood demands commitment, but Crowe is in two minds about making it. “The motivation level of other actors here is terrible,” he spits. “They just flop around because when they get a job, even if it’s one week on a piece of shit, it pays them so much money they just sit back and flop around again. And I really hate that. There’s gotta be an edge, a passion. And I think this place will sap it out of you.”
Instead, while conceding that Hollywood is part of a “long-term” career plan, Crowe seems intent on staying hungry, hankering for the gritty low-budget Australian films in which he forged his reputation. “I kinda like the rusty things I’ve been doing. I like the stuff with just love and sweat in it. Here it’s all money and deals. I know this is obvious stuff but I’m just not ready for it”.
Working on the edge energises Crowe. A self-taught actor, with a quick intelligence and a volatile temperament, he acts from instinct. As we sit and talk at his motel , he chain smokes and radiates a nervy intensity, locking us both into conversation riffs. It is a magnetic approach that augurs well for his status as a leading man. No wonder Hollywood is pricking up its ears.
Although he made his screen debut at six, opposite Jack Thompson in Spyforce, Crowe paid his dues as a performer out on the road with a succession of New Zealand rock bands. It was a less than dynamite career. “I had none of the discipline I have now,” he recalls. “It was like a summer job that went on too long – six years. Everybody else had been to university and got their degrees and stuff, and all I had was a good pair of boots, some tight jeans and a couple of black T-shirts.”
Still, it taught him how to read an audience. “You learn to give them a show. And then you can go and do a film because you know the beginning, the middle and the end. You know where your performance has to go. So when you shoot out of sequence it doesn’t matter – you know where you are at any one moment.”
By the time director George Ogilvie cast Crowe as the lead in The Crossing, he was ready to deliver. “The stuff I did up to that time was at my fingertips. I just threw it out. George realised that I’d got to a point of maturity where I could really consider what my performance was going to be. I could map it out and I could take control of it. And I could really manipulate myself and the people who were watching me.”
Crowe’s acting technique is grounded in meticulous preparation and sheer hard work. Once he commits to a project a sort of tunnel vision takes over. “I like to cut myself off. I go from my cave, to the set and back again. And that’s it. I’m boringly sensible.”
This Zen-like concentration is aimed at just one thing, the moment when he performs. “You’ve got to stay aware. That’s the worst thing. You’ve got to spend 90 per cent of the day waiting, but you can’t turn off. You have to stay in that space. Because you have to perform at a moment’s notice. And if you are not aware, not there, you miss the train.”
His dedication is evident in Geoff Wright’s Romper Stomper, a gruelling take on inner-city racism. Crowe plays Hando, a neo-Nazi skinhead with a penchant for Mein Kampf, stomach-churning violence and more tattoos than De Niro sports in Cape Fear. It is a mesmerising performance, conveyed with chilling conviction, that confirms Crowe’s nascent talent and range.
“It’s a movie about today. It’s happening now,” says Crowe, who roamed army surplus stores, read white supremacist literature and listened to Wagner and tapes of English soccer matches while preparing for this role.
It wasn’t an easy role to live with. “Your hair takes a long time to grow back. So every time you look in the mirror you see a visual image you really hate. You’re really revolted by what you see. You find just how low you can go. What life is like when you always hate.”
Playing Hando meant projecting some powerfully negative vibes. At one point Crowe and three fellow actors were seized by police while wandering down a Melbourne Street. “Shaving your head is a pretty heavy statement,” laughs Crowe, who ended up in the cells. “The police see it as provocative. When I told them we were actors doing a movie, a sergeant said, “Well, I hope you’re Method actors mate, ‘cos you are really going to enjoy this.”
Crowe describes the movie Romper Stomper as a “contemporary urban tale”, a category in which he slots recent movies like Proof, Death in Brunswick and The Big Steal. “These films appeal to Australia’s cultural minorities,” he says passionately. “They want to see themselves represented as they are. They’ve got nothing to do with the bushrangers and all that shit. I believe the ways of getting audiences for Australian films is to reflect what they want to see. And beyond that to excite their imagination.”
Like many of his contemporaries in the post 10BA world (when the promise of tax deductions lured investors to boost the industry), Crowe cut his teeth at the low-budget end of the Australian film industry. Proof, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s international arthouse hit, which won Crowe an AFI award in 1991, cost just £1.1 million – lunch money in Hollywood.
But while he is fiercely supportive of Australia’s new wave, Crowe is less sure of Australia’s film aristocracy, directors like Fred Schepisi, Peter Weir, Phil Noyce and Bruce Beresford who mostly work overseas. Crowe would like to see them make more films in Australian.
“I wanna work with those guys. Come on, it’s a fact! These are really good directors, so I don’t want to piss them off. There’re 24 hours in a day for god’s sake and there’s a lot they can achieve in Australia. I’d like to see them work with the new generation of performers coming through. It would be an interesting mix.”
If Crowe is mildly censorious of Australia’s expatriate movie directors, he is scathing about the theatre establishment, berating theatres that play safe to lure subscription-based audiences. “The bottom line is, can you excite an audience or not? If you can’t, get off the stage.”
Such opinions have made their mark and given Crowe a reputation as an actor with Attitude. But playing safe has never been his forte. “I’m relatively young at this,” he muses, “and probably stupidly ideological. but there’s more to acting than just turning up and doing your shit. You’ve just got to love it. Otherwise there is no point. When I do a feature film I want to take it right to the heart. – Peter Huck
Images from article HERE. Thanks to gladannie
Transcript of article thanks to Zell and Ali