Russell Crowe was born on 7 April 1 964. Seldom does a single actor change Hollywood’s perception of the perfect man, the kind of man men want to be and women just plain want. Yet Russell Crowe — a quiet, moody, hard-bitten New Zealander — appears to have done exactly that. With a mere four roles — in LA Confidential, The Insider, Gladiator, and A Beautiful Mind — he has knocked the pretty boys into a cocked hat, done away with smug, wisecracking shooters, and single-handedly forced rough-yet-sensitive masculinity back onto the agenda.
Russell Ira Crowe was born on April 7th, 1964, in Strathmore Park, a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand (he has Maori blood from his mother’s side of the family and claims Norwegian ancestry too). If the surname rings a bell, that’s because he’s the cousin of famous cricketing brothers Martin and Jeff Crowe. The cinema was in Russell’s blood. His mother’s father, Stan Wemyss, was an award-winning cinematographer during World War 2, while Russell’s parents — mother Jocelyn and father Alex — were set caterers (they also ran the occasional inn, one earning such a reputation for boisterousness it became known as The Flying Jug). Due to his parents’ profession and world-view, Russell’s life has been fairly nomadic. His family moved to Australia when he was just four, and he didn’t live in a house proper till he was fourteen. Precociously confident and fascinated by the film-sets his parents frequented, he began acting at the tender age of six. He played an orphan in the Australian TV series Spyforce, and had a part in The Young Doctors, the hit soap-opera which ran from 1976 to 1981 (he’d later also appear in Neighbours). At age fourteen, he returned with his family to New Zealand (he says his father is "very much a New Zealander") to finish High School, and it was here that he met Dean Cochran, with whom he formed the band Roman Antix — an oddly prophetic moniker, given that Crowe would later achieve worldwide recognition in a film called Gladiator. In his spare time, he still plays rock’n’roll with Cochran, in their band 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts. For their first gig (in Austin, Texas) after Gladiator took off, tickets were changing hands at $500 a pop. They’d also produce a best-selling documentary of their 2000 tour, heavily covering their gigs in London and Austin, and called Texas.
Crowe’s first real assault on the Big Time was, in fact, musical. At the age of 16, he was recast as Russ Le Roc, and released a couple of novelty singles, one having the similarly prophetic title I Want To Be Like Marlon Brando. When this burst of fame died out, he took on all manner of jobs to pay his way. He was entertainments manager on a resort island off of Auckland, as well as a waiter, a bartender, a fruit picker, a DJ, a horse wrangler, an insurance salesman and a bingo-number caller — in anyone’s books an all-round education. But he had both the acting and the musical bugs, and worked hard to forge a career on the stage. He performed in Grease, Blood Brothers, Simpson J. 202, and an Official Tribute To The Blues Brothers, and between 1986 and 1988, acted in the Rocky Horror Show no fewer than 415 times. Here he mostly played Eddie (Meat Loaf’s role in the movie version) but occasionally starred as the transvestite, transexual Frank-N-Furter (Crowe has stated that Tim Curry, again in the movie version of Rocky Horror, is his favourite screen villain).
Though this combination of acting and music was fun, Crowe eventually found himself drawn towards more "serious" and challenging roles. First came Blood Oath, then the coming-of-age drama The Crossing, for which Crowe was forced to change his appearance. Having long before lost a front tooth playing rugby, he’d hitherto refused to have it fixed — until the film’s frustrated director agreed to pay for the operation. Crowe’s profile now began to rise with Proof (where he gave an excellent performance as a gullible young man befriended by a manipulative, and blind photographer), the comedy The Efficiency Expert (where he played alongside Anthony Hopkins, who said of Crowe "He reminds me of myself as a young actor")), and then his big breakthrough — Romper Stomper. This was a very dark slice of cinema verite, where Crowe played Hando, the head of a gang of neo-Nazi skinheads, warring with the local Asian community. Beatings were frequent and exceptionally violent, and the film caused a major furore, both in Australia and abroad.
More positively, Romper Stomper brought Crowe to the attention of Sharon Stone, then riding high after her notorious showing in Basic Instinct. Stone loved Crowe’s "fearlessness" as an actor and demanded that he appear in her next picture, The Quick And The Dead, a cowboy caper to be directed by Evil Dead helmsman Sam Raimi. Indeed, she wanted Crowe so badly she held up production to allow him to finish filming his next movie, The Sum Of Us, wherein he played a homosexual coming to terms with his father and his father’s new (and disapproving) girlfriend. Once finished, he went directly on to The Quick And The Dead where, as a sullen, terrifying gunslinger, he proceeded to outshine both Stone and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. Famously, he also shared some pretty fearless sex scenes with Stone which never made the final cut. They did though appear in an uncut version of the movie, which has done more-than-brisk business in Australia.
From here on, Crowe’s star rose remorselessly, his 1992 appearance on The Late Show as Shirty, The Slightly Aggressive Bear becoming an ever-more distant memory. Alongside Denzel Washington in Virtuosity, he played a man possessed by the spirits of multiple multiple-murderers. Then came the hugely acclaimed LA Confidential, where he was mightily impressive as the seedy, wholly realistic Bud White, and Mystery, Alaska where, as John Biebe, he captained a pond hockey team against the mighty New York Rangers. He’s described his role in LA Confidential as his hardest yet as, in order to play the teetotal Bud White, he stopped drinking for five months and seven days (he was counting).
The rest is literally screen history with Crowe Oscar-nominated for both his next roles. First he was Jeffrey Wigand, the whistle-blowing cigarette executive in Michael Mann’s The Insider (based on Marie Brenner’s article the Man Who Knew Too Much). Then he was Maximus, a Roman general who becomes a gladiator after his patron, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, is murdered and he himself is betrayed by the murderer/usurper Commodus (brilliantly played by Joaquin Phoenix). For the latter, he finally won himself a little golden man. Receiving the award, he proudly bore his grandfather’s MBE. He also, very deliberately, used his victory to spread hope to others, saying "If you grow up in the suburbs of anywhere, a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable . . . this moment is directly connected to those imaginings. And for anybody who’s on the downside of advantage and relying purely on courage, it’s possible".
Ridley Scott, director of Gladiator, has said of Crowe that "Russell is difficult, he has a specific mind of his own, but he is a movie star", and Crowe does have something of a reputation. He’s been called bossy and demanding onset, he’s said to have blown cigarette smoke at people (ooh!) and sworn at them, to have started fist-fights with other actors and even to have pulled a small pistol on a set-stylist in order to get his own way — quickly. He furthermore once walked out of an interview with the New York Post because he was "bored". And, having received a BAFTA for A Beautiful Mind, he held the head of the award ceremony’s production company up against a wall for daring to cut from the show his recital of some of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry.
Crowe is very much his own man. After Gladiator, he took off on a 4000-mile motorcycle tour of Australia, with a few friends. And he admits to occasionally being TOO MUCH his own man. While filming Proof Of Life, he fell for co-star Meg Ryan, then involved in a hard divorce from Dennis Quaid. "We fell in love", he said later, "It happens, thank God. She’s a magnificent person". But Russell did not make time for her and they split, with Crowe later saying "I owe her an apology for not being as flexible as I might have been".
Crowe is now one of the biggest stars alive, turning down the neat part of Wolverine in X-Men (a part taken by fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman), and receiving a hefty $15 million paycheck for his latest project, A Beautiful Mind. Here he played John Nash, a real-life mathematician at Princeton during the Cold War. Desperate to make a significant contribution to his subject and also make a success of his marriage with brilliant scientist Alicia Lardes (played by Jennifer Connelly), he’s plagued by schizophrenia. His terrible condition destroys his life, yet somehow he conquers it, rekindling the flames of his broken marriage and winning the Nobel Prize. It’s a heavy one, for sure, but Crowe’s charisma and performance made it an unlikely $100 million hit AND both he and Connelly won Golden Globes and BAFTAs for their efforts. Both were also nominated for Oscars but, though Connelly was to triumph, Crowe was denied by Denzel Washington.
Then it was on to the $120 million Master And Commander, where Russell and Paul Bettany played naval adventurers, sailing the seas and bumping into the Napoleonic wars, as depicted by the great Australian director Peter Weir.
All that perfectionism seems to have paid off. He’s a major Hollywood player. et Crowe cannot abide Hollywood itself, preferring for years to spend his spare time either with his band or on his 560-acre farm, seven and a half hours north-west of Sydney. The farm is run in his absence by his parents and older brother Terry, who occupy the farm-house. When Russell came home, he used to live in a caravan nearby. Since December 2001, though, he’s had a home, his own family home. Before leaving for Hollywood, he’d spent four years in a relationship with soap star and singer Danielle Spencer, who appeared in the Crossing and sometimes supported 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts. Stardom attained, he realised that he’d made a mistake and tried to win her back. Luckily for him, she went for it, and the pair moved in to his new place in Sydney.
One more reason why, as said, men want to be him and women just plain want him. The guy knows what he wants, works hard to get it and possesses the talent to pull it off. He’s truly, unarguably, a star.