BBC News

Crowe's upward flight

Friday, 23 February, 2001, 17:27 GMT
Russell Crowe has had a varied career Since his Oscar-nominated role in 2000's The Insider, New Zealand-born actor Russell Crowe has been hailed as the movie world's latest big thing. The Insider won Crowe plaudits for the dignity of his portrayal of tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. But greater glory has followed with Crowe's role as the fearless General Maximus in Gladiator. His performance has earned him another Oscar nomination and acknowledgement for his personal revival of the classic hero genre. But though Crowe's star is very much in the ascendant, it is not a result of overnight success. Now aged 36, Crowe has done his time. Before he came to prominence, he had been in a rock band, worked on stage and in TV and appeared in 20 films. A glance at his full career shows his depth and versatility, from playing a brutal thug in Romper Stomper to a gentler character in Proof of Life. Rock 'n' roll Russell Crowe was born in Auckland, New Zealand on 7 April 1964, descended from a Norwegian and Maori ancestry. His family moved to Sydney, Australia, when he was four. His parents, Jocelyn and Alex Crowe, did the catering on movie sets and often took their young son with them to work. Crowe was bitten with the acting bug from an early age and made his debut as a child extra at the age of six. His first professional acting role was in an episode of the TV series Spyforce. But at 14, Crowe decided to leave both acting and Australia behind. He finished high school and returned to New Zealand where he formed the band Roman Antix with friend Dean Cochran. At 16, he called himself Russ le Roq and recorded several songs, including the prophetic I Want To Be Like Marlon Brando. His band eventually evolved into the rock 'n' roll outfit 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, for which he still writes and performs. During his time as a young musician, Crowe took on several odd jobs, including that of waiter and bingo caller. But the acting bug bit again and Crowe won a role in a stage version of Grease and then the Rocky Horror Show. After moving back to Australia, he also appeared in soap opera Neighbours. Awards Crowe's first movie was Blood Oath in 1990. He continued to gain momentum with films such as The Crossing when he was 25. He then went on give an Australian Film Institute award-winning performance in black comedy Proof, playing the friend of a blind man. This was followed by the critically acclaimed Romper Stomper, in which he played neo-Nazi Hondo and won another Australian Film Institute award. Crowe was now on a roll since this performance got him noticed - particularly by Hollywood actress Sharon Stone. Basic Instinct star Stone was adamant that Crowe could play alongside her in the Western The Quick and the Dead as the priest Cort. The movie was a flop but it got Crowe into Hollywood, and onwards and upwards to greater things. Virtuosity with Denzel Washington followed, as well as smaller films with equally big names such as Salma Hayek and Bridget Fonda. Versatility But it was the box office hit LA Confidential in 1997 that made the difference. Crowe played the complex Bud White, described by Crowe as "racist, self-righteous and foul-mouthed but who doesn't realise how much he's looking for love". The film won its star Kim Basinger an Oscar and Crowe was rewarded with an abundance of offers and scripts. One of these was Michael Mann's tense thriller The Insider. Crowe put on 50 pounds to play Wigand, a man almost twice Crowe's age, who informed on the corrupt practices of his tobacco firm. But if The Insider showed Crowe's maturity and conviction as a serious actor, it was Gladiator that created the "cult" of Russell Crowe as action hero. His next film to be released in the UK will be Proof of Life with Meg Ryan. Crowe plays a tough ex-SAS soldier turned kidnap-negotiator. It is another tense thriller but one combining the strongest sides of Crowe's on-screen persona seen to date - action hero and strategist. Future projects include Flora Plum, directed by Jodie Foster and co-starring Clare Danes, and Ron Howard's biopic of maths prodigy John Nash who overcame schizophrenia to win the Nobel Prize. Both should stretch Crowe to show the extent of his capabilty and range.