For his $100 million Roman epic, Ridley Scott
needed a real contender, a true GLADIATOR. Someone who could tackle
tigers, fight fatigue an still have enough slugs left for a beer.
He needed, in other words, Russell Crowe - the next action hero...
So you think you're a contender? Just 'cause you played a hard man
once or twice, doesn't mean you can go the distance. Do you even
know that it takes to become an action hero, anyway? Sometimes it
takes a single film; one bus ride was all it took to turn Keanu
Reeves from slacker dude into "the chosen one"; sometimes
a solitary sequence is enough: one rev of a stolen German motorbike
worked for Steve McQueen. But that doesn't mean you're gonna get
lucky. Roger Moore did half a dozen Bond movies, but would anyone
seriously describe him as an "action hero"? Whole other
The credentials of Russell Crowe, the contender
from Down Under, look impressive. This is, after all, a man who
lives on a 560-acre farm, in a remote corner of New South Wales,
which he likes to walk - that's WALK - around. "I've got little
backpacks in all the main buildings," explains Crowe of his
daily constitutional. They have little bush stoves with powdered
milk, coffee and sugar, and a metal cup and a Billie, and I just
pick up the pack and walk off." Let's be clear from the start:
Russell Crowe is not a Starbucks cappuccino man. "Rugged"
is the word.
Of course, rugged along does not an action hero make, but Crowe
does appear to have the necessary celluloid
credentials. By his own admission he's done plenty of "physically
demanding" stuff before, notably as the cyber-villain Sid 6.7
in Virtuosity (1995) or skinhead Hando in Romper Stomper
(1992). And, of course, there was Crowe's breakout performance as
vice cop Bud White in 1997s LA Confidential, a man Russell
describes with delicate understatement as a "very physical
guy". But there's still a big difference between a "physical
guy" and an action hero. With Bud, explains Russell, "There
were three or four points (of action). Like, at a certain point
you rough a bloke up a bit and at a certain point you have a big
"hooley dooley" two hander, you and a bloke having a go,
but that's going to be done in a day." Single day "hooley-dooleys"
(whatever they are) are one thing, but as Maximus, the general turned
titular gladiator in Ridley Scott's full blown Roman epic, the stakes,
the scale are all different: this is action hero territory. As Russell
notes at the end of yet another hard day towards the end of a demanding
shoot "This is unrelenting. When I have a day when all I do
is sit in a cell, it's like, 'Thank God'" he shrugs. I really
am being run ragged." Welcome to the big leagues boyo. Still
think you're a contender? Well, if you wanna be the next action
hero, there's a lot you gotta learn, a lot to overcome. The modern
day action hero has unseen enemies everywhere: commitment, boredom
and, of course, f***ing great big tigers....
"The tiger scenes are the most vivid"
enthuses Crowe of his part in Gladiator's most memorable
sequence, a Coloseum clash starring two fighters and four Bengal
tigers. "The pleasure I had from being right next to these
huge beasts that if they really wanted to, could put you away."
Pleasure? Russell Crowe is relaxing in a small bar (The TexMex),
sucking on a Aussie beer (VB,of which more later), after another
day's graft, and has nothing but praise for his stripy co-stars.
"They are such magnificent creatures that I get drawn to them.
I found that with the lions in Morocco as well. A lot of animals,
you look 'em in the eye and they're just looking at you and don't
appear to be that cognizant of things, but the lion and the tiger
are such highly super-charged hunting beasts, they're aware of everything."
Super-charged hunting beasts? That doesn't sound like the kind of
thing you want to go picking a fight with. "It was cool",
he laughs. "That sounds really dumb, 'It was cool'. But it
was really a visceral kind of experience, it was full on. They could
have used a stand-in - the tiger sequence is very complicated and
not everything in that sequence I did, no way - but I got to do
a couple of things where I hit the deck and the ground under me
opened and the tiger comes at me. And that's me and the cat."
Action heroes, of course, hate using stand-ins.
RUSSELL VS COMMITMENT -
Months before Russell went toe to claw with the big cats, he had
a more basic obstacle to overcome: commitment. As a serious (soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated)
actor, the idea of becoming an action hero in a full blooded
Roman epic, even one directed by Ridley Scott, must have seemed
like, well, a bit of a joke. "Immediately George (Freeman,
Crowe's agent) says, 'It's a gladiator movie,' the first thing you
do is laugh. 'As if I'm ever going to be in a gladiator film,'"confirms
Crowe. "But if you go back to 40 years ago, man, if you hadn't
done a gladiator movie and a couple of westerns and
played a pirate and stuff like that, you really weren't on the gig,
you weren't acting." This is a critical point. For Crowe to
be the next action hero, he can only do it by turning the clock
back 40 years; he owes nothing to the Stallone-Schwarzenegger axis
which dominated the high concept 80s. He is not bullet-proof, or
steroid stacked. Where Van Damme was groomed and greasy, Crowe is
grit and grime. It is obvious talking to the 36-year-old Crowe where
his allegiances lie - he had no interest in what he calls the "bang-bang
sci-fi stuff" he is typically offered. He has no interest in
squaring up against Steven Seagal. His roots, like the movie's itself,
are older. "To play a Roman general from both sides (leader
and slave), so it's not just the Spartacus story, - and it's not
Ben Hur, it's kind of both" - this is what turns Crowe on.
In his own mind, for Crowe to measure up as an action hero, he must
take on the really big guys, Douglas and Heston. The next action
hero, ladies and gentlemen, is a throwback. However, before Russell
Crowe could even strap on his sandals, he had to settle down and
read the script, a task which becomes infinitely more difficult
when you are buried deep in the very non-action hero character of
Jeffrey Wigand of The Insider. "They called me a lot
and tried to get me to
read the script, but it was like, I was in the middle of a very
intense and engaging job." recalls Crowe, "and it was
actually Michael Mann (director of Insider) who got me
to read the script. He must have been told by somebody that I was
refusing to read the script, because he came into my trailer one
day and said,'You should take this Ridley Scott thing a bit more
seriously,' and I said, "Why is that?" And he said 'It's
my belief that Ridley Scott is in the top two percent of shooters
who ever existed in the history of cinema', and I said 'Okey-dokey',
and I read the script.. Break time'
RUSSELL VS. BOREDOM: "I don't like
f***ing about and I don't like waiting about" says Russell
Crowe. Boredom is the unseen enemy of the modern action hero. Always
a showman, Crowe is happiest when playing to the gallery. "When
you roll out of the way of the tiger and 1800 people go 'Ohhhh!'
immediately; if you do it for real it's kind of cool. so in a way,
it's like theatre." Away from the "instant buzz"
of coloseum sports, Crowe is a restless sort. On rare days off,
whilst others might take a well-earned break and put their feet
up and watch the telly, he has to be out an about making sure that
the morale of the troops - "This is the best f***ing crew I've
ever worked with, bar none" - is high. Even it if means playing
the "girls' game" with them. "Yes, I've been
out there on the field running around with those silly little shorts
and playing the girls' game," smirks Crowe, "because I
really enjoy the company of the people that I work with." For
those in any doubt, the "girls' game" Russell is referring
to is football, or "soccer" as he insists on calling it.
To build the spirit of the "army",
as the Gladiator crew has been affectionately nicknamed,
Crowe organized a four-team soccer tournament and - despite protests
from worried suits - got in amongst the thick of it. "They
didn't mind me wrestling with four tigers, but seemed to object
to me having a Sunday morning kickabout. Very strange," notes
Although Rugby League is his preferred game,
despite Crowe's scoffing, he's actually quite a soccer fan. In fact,
on one memorable night last May, during the Gladiator shoot
in Malta, he was happily putting bets on Manchester United to win
the European Cup. Even when, minutes to go, United were 1-0 down
to Bayern Munich, he was still shouting the odds and taking wagers.
When United scored two brilliant goals in the dying seconds, Crowe
was up on a table, dancing in delight and spraying his co-drinkers
RUSSELL VS. THE GREAT OUTDOORS:
All action heroes need to blow off steam, and sometimes soccer is
simply not enough. Today, for instance, we are sat in Crowe's favourite
Maltese bar, the aforementioned TexMex, where they have a stack
of VBs in the freezer, Now VBs can be a little hard to find on Malta
- read, damn near impossible - so he has them flown in from London.
Yes, he likes a beer does Mr. Crowe, but it has to the The Right
Beer. "People say I'm crazy, but actually I'm only crazy in
a certain way," he comments enigmatically. "And if you
don't understand where I'm coming from, then you're never going
me". As a matter of fact, reputation or not, it seems the craziest
thing that Crowe could do is admit his true after hours passion.
A musician since the age of ten, Crowe is aware that in his native
Australia, his band, TOFOG, is seen as a vanity project. "When
people know I'm in a band, suddenly they think I'm half the actor
I was five minutes ago." he grimaces. Crowe won't let it bother
him, though. "Music matters", he says, and he plans to
record an album in Austin, Texas as soon as his diary opens up.
Meanwhile though, crazy Russell Crowe just wants to go home. After
his work waging war against the barbarians is done, Maximum wants
nothing more than to return to his farm in Spain. Russell can sympathize.
After all, there's "a lot of things to do" on Crowe's
own, ever expanding farm, where is mother Jocelyn, dad, Alex, and
older brother, Terry, live full time, but he only gets to see in
between shoots. "We've done a boundary adjustment and I've
got some more land. Instead of going for a 45 minute walk, you could
go on for five hours now. I think in a funny sort of way it's like
I'm buying an island. Somewhere in the middle of that place I can
find somewhere to be by myself and have a cup of tea."
At the end of the day, a five hour hike and a nice cuppa - no more,
no less, than the next action hero deserves.
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