From February Vogue:
The Bad & The Beautiful

They couldn't be more unalike - Russell Crowe, the tough Aussie pit bull; Jude Law, the English golden boy - but both, writes John Powers, are bound for glory. Photographed by Herb Ritts.

For most of the past century, ambitious kids poured into Hollywood, hoping to be transformed into screen idols by the dream factory. But this being the age of the anti-star movie star, our most compelling young actors - Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton - are turned off by such prefab notions of stardom. They may live as recklessly as rock stars, but on-screen, they dread turning into stony monuments like Harrison Ford or Teflon leading men like Tom Cruise. They insist on doing work that's edgy and dark, and if that happens to make them kings of the world - well, cool.

That's precisely what's happening with Russell Crowe and Jude Law, two risk-taking actors who are suddenly finding themselves being fitted for the laurel wreath of stardom. Law's magical turn as Dickie Greenleaf, the spoiled American playboy in The Talented Mr. Ripley, has won him rave reviews and his first Golden Globe nomination. And Crowe has fared even better, being named Best Actor by several critics' groups for his riveting work as an anti-tobacco whistle-blower in The Insider, a performance that will surely win him an Oscar nomination and maybe even the award.

But while Law and Crowe are currently sharing the spotlight, they are, in every important way, as opposite as two actors can be. Where Law is feline and pretty, Crowe bristles with pit-bull machismo. Where Law flaunts his emotions like a diamond stickpin, Crowe has the bottled-up volatility of nitroglycerin - disturb him at your peril. Law is one of London's Y2K It boys, with a glamorous marriage to actress Sadi Frost, a home on fashionable Primrose Hill, and a production company he co-owns with celebrated pals like Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller. In contrast, the New Zealand-born, Australian-bred Crowe relishes playing the bad boy. He's churlish with the press, demanding on the set, and acquainted with trouble out in the real world. He recently made headlines by brawling outside a nightclub and then being blackmailed by a couple of guys who claimed to possess a videotape of the fracas.

If Crowe recalls Sean Penn in his penchant for the boorish, Law exudes the easy aplomb of Cary Grant. He dons each new character like a dandy slipping into the best-tailored dinner jacket in the world. Comfortable in his body, confidant in his movement, he's the golden boy that everyone wants to have - or be.


If anyone seems weighted down by such all-too-human flaws, it's the 35-year old Crowe, for whom acting seems a means of self-escape. He wears his roles like a second skin, burrowing so deeply into characters that it's nearly impossible to find the real him. Even Crowe's early Australian movies tell you very little about his personality but everything about his range: He played an affable restaurant worker in the 1991 art-house hit Proof, a gay plumber in the sentimental comedy The Sum of Us, and a neo Nazi skinhead in the ultra-violent Romper Stomper. While he shone in all three, only Romper Stomper began to capture what makes him a major talent - his emotional intensity.

In the early nineties you heard a lot of talk of Crowe being the next Mel Gibson, and Crowe's first American roles lived up to this prototype. He was cast as a reluctant gunslinger opposite Sharon Stone in the goofy Western The Quick and the Dead, and as a cyberborn serial killer in the inept Virtuosity. He did well in both roles, but nobody cared - these movies didn't play to his strengths. Not only did he lack Gibson's handsomeness (he could pass for Mel's coarse little brother), he was missing his compatriot's aura of relaxed self-mockery. Besides, to cast Crowe in such lightweight fare is to waste his incandescent intensity. It's like using a volcano to light a cigarette. "He's got so much emotional power behind him," raves Michael Mann, who directed The Insider. "I keep telling people, 'This guy is the young Brando.'"

That visceral force became clear in L.A. Confidential, in which he gave a stunning performance as the brutal cop Bud White, who enters each room like a bull sizing up a china shop. (If Law Plays characters who can lacerate you with a glance, Crowe excels as men who will batter you into surrender.) He beefed up for the role, and it served him well, for like Nick Nolte, he's one of those actors whose work deepens as their bodies get thicker. Crowe is always at his best when he hints at some inner delicacy that's been wounded by life.

What Crowe shares with Brando and Nolte is the ability to convey the innermost passions of men who can't fully understand or articulate what's happening to them. In The Insider, he takes us inside the crabbed soul of Jeffrey Wigand, a smart, prickly man who clings to the wreckage of his decency even as he knows that Big Tobacco will destroy him for telling the truth on 60 Minutes. This superb performance doesn't merely capture the whistle-blower's inner essence but takes over the man's entire body: Sporting a paunch, aviator glasses, and gray hair, he disappears so completely into the 50-ish Wigand that it's hard to believe you're actually looking at Russell Crowe.

In fact, Crowe is so adept at hiding himself in his characters that you wonder if the audience will ever get to know him or whether he'll forever remain something of a cipher. His next films do little to clarify his identity. The ancient-world epic Gladiator (which opens in May) casts him as a betrayed Roman general condemned to fight in the colosseum, while his upcoming project Proof of Life find him staring as a hostage negotiator who falls in love with a hostage's wife (played by Meg Ryan). The latter film may finally let him show off what's been missing from his work - the sexual magnetism that Law has shown in spades.

For his part, Law is currently in Europe shooting Enemy at the Gates, a World War II saga about a Russian sniper in love with the same woman as his best friend (Joseph Fiennes). This looks to be a smart move, for Law needs to go beyond being the object of adoration and become, like Crowe, the man who makes things happen. To be a star in Hollywood, Law needs to give his quicksilver elegance the masculine solidity audiences expect form their movie heroes.

Humphrey Bogart said that you're not a star until they know how to spell your name in Karachi. At this point, neither Law nor Crowe could pass this test - but in the age of the anti-star movie star, no one can be sure just how famous any actor is going to be in Peoria, let alone Pakistan.

Still, when I ask Minghella if he thinks Law will reach full-fledged stardom, the Oscar-winning director doesn't miss a beat: "Jude has all the prerequisites to be a massive movie star," he says flatly, then pauses. "But he may not want to be."

Regarding Crowe, Mann is more assertive. When I suggest that Crowe may be too much the chameleon to make it really big, this poet of testosterone seems almost insulted. "You couldn't be more wrong," he barks in his Chicago-guy accent, and gives a knowing laugh. "If life were a compulsory casino, you'd be a fool to bet that Russell Crowe won't become a big star."
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