Russell Crowe

Occupation: Actor, Musician, Singer, Songwriter
Date of Birth: April 7, 1964
Place of Birth: New Zealand
Sign: Sun in Aries, Moon in Aquarius
Relations: Mother: Jocelyn Crowe (set caterer); father: Alex Crowe (set caterer, former hotel manager)


HE'S been called the new Clark Gable, the new James Dean, the new Robert Mitchum, the new Marlon Brando, the new Mickey Rourke, and the new Nick Nolte. But Russell Crowe, the most exciting import from Down Under since, well, Mel Gibson, is not exactly a new kid on the acting block. Since his 1990 screen debut in the Australian feature Blood Oath, Crowe has appeared in over 20 films, each of which has set industry insiders abuzz about his potential to affix his star in the Hollywood firmament. But in the wake of his stunning turn as a brutish, circa '50s L.A. cop in the star-studded and stylish adaptation of James Ellroy's sprawling 1990 crime novel L.A. Confidential, Crowe's waiting time in the wings was finally over.

That Crowe can invite comparisons to such a wide array of cinematic idols speaks volumes about his incredible range. The charismatic and intense actor has proven himself imminently capable of portraying a broad spectrum of human emotions: he's just as competent at projecting beatific sweetness as he is at channeling palpable menace, a glibly schizophrenic facility that only the greatest of actors can claim. His equal conviction in both good- and bad-guy roles, when combined with his risk-taking moxie and unique good looks, places him in a select cadre of current young Hollywood stars  Sean Penn Daniel Day-Lewis, and Edward Norton, among them  who possess certain star quality, actual talent, and a refusal to pander to anyone.

A look at Crowe's oeuvre immediately bears out his penchant for bouncing back and forth between extremes: he transitioned from his moving turn as a gullible dishwasher who befriends a blind man in 1992's Proof (for which he won the Australian Film Institute Best Supporting Actor prize) to deliver an unforgettable powerhouse performance as a terrifyingly sadistic Nazi skinhead in Geoff Wright's controversial 1993 film Romper Stomper (another A.F.I.-winning portrayal, this time in the Best Actor category). He followed up his role as the sweet, shy, homosexual son of a good-intentioned middle-aged widower in the Australian-shot comedy-drama The Sum of Us (1994) with a brace of promising and considerably darker Stateside assignments: he played a gunslinger turned preacher opposite a ballsy, gun-toting Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead; and a creepy computer-generated outlaw  with the combined personality traits of 183 of history's most grisly serial murderers, no less  to Denzel Washington's rogue cop in Virtuosity (both in 1995).

In real life, Crowe seems to have just as many aspects to his own personality. Though he claims that his bad-boy image has been manufactured by the press, he has earned a deserved reputation for being rude (he once abandoned a New York Post journalist mid-interview because he was "bored"); boorish (he is known to purposefully blow cigarette smoke in people's faces and hurl obscenities at the slightest provocation); overbearing (he is extremely bossy and demanding of people on the set); blunt (he snidely refers to bad reviews as "tomorrow's fish-and-chips wrapping"); hotheaded (he has engaged in fisticuffs with fellow actors, and he once pulled a small pistol on an unsuspecting set stylist to get his demands met more expeditiously); and uncompromising (he battles with directors relentlessly to get his way). Offset these noted characteristics with his equal repute for being an amusing, charming, and generous professional, and you begin to gather the unpredictable and undeniable appeal of Russell Crowe.

For his part, Crowe explains his alterable temperament in terms of his work ethic and his chameleon-like ability to adapt to all situations that present themselves: "I'm work-obsessed. No, I don't conform, but I get on with what is required. And I do have an opinion . . . which may be a problem. But if people take the job seriously, there is no trouble with me. And I mean taking the job seriously, not taking myself seriously. . . . It's not arrogance: it's honesty." And his up-front approach seems to be working: not only do directors appreciate the results of the tantrum-prone actor's full-tilt involvement in each and every one of his roles, but ticket-buyers are showing up in droves to witness the dynamic New Zealander in action. Sir Anthony Hopkins, who appeared alongside Crowe in The Efficiency Expert (1992), remarked of his churlish co-star, "He reminds me of myself as a young actor."

Crowe's chameleonic appeal no doubt stems from his rather unconventional upbringing. Born in New Zealand to Jocelyn and Alex Crowe (his great-grandmother on his mother's side was Maori, incidentally), little Russell called Sydney, Australia, home after the age of 4. His parents were roving types who made their living as innkeepers and set caterers. So mobile was the family unit, in fact, that Crowe was 14 years old by the time he came to live in his first house. From the age of 6 on, Russell started accompanying his parents to their catering jobs on film and television sets, which eventually led to his casting in a number of child extra roles, the first of which was playing an orphan on the Australian TV series Spyforce.

Despite this auspicious and early start in show business, Crowe first learned what performance was all about by playing in rock bands. Styling himself as Russ Le Roc at the age of 16, he took to the stage to earn extra money in between his other paying-the-bills jobs as a waiter, bartender, and bingo-number caller. The closest Crowe came to acting during this era of musical ferment was a rather prophetic single he recorded in 1980 called "I Want To Be Like Marlon Brando." He formed a band called Roman Antix with a fellow native New Zealander; the group eventually evolved into 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, a rock-and-roll outfit for which Crowe still sings, plays guitar, and writes lyrics. After Mr. Le Roc finally got around to replacing a tooth that had been knocked out during a football match when he was 10, his acting career got liftoff with roles in the 1990 features Blood Oath and Prisoners of the Sun. He was 25 years old.

Crowe credits Sharon Stone's benefaction as the reason why his acting career finally turned on a dime, both in Australia and in the States. Stone had been galvanized by his riveting, daring performance in Romper Stomper and knew that he could hold his ground against her as a leading man: " . . . I thought Russell was not only charismatic, attractive, and talented but also fearless. And I find fearlessness very attractive. I was convinced I wouldn't scare him." And she was right: Crowe ended up investing the lifeless Western with its only truly mesmerizing moments, despite the fact that his part was eventually scaled down to a mere thumbnail of its original size. Crowe now jokes that the reception of the film might have been markedly better in the States had director Sam Raimi left in a particular sex scene he did with Stone  apparently, the Australian version of the film, which contains the sizzling footage, has done a very brisk video-rental trade. Not that his career hasn't delivered up a fair share of spicy love matchups with some of Hollywood's most entrancing leading ladies: for the New Age romance Rough Magic, Crowe and Bridget Fonda filmed a levitating sex scene; L.A. Confidential offered plenty of carnal knowledge about Kim Basinger; and the indie venture Breaking Up matched him in rocky romance with the lyrically lovely Salma Hayek.

In 1999, Crowe co-starred with Burt Reynolds in David E. Kelley's Mystery Alaska, a comedy about a sheriff of a small Alaskan town who leads a local hockey team against the NHL's New York Rangers. Later in the year, he co-starred opposite Al Pacino in Michael Mann's The Insider, a film about a 60 Minutes producer (Pacino) who coaxes the scoop out of a reluctant tobacco-industry whistle-blower (a nearly unrecognizable Crowe). The portrayal garnered Crowe an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Crowe next ushered in the summer 2000 moviegoing season with Ridley Scott's blockbuster epic Gladiator, in which he portrayed a wronged Roman general.

Though Crowe would have no problem gaining entrée into Hollywood high society  after all, he counts among his closest friends Tinseltown royals, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, whom Crowe knows from his stage-acting days in Australia  he prefers to retreat to his farm in the Australian bush between projects, and makes no bones about shunning life in Lotus Land: "I'd move to Los Angeles if Australia and New Zealand were swallowed up by a huge tidal wave, if there was a bubonic plague in Europe, and if the continent of Africa disappeared from some Martian attack." The down-to-earth, straight-shooting actor prefers the honest interactions he has back home to those he has with Hollywood glitterati: "In Australia, they treat you like a piece of furniture. Your mates are your mates and the folks who hate your dark and bloody guts, they don't change their minds. That's why I love it, I s'pose."

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