Explaining Russell Crowe
This segment was originally broadcast on Nov. 5, 2006. It was updated on June 28, 2007.
If Russell Crowe is not the best movie actor working today, he is certainly their equal. He already has one Academy Award for best actor in "Gladiator," and has been nominated two other times for "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Insider." Besides being intelligent, well read and incredibly talented, the 42-year-old Australian can also be volatile, combative, even a bit menacing.
So it was with some trepidation that Steve Kroft sat down with Crowe to discuss his life, his career and his reputation as one of Hollywood's bad boys. He doesn't do television interviews that often and when he does he speaks his mind, even if it gets him in trouble.
Doing TV interviews is not one of Russell Crowe's favorite things to do. He says it's "very artificial."
"I can sit here and have a conversation with you and whatever mood it is that you want it to be, it's what it's gonna be, you know? Regardless of what my answers are. And of course, we all know the power of editing. Because we have both got careers based on, probably, the power of editing," Crowe explains.
"You can control the mood of the interview as much as I can," Kroft points out.
"Do ya want to sell me some shoes, now?" Crowe replies.
"You've really established yourself as a great actor. I mean, it's been, whether we're talkin' about Academy Awards, or Academy Award nominations. The range of the roles that you've played…," Kroft continues.
"Can I just say 'thank you' and we finish the interview?" Crowe asks Kroft. "'Cause it's going really well, so far."
Asked what makes him such a great actor, Crowe says, "You know, if I thought I was any good at it, I probably wouldn't put as much effort as I do into it, you know?"
"That effort's what sets you apart, isn't it? I mean that effort is what makes you successful," Kroft asks.
"I think so," Crowe agrees. "Yeah, or that's the way I see it, anyway. I know, without that effort, I wouldn't be."
He built his career brick-by-brick with memorable performances and was already a major movie star in Australia, when he burst upon the Hollywood scene nearly a decade ago in "L.A. Confidential."
Whether he is playing a middle-aged whistleblower in "The Insider," a schizophrenic genius in "A Beautiful Mind," or a gladiator, he always goes the extra mile, even if it involves bruises and fractures doing his own stunts, or improvising dialogue for his character Maximus with director Ridley Scott. They only had 21 pages of the "Gladiator" script when they began shooting.
"I wanted to come up with this sort of two-word thing that Max would say to people, when they left their company, you know. Or when he greeted them. And I came up with "fortes honore," alright," Crowe recalls. "And Ridley's standing there and like, 'Oh, fortes honore, what the f--- does that mean?' And I said, that means 'strength and honor.' And he goes, 'Say that. Right, rolling!'"
The role brought him an Oscar, along with a level of celebrity and public scrutiny that he is uncomfortable with. He is a perfectionist who demands a lot of himself and everyone around him. He's still upset that his last film underperformed at the box office and blames the studio for the way it was promoted. He calls it his favorite role and wanted an Academy Award nomination and more people to see it.
"Do you feel the constant need for approval? Do you get nervous if people aren't showering you with honors?" Kroft asks.
"Not with honors, no. Do I feel in a odd way that there should be some kind of understanding between me and an audience now that if I've done the movie, regardless of the subject matter, you should turn up 'cause it's gonna be a good film? I know that's kind of wacky to say that," Crowe says. "But, yeah, I do feel that. I do feel after, you know, 'L.A. Confidential,' 'The Insider,' 'Gladiator,' 'Beautiful Mind,' 'Master and Commander,' 'Cinderella Man,' there should be some understanding between me and the audience that, you know, if I've done it. One, I've put a lot of effort into it. And two, there's something about it that'll touch your heart."
But the spontaneity that serves him so well in front of the camera frequently gets him in trouble away from it. He's known for making brash comments and boorish behavior. And he's the first one to admit that he has neither the discipline nor the desire to correct it.
"I'm not Machiavellian. I don't play chess with my life, ya know. I respond in the moment which is what makes me a good actor. It makes me sometimes a good interview subject. But it also makes me a very easy target," he explains.
Asked what he thinks his reputation is, Crowe says, "From a public point of view, you know, it's a some sort of like nightmare presence on a film set, you know, where everything must revolve around me. In the reality and the reason that I work with the type of directors that I do is that I'm [a] 100 percent reliable lieutenant who is there to serve the needs of the story to the best of his ability and these two things are completely different – completely different, you know? Yeah, so I think my reputation is something that I'll probably try to spend the rest of my life living it down and it probably won't work, you know? I don't know. I just get on and work with the directors who still wanna, you know, take the big risk of working with such a madman."
And some of the best seem perfectly willing to do it. Ridley Scott is finishing up "American Gangster," his third film with Crowe. The second is a romantic comedy called "A Good Year," about a tycoon who inherits a vineyard in Provence.
"Explain Russell Crowe," Kroft asks Ridley Scott.
"How long have you got?" Scott jokes.
Asked if Crowe is complicated, Scott says, "That's what makes him tick. Russell is complex. And make no mistake about that usually the best ones are complex, intelligent, take no prisoners. You gotta be prepared to go to war with Russell."
One of the things that upsets Crowe the most is the idea of being of being stereotyped and pigeon-holed in the media, by reporters who don't really know him.
"You can smell it coming from a mile away, man. You know? When somebody's only asking you questions to put you in a little box so it actually suits what they've already decided in their own mind about you," Crowe explains.
"The media label that seems to stick is Hollywood bad boy," Kroft notes. "What comes along with that is the boozing, brawling, at times womanizing. Not recently."
"Holy s---," Crowe replies.
Asked how much of that is myth, Crowe says, "Well, I've had the odd night on the tipple. I've definitely had a few times in my life where I felt that I needed right then and there to fight for my honor or somebody else's and I do love the ladies, Steve. I mean, what do you expect me to say?"
"You know, I'm absolutely married. I have two beautiful children and I hope to have a third one. But, probably don't bring that up with the wife just yet," Crowe adds.
At the time of the interview, Crowe's latest child was only 11 weeks old. "Yeah, it's probably a little too premature to be bringing up number three with her just right now and, you know, for a lot of that stuff that you're talking about, you know, past is past, you know? I don't have the leisurely time that I have used to have to go out with my mates and get on the drink, you know?" the actor tells Kroft.
After months of loneliness on the set of "Master and Commander," Crowe married his long time ex-girlfriend, Australian actress Danielle Spencer in 2004, but it would be premature to say he has mellowed. They are making their life in Australia where Crowe owns a rugby team, and a ranch outside Sydney.
Kroft wanted to know what he had to say about Hollywood.
"You want a one word answer? Employment," Crowe says.
"I wanna read you one quote. And of course, you can completely disown it," Kroft tells Crowe. "'Maybe it's better I don't travel to America. Maybe it's better I don't work in the area of the business that attracts so many flies.' That's a little more blunt than you just…."
"You got any footage of me to the courthouse in Manhattan?" the actor asks.
"Probably," Kroft replies.
"That's my answer," Crowe replies.
The occasion Crowe was talking about was a court appearance in 2005 in which he entered a plea of guilty to third degree assault. It followed an incident at the Mercer Hotel, in which Crowe threw a telephone at a desk clerk because he was unable to complete a phone call to his wife in Australia.
"It was a $160 fine, Steven. So, it wasn't important as 200 press people turning up to a courthouse with a, ya know, trying to bash my wife in the head with their cameras. Falling over each other, cameramen jumping on top of each other and trampling each other on the ground. It wasn't that important, mate," Crowe says.
"Where I come from, a confrontation like that, as basic and simple as that would have been satisfied with a handshake and an apology," he adds.
Crowe says the U.S. is different. "Your legal system is very open to be misused," he tells Kroft.
Asked to characterize the incident, Crowe says, "Minor."
"You're a traveling man. You've been overseas a lot. Is there a place in your memory bank where you as a traveling businessman have lost your temper in the foyer of a hotel? I'm sure there is," Crowe asks Kroft.
"No, I don't think I've flung a piece of telecommunications equipment. That's the only difference," Kroft replies.
Asked if he regrets the incident, Crowe says, "Totally. Absolutely. Ya know, of course I did. Ya know, it was unreasonable of me, ya know, in terms of taking out my frustrations on that individual."
It cost Crowe more than the $160 fine. He reportedly paid the desk clerk a $100,000 settlement to avoid a civil lawsuit. And the incident damaged his reputation. He blamed it on massive jet lag, his disappointment over "Cinderella Man," and being separated from his family.
"I mean, it's not the first time it's happened. But there have been a number of incidents of…," Kroft remarks.
"There's been a number of reports," Crowe corrects Kroft. "And the percentage of real incidents to reports is probably about ten percent."
"You were doing a play in Australia and that you head butted one of your fellow actors, Peter Cousens," Kroft continues.
"Yes. He was screaming at me at the time. He was calling me all manner of things. And all the other cast, or the three other principle guys that I worked with or that I shared a dressing with, were holding my arms. So, that's all I had left to hit him with and he f-----' deserved it," Crowe says.
Crowe readily admits he does have a temper. "Oh, hell yeah. Absolutely, man. I have a temper. My mum's got a temper. My brother's got a temper. You gotta have one. You know what happens if you don't have one? One day you walking down the street and you just pop. You're lying there on the pavement because you've been holding and suppressing all this bull----, ya know," he says.
Asked if he has a problem with his anger, Crowe says, "No."
"No, I don't. Ya know, if it's 'Oh, I'm not even gonna give you the benefit of answering it in those terms,' no," he says, laughing.
"I live a real life, man, and it's complex. Ya know, some days are absolute diamonds and some days are dog s----. Same as everybody else. Unfortunately some days that are diamonds I've taken them and turned them into dog s---. But you live and you learn. I'm 42 and I'll get wiser," he says.
Crowe says his combativeness comes from his struggle to be taken seriously as an actor and that cultural differences between Americans and Australians cause people to misjudge him. What he thinks is honest and direct is interpreted as arrogant and rude. And even those who don't like him say his outbursts of anger are often followed by extreme generosity and even contrition.
"I dunno, I think I'm just a kid, man. You know, I take everything, and people, at face-value, which probably gets me into trouble a lot. Because, you know, somebody asking a question, and then I tend to answer it from my heart. And it's not always clever in this day and age, you know. So I'd never make a politician. But you know, I love the job," Crowe says.
"Asked all the questions got answers to everything, didn't get punched out," Kroft jokes.
Says Crowe, "You must be one of the lucky ones, Steven."
Produced By John Hamlin
for more features.