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.