Russell Crowe: Beyond the brand name
Our Seth Doane caught up with actor Russell Crowe during some down time Down Under in Australia:
It seems a million miles from anywhere. Life at Russell Crowe's 1,400-acre ranch is about a beautiful sunrise, rolling hills, simple peace and quiet.
Crowe says he's always thinking about this not-so-little patch of earth as he travels and works around the world. He may be from New Zealand, but this part of Australia is home.
"Nana Glen" is a seven-hour drive north of Sydney. Most important, it's 7,275 miles from Hollywood.
"You come here and relax and detach?" asked Doane.
"Well, this is the island, you know?" Crowe replied. " You come in beyond the gate and you're not a brand name anymore."
In the world of brand-name movie stars, Russell Crowe is among the biggest.
There's, of course, his Academy Award-winning performance as a Roman general in "Gladiator"("On my signal, unleash hell!"), and nominations for his portrayal of a tormented math genius in "A Beautiful Mind" ("Find a truly original idea -- that's the only way I'll ever distinguish myself"), and as a tobacco-industry whistleblower in "The Insider" ("We are in the nicotine delivery business").
There's "L.A. Confidential," Noah," "Les Miserables" -- we counted more than 40 movies in which he's acted.
But he invited us to his farm to discuss a very different sort of role: director.
So what makes directing so much more appealing to Crowe than acting? "Well, it's understanding what the art form really is," he said. "It's understanding that it's about composition. It's about color. It's about levels of emotion, levels of tensions. And it's just a very complete -- in fact, the most complete -- artistic experience that I've ever had, because so much is under your control."
His first real commercial directing effort is "The Water Diviner," a film set to be released in America this coming week, which has already won a number of awards in Australia, where it was the highest-grossing movie of 2014. It's the story of a father (played by Crowe) who goes in search of his three missing sons who went off to war.
In a cattle pen to one side of his farm, Crowe told Doane, if you think the transition from actor to director was difficult, well, it wasn't: "This is the language that I speak," he said. "I've been in front of a camera since 1970. Lead roles in feature films for 25 years. I speak this language. I am of this tribe."
The backdrop for "The Water Diviner" is the Battle of Gallipoli, the invasion of Turkey by British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops 100 years ago.
Doane asked, "Are you a student of history? I was binge-watching and thinking you take on a lot of historical subjects."
"Well, there's a balance," Crowe said. "Look at the opportunity I get, man. I've time traveled! I have walked the streets of Rome where everywhere, anything in my perspective that I can see, is 100 percent 184 A.D. That's what people are dressed like. That's what it smells like."
Crowe says attention to detail is critical for a director. While filming "The Water Diviner," he says if he wasn't careful, he could've shot hundreds of satellite dishes on buildings (not exactly fitting for 1915 Istanbul).
In Sydney, Doane sat with him as he cheered on his movie at the Film Critics Circle Awards -- and picked up an honor himself, as Best Actor ("I'm not going to talk about the director, because he was an ass. But I managed to get through the day," he quipped), though he'd wanted the award for Best Director).
Doane asked, "Do you, at this point, like directing more than acting?"
"Oh, substantially, substantially," he said. "And one of these days I'll actually direct a film that I'm not in."
"Why would you put yourself in a film if you'd rather just direct?"
"Well, here's the simple mathematical equation: If I direct it and I'm in it, I have a budget of 'X.' If I direct it but I'm not in it, I have 'X-minus.' So, as a director, you want as many assets as you can possibly have."
"You can, in essence, get more money for the film if you say, 'And I'll be in it'?"
"Yeah, bottom line."
Racing around his farm on ATVs, he let his director instincts show, not only telling our cameras where to get the best shots ("So what we'll do now is, one of you guys has got to go down and get to the creek bed"), but at one point turning to Doane and shouting, "Give it some extra gas," before they barreled through a creek.
This playful Crowe seemed far from the man once parodied in the animated series "South Park" as "Russell Crowe - fightin' around the world!"
The star has made plenty of headlines for reasons he'd rather not.
"To be totally honest," said Doane, "coming here, I didn't know who I was going to meet from a personality perspective. You read all sorts of things about you."
"Uh-huh. You do, don't you?" Crowe chuckled.
"Do you feel that this image of, like, Hollywood's bad boy is overblown? There's truth to it?"
"Here's the thing, mate: I'm not from Hollywood. I go there to work. But it's all made up. And I'm sorry to, you know, burst your bubble ... The whole tough-guy thing, it's my -- I put makeup on for a living, brother, come on!"
"So, it's all an act?"
"That's what I do," said Crowe. "But it's not an act. It's a perception that somebody writes. And the person goes on top of that and goes on top of that. You know I'm in no way, shape or form any kind of angry person, you know? But if you do my job and you don't get irritated by certain parts of it, Right? There's something wrong with you."
Crowe will admit to letting his passions flare when it comes to his love for Rugby League -- specifically, his team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The "Souths," based in a rough part of Sydney, had been a perennial loser when he bought the team in 2006. He's helped turn the team around, becoming Rubgy League champions earlier this year.
"For me, taking over South Sydney and inspiring a new generation of South Sydney kids is about community independence," he said. "It's also come with a massive increase in the value of what the club is, so that's all good, too."
"It ended up not being a bad business."
"No, it's not a bad business decision at all. But it's taken a lot of work, and it's probably cost me a marriage."
"That's what happened?"
"It took a lot of work, man, you know? It took a lot of work, and I already had an extremely busy schedule."
Crowe married singer-songwriter Danielle Spencer in 2003 in a chapel he built on his farm. The couple has two sons, but is now separated.
"Well, making a film is my job," said Crowe. "And my wife clearly understands what my job is. But to her, I suppose, the football situation was needlessly taking myself away."
But on his farm, we found a Crowe who was relaxed, even reflective ... and seems just as happy to talk about mulching or cutting brush as discussing his career.
"This place will fix anything, but you have to let it do the job, you know?" he said. "And you have to be prepared to become part of the place. So, you get up with the sun. You know, you work with the animals. You do all the little jobs that need doing, whether it's fixing a fence, or whatever it happens to be. And a period of time will go by, and you'll wake up in the morning and you'll realize that you've actually reached a balance again. And that's what it's become: It's an anchor."
For more info:
- "The Water Diviner" (Warner Brothers official site)
- Follow @RussellCrowe on Twitter
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