Crowe - The Press
|Crowe - A perfectionist who
sets the standard
|from the New
By Peter Mitchell
Tabloids have dubbed him Jerkus Maximus, Crowe Magnon and Psycrowe.
Manhattan police paraded him in handcuffs through fenced-off media like a
prize catch after he allegedly threw a phone at a hotel concierge.
He was blamed for killing Eucalyptus, the film he was set to make with
Nicole Kidman in Australia. There have also been many reports of brawls in
bars and restaurants. That is the ugly Russell Crowe the public often
hears about. There is also the brilliant Crowe and the loyal Crowe.
Film critics have applauded him while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences nominated him for best actor three years in a row - 1999,
2000 and 2001 - handing him the Oscar in 2000 for Gladiator.
He remains loyal to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the downtrodden inner-city
rugby league team he has loved since a kid despite their extinction,
resurrection and continued poor performances.
There is no sign of a brute when he speaks about the love he has for his
wife, Danielle Spencer, and his baby boy, Charles. At such times Crowe's
eyes water and his throat tightens.
There appears to be many sides to the 41-year-old, or maybe there's just
one. Perhaps he is a perfectionist who demands only 100 per cent in
whatever he does and this leads to the colourful headlines and fracas when
others are not willing to pursue the same standards.
Speak to some of Crowe's co-stars and the director of his most recent
film, Cinderella Man, and that appears to be the theme. They say Crowe
sets the bar at the highest level and everybody had better attempt to jump
over it with him.
Ron Howard, who picked up two Oscars (best director and best picture) for
his 2001 collaboration with Crowe on A Beautiful Mind, appears to
understand the man he is dealing with.
Two Oscars probably helped, but after making A Beautiful Mind, Howard
backed up again to direct Cinderella Man. "His reputation preceded
him when we were getting ready to do A Beautiful Mind," Howard
"All the directors that I spoke to all said 'Yeah, he can be tough.
Yes, he can be hard-headed, but you're not going to have a problem because
you're an actor's director and he's an actor's actor. You're both pros and
you're going to find there may be a creative conversation, but you're
going to blend very well'.
"They were right. It took a bit of time during the course of making A
Beautiful Mind for there to be a real trust, a mutual trust, that settled
in. But once it did, it was really smooth sailing.
"It's really all about the work that's ahead of him and his sense of
commitment to that and whether he thinks the goals are being achieved and
whether he is being supported correctly, professionally, in achieving
"Certainly, by the end of the film, we had a friendship and a
professional trust and we were able to roll that right over into making
Cinderella Man and it yields work I'm very proud of."
Cinderella Man is the story of boxer James Braddock, a successful 1930s
prize fighter who lost every cent he accumulated and invested during the
Depression. Braddock was forced to return to boxing to support his family,
an underdog story that made him a hero to the masses during that difficult
period in the United States.
Crowe knew to play Braddock he would have to train as a professional
boxer. That meant long days in the gym and extended sessions with stunt
co-ordinators and boxing experts to ensure the fight scenes in the movie
Crowe was prepared to put the time in. He says others were not.
Braddock's great rival in the film is Max Baer, the heavyweight champion
of the day and a brute who had killed opponents in the ring.
New York-born Craig Bierko, a physically imposing 1.93m tall actor, was
cast to play Baer.
In a controversial interview before the release of Cinderella Man in the
US, Bierko told the Los Angeles Times how Crowe barely spoke to him during
the project, despite many hours together on set. "He had his 40th
birthday party and I was the one guy who wasn't invited," Bierko said.
When Crowe met reporters in New York after Bierko's words were printed, he
predictably was not happy.
A reporter asked if it was true Hector Roca, a boxing trainer who worked
with Bierko to prepare for the film, called Bierko a "mumma's
boy" every day on set. Crowe told the reporter: "I don't think
he was joking."
The beef Crowe had with Bierko was he believed Bierko arrived on the
Cinderella Man film set in Toronto, Canada, not fully prepared. "When
Craig arrived in Toronto he realised he was probably further behind than
what he should be," Crowe said.
A disappointed Crowe raised the issue with Howard and Bierko's "workload
got significantly heavier in Toronto".
"Craig has an incredible vibrant sense of humour, but that was just
not suitable for this gig," Crowe said. "He tends to have this
ability to talk to the person who is training him into the belief 'We've
done a lot of work today'.
"I saw him do that to three different trainers, so I brought in
somebody that he wouldn't be able to do it to. Nick Powell [who worked
with Crowe on Gladiator] is the hardest working stunt guy that I've ever
Crowe said the move worked.
"I think he's [Bierko] magnificent in the film and he does exactly
what we needed him to do," Crowe said.
"If we didn't have a great bad guy, we've got no movie. If we don't
have a villain that appears to be physically threatening, then we don't
have a film."
As for the 40th birthday snub, Crowe was stunned by Bierko's comment to
the LA Times. Crowe said he did not have a party. "I wasn't
intentionally unfriendly towards Craig," Crowe explained.
"There's been one thing where he said he noticed he wasn't invited to
my 40th birthday party. My 40th birthday party, which was also my first
wedding anniversary, I spent sitting in a room talking on satellite phone
with a TV screen with my wife and child.
"So, sorry I didn't invite him along. I didn't think it was relevant."
Paul Giamatti, the star of last year's Oscar winning independent film,
Sideways, will likely score a nomination for his performance as Braddock's
loyal manager and trainer in Cinderella Man. Just like Howard, Giamatti
had some concerns about Crowe before filming began.
"The most surprising thing about it is I thought he's going to walk
in and it's going to be like these stories you always hear about De Niro
where he does 45 takes of walking through a door," Giamatti said.
"Russell does three takes and he's done.
"If he's done he's done and he doesn't have anything more to do.
"He works his ass off and knows exactly what he's doing and it's
almost a supernaturally complete sort of performance."
Giamatti agrees with the view Crowe is simply a perfectionist. He was
willing to jump over the bar Crowe had set, so there was no tension
between the actors. "People say he's an intimidating guy and stuff
like that," Giamatti said. "I suppose he is, but it's his talent
that makes him intimidating more than anything else.
"It was way better than I expected. I mean, it's the best experience
I've ever had working with another actor."
*What: Cinderella Man
*Where and when: Screening at cinemas from yesterday