Studio's interview (France) . No 215, Sept. 2005
Russell Crowe by Ron Howard
Embodying Jim Braddock, the boxing champion, America's standard bearer
during the Great Depression, Russell Crowe has proved again his skill at
putting himself in the most different characters’ shoes. A chameleon
actor, he is said to be violent sometimes, as his June's arrest in a NY' s
hotel has shown. He threw his cell phone at an employee's face [Note:
allegedly not his cell phone, and not to the face's employee].
We didn't want to settle on rumors, so we asked A Beautiful Mind
and Cinderella Man’s director to speak about "his"
Russell Crowe. A four rounds' story.
First round: the encounter
“I first met Russell Crowe, right after L. A. Confidential.
He had already made some feature films in Australia, but Curtis Hanson's
movie allowed him to become "bankable" [in English in the
text]. Wiser with that experience, he had made appointments with
directors and producers, myself included. Afterwards, we had not met each
other since I watched The insider. I can say it now : I
didn't recognize him in that movie. Only I discovered his name in the
final credits. I was so impressed I immediately asked for meeting him for ABM.
And then, in the middle of the conversation, I realized he had already
made more research for John Nash's character than I had done. I was still
immersed in Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas’s
post-production and I had planned to study ABM ‘s case
only later. He was very polite at the moment, but when he leaved, he told
his agent about his frustration of knowing more than me on the subject (laughs).
When I was told about, I called back his agent to cheer Russell about the
work I'd be doing, on myself. Since then, we talked on a regular basis on
the phone. He was able to realize that I was building little by little my
John Nash's own vision and I noticed that he was important for him.
Russell is often portrayed as a lone wolf, but I understood very quickly
he needs a director to be confronted with.”
Second round: first movie together
”ABM's central character was complex. We had to be
aware not to present him as an ill person too fast, inciting the audience
to interpretate his moves as those of a bit eccentric person, before they
realize gradually his behavior’s motives. So, in every scene, the only
question was how not to go too far? I saw how Russell was delighted about
this working up and to be in the first place watching it.
While shooting he delivers an incredible amount of propositions. Mind
out, he never declines to do what a director may propose him, but he asks
quite always an additional shot to show his scene's own perception and
that provides me the largest range of choices at the editing room. It's
fascinating to watch his own control on his acting. He acts like a master
with his instrument. And, more, a startling charisma. When he is in a
room, every person there seems to be in tune with his mood, quick-tempered
Third round: the reunion
“When ABM's filming ended, I actually hoped we'd have
the opportunity to work again together. However, I didn't delude myself;
there are so many actors I never have the luck to meet again after an
accomplished experience, for lack of a suitable project. Then, one day, he
brought me Cinderella man’ s idea.
It was the first time an actor was proposing me to direct a movie he
had initiated, and I was amazed by the instant freedom he allowed me.
Merely, he was telling me this project would become mine. He felt like
acting in, but not to produce or direct it. He wanted us to work together
the same way we did on ABM. He didn't expect I should be a
plain executor only; he wanted my own sight about the character and the
He put a lot of himself during the movie's making up. With Renee (Zellweger),
he spent a whole afternoon with me on the children's final casting. They
improvised a lot together. Russell played football with the young boys,
Renee was taking care of the young girls.
It was such a big deal; I was watching Braddock's family arise.
Once again, like in John Nash's case, it was stunning to see him
morphing little by little into a character. He would not miss any detail.
So, he asked for ears 's prosthesis. Because Braddock's were like mine,
sticking out. However I tried to deter him from (laughs), telling him:"You
know, I live with that kind of ears every day, are you sure to want to get
the same?". But, once he put the false ears and the suit on, he was
Braddock. Before the shooting began, I wondered since he was the film's
cause, it was going to change our way of working on set. Nothing like that
happened. His character being less "on the edge" than John Nash's,
I probably gave him fewer indications. That's all. On the other hand, his
shoulder's injury has changed things. He suffered a great deal. He had to
be followed by a physio, while pursuing the physical training and the
fight’s choreography, as well as working constantly on his acting. For
him, shooting was similar to an obstacle race, because a new shoulder's
injury should have meant irreparable physical outcomes. Fortunately, the
whole thing worked out well.”
Fourth round: the future
“Russell watched the movie in Australia. He just called and told me :
" I think it's your most beautiful movie" . His trust amazed and
honored me. He refused to take part in post-production. For, while he is
constantly feeding me, before and during the shooting, with ideas about
the character or the way of filming one thing or another, he submits
himself to the picked options and supports his director against all the
Now, Russell is an international star. Hollywood seized him because he
lined up hits, however he never settled in L.A. He comes here only for
working. He has understood Hollywood's rules but stays outside the system.
It's the reason why people love him so much. His success didn't confine
him into one single part,
on the contrary! A lot of actors are as popular as he is and act just
fine like he does, without any possibility left to them to become what I
call, "comedians" [Note: RH means "universal actors"
I guess). But, since the beginning, he just has defined himself as a
"comedian" in the audience's eyes. Nobody knows who is the real
Russell Crowe, beyond his movies. We only know how incredible performances
he is able to give and we have just the desire to see him whenever he goes
towards new horizons. He should disappoint if he was acting twice the same
part. When it comes to me, I hope that, for us, the expression "never
two times without a third one", will be proved true and more beyond
Words collected by Thierry Cheze
Photo, Jasper James
Translation by Irina (France), 27/10/2005
Legend of the 1st small pic : ABM, which owed him an
Legend of the 2nd small pic : In "Cinderella man”,
facing Paul Giamatti