Crowe - The Press
|I was Russell Crowe's stooge
June 7, 2006
It was March 2005 when the Oscar-winning movie star called me. He had read an article I had written - something about how the celebrity magazines make up lies - and had tracked down my number. He wanted to meet over lunch. He asked me if I could be trusted. The last thing he wanted to see in the papers, he said, was some story about my lunch with Russell Crowe. I told him not to worry. I wouldn't want to read that story either.
The following day we met at a restaurant of his choosing, me in my best three-piece suit and hat, him in sweat suit and cap. He hoped I didn't mind, but he'd called ahead and ordered food for both of us. He was sure it would be to my liking.
The next hour and a half was basically an interrogation as Russell Crowe, head down over his plate, hurled question after question from under the beak of his cap. Where did I grow up? What was my childhood like? What did my father do? I was so busy answering questions that I scarcely had a moment to taste the food.
At last, Russell announced he had one more question, which I could choose not to answer if I so wished: he wanted to know how much I earned. And like a little boy asked his age by the king, I told him.
Then he stood, shook my hand, thanked me for being so forthcoming and bade me farewell, adding that if I ever wanted to see his beloved South Sydney football team play, I need only call him and there'd be a seat for me in his private box.
That night, in our rented home in Sydney's inner west, my wife Kellie and I discussed the meaning of it all. Could it be that Russell Crowe needed a writer? Or a friend? You don't ask a man's salary unless you plan to employ him, do you? As intriguing as it was, we decided to try to forget the whole business before it drove us crazy, to catalogue it as nothing more than an unscheduled encounter with global fame.
A few nights later I received a call from a man with an American accent. His name was Keith. He was Russell Crowe's personal assistant and he wished to know whether I would be accepting Russell's invitation to the football. Rugby league is not my game but to stay home would be churlish; it would also constitute an abandonment of my naturally enquiring instinct.
And so Kellie and I dressed up for a night on the town and went to the football, where we met Russell, his son, Charlie, Charlie's nannies and several of Russell's friends, all dressed down for a day at the football. Though Russell was charming and everyone friendly, my wife and I had felt so foolish - such dolled-up commoners in the rich man's shed - that upon returning home that night we agreed to play along with Russell Crowe no further. His world was no place for us.
But the calls continued. Keith wanted my email address; another assistant phoned wanting to know my precise whereabouts, at that instant, as she had a book Russell had promised to give to me and her orders were to deliver it personally and immediately, which she did on a crowded Sydney street.
It was now quite clear that, unless besieged by some bizarre infatuation, Russell had something in mind for me. Though I knew not what it could be, my imagination become industrious as I began to foresee a new life for me and mine - clothes for Kellie and a bounty of new toys for my little boy, all to be enjoyed in a house we actually owned. After all, next to the Prime Minister and the odd media magnate, there was nobody more powerful in Australia than Mr Russell Crowe, and any crumb that might spill from his table would tumble as a banquet to my world.
Then, one evening, Keith called to ask if I had a moment for his boss. Russell came to the phone and for a few minutes we shot the breeze. Then he asked if I had some time later in the week, as he wished for me to come to his home and listen to some music.
My gut fell down an elevator shaft. Though completely unfamiliar with Crowe's music, I was familiar enough with the esteem in which it was held by those whose opinions seemed to matter. Was this what the last few weeks had been about?
With foreboding I trudged up the Woolloomooloo pier a few nights later, rehearsing those valueless critics' platitudes that had extracted me from hot spots in my days as a music reviewer: "Interesting"; "Not at all what I expected"; "'Amazing' is not the word."
A security guard met me at the door and escorted me up the elevator, passing the baton to Keith as the doors opened on a dark, Romanesque foyer. Keith shook my hand and led me through a long hallway lined with classic guitars, then into Russell's den, a kind of captain's cabin affair with a view of the Sydney Harbour skyline. Motioning towards the couch, Keith told me that Russell was temporarily disposed elsewhere in the mansion-apartment and had suggested I begin listening to the CD in the meantime. As I made myself comfortable, Keith cranked the sound system and promptly left the room, closing the door behind him.
It's fair to say Russell's music was a surprise. Where I had expected a lumpen, tuneless racket, what I heard instead was something far less remarkable - the colourless strums of a subway busker glazed with the deodorized slick of Christian rock. The most charitable thing I could feel about it was that it wasn't complete crap.
I don't know what made me look towards the ceiling, but as I did I noticed what I thought was a camera. Pointed straight at me. To this day I do not know if it was a lens or simply a classy light fitting but, just to be sure, I proceeded to rock my head to the beat, for the benefit of anyone who may be watching from some control room vault.
After 37 minutes the ten songs were over and, as the final strum went "wang", a door opened and Russell appeared, remarking on his own "good timing". A nervous silence ensued until he finally asked for my thoughts. I told him the music was "interesting" and "not at all what I had expected". He asked me to name my favourite of the tunes, and I lucky-dipped a title from the sleeve (unluckily, it turned out to be the one song Crowe himself hadn't written).
He spoke for a time about the media and how many were quick to write him off as a musical nincompoop, when he suspected they hadn't heard so much as a tune. Russell Crowe the musician, he said, laboured under a dreadful PR problem. It was then that I asked - for I knew that I must - how I might be able to help.
Russell said he needed "a champion", someone who could change people's minds and make them see that his music was not awful. In essence, he needed a guerrilla publicist - a plumber, of sorts, plugging up leaks in media goodwill, pressing his music into the ears of journalists whose opinions were hamstrung by prejudice. The rest of the world, then, would follow. He wondered if I could be such a champion.
At this point I produced from my pocket a book I had published at the turn of the century. It told the true story of the time I had gone in search of my childhood rock and roll idol, finding him destitute in a small coastal town, a reclusive invalid after 25 years of drug addiction. I moved in with him for a few months, finally moving out after relations reached such critical mass that another few days may have seen a fatality. I fashioned the experience into something of a modern-day fable, a cautionary tale about the perils of getting too close to one's idols.
The book turned my name to mud among those who would believe that the only crimes involving rock stars are those perpetrated by journalists and biographers.
I do not know why I gave this book to Russell. Perhaps I felt a duty to admit to him who I really was, like a new lover disclosing a history of herpes. Whatever the case, I recall very clearly telling him that the pages of that book held everything he would need to know about me and to read it before we continued. He said he would (though I suspect he read it but recently). In the meantime, I promised to consider becoming his champion.
Upon returning home I discussed the evening's events with my wife. Russell's music filled the room as we writhed on the floor in hysterics at the Faustian pathos of my latest dilemma. Only a few songs had aired when the phone rang - it was Russell. He wanted to know if I was going to play the CD for my wife that evening. I told him I would. He asked if I wouldn't mind calling him back that very night, should she have anything positive to say.
I hung up the phone and informed Kellie that this was now her problem too, adding that "'amazing' is not the word" was still available, should she need to use it. We writhed some more, ticklish worms in a furnace.
I thought hard upon things over the next few days, until finally deciding that the content of Russell's music mattered little. The question was whether I could care for him enough to want what he did. And I have to admit he was taking charge of my heart - the rich boy's smile and the beggar's eyes and the volumes of man and boy in between. I found him clever and engaging, not at all the buffoon of modern legend. I was charmed for sure and, if I were a woman, I thought, I would fall for him madly. As a grown man, I felt I could trust him. Unless he was a very good actor.
I called to say I had decided to be his champion. He offered me a generous wage, which I declined. I didn't want to disappoint him, I said, and I was unsure as to what success I could offer him in this enterprise. If things worked well we could discuss such matters, when the time came. In the meantime, I would need nothing more than expenses, for beer and the skittles that journalists require.
And so I began my guerrilla campaign, stalking the journalists of my city, Russell Crowe's CD in my briefcase. I had fashioned a complex argument based mostly on negatives: Why shouldn't Russell's music be heard? Was it not as meritorious as half of the crap that rocks around the clock today? If one weren't to know it was Maximus singing, would one still be wracked with sniggers and snot?
The going was tough. Some journalists openly laughed at me, others absorbed my pitch with pained smiles, like friends of the critically terminal patient who swears it really is a wonderful world.
Once a week, or so, I shuffled up the wharf to Woolloomooloo, where Russell and I debriefed. Sometimes we went late into the evenings, listening to music amidst clouds of purple haze. He regaled me with tales from the backlots of Hollywood, of the unknown deals and the language of the game, of the great actors he'd worked with and the foolish ones too. In my entire life, I don't think I have been so entertained by one man talking.
One time, I entered his home to find him sitting amongst scripts, stacked as a metropolis on the table around him. This was the fraction his agent let through to him, and precious few of these would seize Russell's attention. Some would become films anyway, as had happened with The Matrix, a script on which he had chosen to pass. Russell "didn't get it", he said, the theme of a beautiful falsehood hiding the ugly truth. It was not a subject that interested him.
I observed the inner clockworks of Russell Crowe's world. We were rarely perfectly alone, doors opening and closing as a legion of minions beavered in the service of tasks unseen. On one occasion, Russell asked a young man to bring us some cheese and crackers, which the young man did. Moments later, scarcely breaking conversation, Russell picked up a telephone an arm's length away and declared that the crackers were slightly stale (I hadn't, myself, noticed). In a twinkling, a replacement arrived from the kitchen, ferried to the table by a new man entirely. I don't think I ever saw this Executive Cracker Roadie again.
And it was during these times that I saw evidence of something that made me wince - Crowe's bizarre propensity for nickel-and-dime media manipulation. It seemed Russell was running his own parallel, one-man PR fix-it campaign. It was much the same as my own, but he was pitching himself to journalists while I was handling his CD. He'd go through the daily papers and call journalists in person, chastising them for perceived inexactitudes. There was nothing morally corrupt about this, but I found it a silly pastime for a man of his stature. Sometimes it did him no service at all.
He once bragged to me about how he had called a prominent Sydney gossip columnist who had been dumping on him, promising her that should she publish a positive word or two, he would grant her an exclusive interview. Like magic, a nice mention appeared in her column the following week, and the exclusive interview followed. It was doubtful, I thought, this transaction hadn't been noted by the columnist's peers, who'd consider her weak and Russell quite the meddler. If he needed an answer for why so many journalists disliked him, I thought, he need look no further.
That I was part of this nonsense was not lost on me, and at times it troubled me beyond mere embarrassment. One evening, I discussed with Russell a particular journalist who seemed to dislike him, and I suggested some approaches that might be useful in changing the journalist's mind. With a schoolboy laugh, Russell shook his head and declared that if it were too much trouble, he'd just have the bastard killed. He was joking, of course, and we both laughed a lot. But it got me to thinking: I wondered if this had ever happened in the annals of Hollywood's history with the press. Syndicates have killed for less, and we are talking about multi-million dollar estates.
In June, Russell bade me farewell and good luck with my "hunting". He was off to America to promote his new film, Cinderella Man. He would see me, he said, in a month or two, when perhaps we'd go out for a beer. Life was looking up for us all.
Shortly thereafter, my wife awoke me one morning with grim news: Russell Crowe was on the television, in handcuffs. He had thrown a telephone at a New York hotel concierge and was being charged with assault. Apparently, he'd had trouble calling home and had blown a fuse. This didn't surprise me - rarely ever had Russell phoned me himself, getting Keith to dial the numbers first.
I emailed him asking if there was anything I could do to help, not knowing quite if I could. He thanked me in reply, but declared this was his problem alone. He'd dig himself out on his own steam.
The next day, the local media was rich with charity: Russell, it seemed, was misunderstood. A local newspaper columnist, once somewhat dark on Crowe, wrote of how a recent visit to Russell's home and subsequent telephone conversations meant "my opinion of the man has changed". An entertainment reporter declared on national morning television that Russell was "a lovely bloke," for he'd been to his home, too. A prominent radio talkback host aired overwhelmingly positive calls from listeners. He was later granted an exclusive interview. Russell Crowe, he said, was a "mate".
Uneasy, now, about my own task, I decided to suspend activities until Russell returned. For all sorts of reasons, it seemed to me no time to wander the city preaching the musical virtues of the man in the headlines.
Back in the country, Russell summoned, and once again I trudged up the pier at Woolloomooloo. He was in a sombre mood - he had been walking around, he said, with a dartboard on his butt and the world had taken aim. The press had been unfair. So too, he said, had the concierge, who had shown "no intention of being cool about this". It had been humiliating, said Russell, to have had to show remorse in public, when all he was truly sorry about was the fact that he was in so much trouble. The concierge had said: "Yeah, yeah, whatever" - words, according to Crowe, that constitute the "lowest insult" one can deliver, tantamount to "you are nothing to me, you do not matter". And if you're going to utter those words to another man in these quick-tempered times, said Crowe, you'd better be prepared to put up your dukes.
Weeks later I received an email from the film company in charge of Cinderella Man's success. I was slated to do a story, they said, and they wanted to know my availability for an interview with the star. I responded saying I was doing no such story - I was too close to Russell and to do so would be unseemly. Silence was the reply.
A few days later, the editor of a large-circulation Sunday magazine emailed me asking when she could expect the Russell Crowe story. Again, I responded I was doing no such story, as I was sure Russell would not approve. She replied that Russell had, in fact, requested me by name.
This was troubling, as Russell had mentioned nothing to me. I felt sure he had learned enough about me by now to know I would not be keen on such an idea. I emailed Russell, asking for his thoughts. Twenty-four hours passed.
When his response arrived, it got right down to business. There was a journalist in London, Crowe wrote, who had written many stories on him, and as a consequence had enjoyed drinking with Russell in 22 cities of the world. This journalist had resisted all pressure to write bad Russell stories, and was thus much loved and rewarded. "So you see, Jack," he wrote, "not all journalists are cunts." He added that if I wanted to do the story, then, he was "cool with it".
What's more, Russell informed me that my music publicity mission had been nothing more than a test. His "Machiavellian plan" had been to style me into his own "one-client publicist" by the New Year, in place of his current Australian publicist, with whom he was soon parting ways. If I chose not to do the story, he said, it would not be reassigned, simply cancelled. The choice was very much mine.
The potential for tragedy at this fork in the road was exhibited to me a few weeks later, when Russell invited my wife and me to his farm on the north coast. His band was performing in the nearby town, where all manner of people would be converging for the spectacle. We met Russell's extended family, who knew us by name, and lunched with Kevin Spacey, who my wife did not recognise, enquiring as to which instrument "the guy in the beret" played in Russell's band.
Russell showed us around the 1800-acre estate: the stables; the state-of-the-art recording studio; the wondrous chapel he had built in which to wed his wife; the perfectly manicured cricket pavilion and white-picketed field which had carried Australian sports heroes as they challenged the Crowe family team to friendly games.
Standing on the porch of the cottage in which my wife and I would sleep, Russell pointed to an escarpment in the distance which stood as a sentinel at the extent of his realm and wore the translucent hue belonging to hills far, far away. This was a kingdom for sure, a natural monument to the family for whom Russell Crowe had toiled so hard, and as Camelot to all of his champions.
The stakes now sky high, I returned to Sydney filled with excitement and dread - this was no longer just a gay ride, as I was about to abandon my own dreams for a place on the coattails of somebody else's.
And so began a troubled chapter in the ballad of Jack and Russell, a few weeks cratered with mounting suspicions and disagreement, usually arising from my objection to his efforts at manipulating the media and his resentment at such a charge.
I suggested he was too big to be bothering personally with gossip columnists, that all he had to do was just be the fine fellow he had shown to me and the world would discover the truth in its own good time. Curtly, though with a good deal of caution and restraint, he replied that I had no idea of what I was talking about.
What's more, I began to doubt whether my friendship with Russell Crowe was altogether exclusive. There were sightings of Russell taking long strolls with rival journalists. There was talk of him writing a book with another. On the grapevine, I heard of another Cinderella Man article in the works, the local journalist disclosing her friendship with Russell and telling of their late night chatter at the film star's north coast farm. I had been stroking my own ego with such industry it hadn't occurred to me that there may be other ponies on the same carousal.
Like the cuckold hearing whispers of a lover's infidelities, I began to dwell too much upon my place in Russell's world. I noticed Russell's emails occasionally contained information that presumed knowledge I did not possess - tail ends of conversations, perhaps, conducted with another and now confused as ours. I had never been formally introduced to his wife, who had seemed to go out of her way to avoid Kellie and I on that weekend at the farm, as if she'd known we were just passing through and not future acquaintances at all. I finally admitted to myself that I had never heard Russell enquire for news from my own life, my own health, my own career, my own family. Even when prompted with lures like: "I've had a dreadful week," Russell's curiosity was nowhere to be seen. This was indeed a strange sort of friendship. Perhaps no friendship at all.
Of course, Russell had never explicitly offered his companionship, nor asked me for mine. He had referred to our "friendship" occasionally, but it's a word so misused in all halls of business that it means nearly nothing when a deal's going down. Strictly speaking, all he'd offered me was a job. It was I who had refused payment, transforming my task into a labour of love. It was I, perhaps, who was being the creep, masquerading as a foot soldier while secretly coveting his friendship, and the lifestyle it promised to bring.
But Russell Crowe is not stupid, nor inexperienced in the ways of my world. Born neither rich nor famous, he had once lived an ordinary life too, in which 'networking' was but a buzzword and leisurely hours spent in the company of another were in pursuit of friendship or sex and rarely much else. From his place on the roof of society, perhaps he'd forgotten how things might look from here, and as such was unaware of the potential confusion our time together might breed in my mind. Or perhaps he was counting on it.
But could all of these months - the calls and the midnight emails, the long nights of music and chewing the fat, the skerricks of gossip he'd imparted trustingly, the weekend up north, the talk of our future - could all of this have been in the service of nothing at all but promotion for a film? Do people really do this?
I recalled one night long ago when we'd discussed another movie star who was rumoured to be dating a partner for, Russell thought, the publicity. Russell did not approve, but his condemnation bore no shock or disgust, just a knowing smirk and a shake of the head, as if this particular player had simply taken the game "too far".
Spooked by these doubts - and partly, I suppose, as a test of this 'friendship' - I determined to pull myself from the forthcoming story, furnishing Russell with the names of others who I thought might do a sympathetic job in my place. I apologised to him, but I felt too compromised. "I believe I can be useful to you in future," I wrote, "but not this time." Russell's response was swift and, it seemed, somewhat panicked. He wanted to meet with me first thing in the morning.
During a long stroll, Charlie Crowe ahead on wheels, Russell explained once again that there could be no-one else. It had to be me or there would be no story. I asked him why he wanted me so badly over anyone else, and he responded with a smile: "Because it's part of the process."
My doubts had been foolish. My new career in the Russell Crowe army was assured after all. This was simply the final exam in my graduation to a grand new life as Russell's consigliore.
While working on the story one evening I sent Russell a few questions by email. His response, in an email headed "Fucking homework...why am I doing your job too?", carried an undeniably aggressive tone. The answer to one request for a list of his own perceived faults being: "Oh fuck off...that's definitely your job."
The reason for this sudden fart of bad attitude was a mystery, though the email concluded with the information that young Charlie had been ill all week, the sleepless nights bringing the family "closer together, if that's possible". It occurred to me that this may be mere theatrics intended as grist for the story; the hard-talkin' man for whom all courtesies evaporate in the flare of his devotion to family. What Russell wouldn't have known - because he never would've asked - was that I'd had a hard week, too, my little boy no more resistant to the raffles of nature than his own.
So I parried. Crossly, I reminded him that, in this instance, my job was his business too, and to "never tell me to fuck off again".
Days passed with no response. When it came, it was not angry, as I had expected, but wounded and confused.
"Mate," he wrote, "I have tried to be brave about it, but I took your last e-mail as an out and out attack." He claimed to have written me 2000 words before erasing them in anguish. He had no idea how to respond, he said, "to a level of anger that dispels all notion of previous connection". He said that if I didn't want to do the story, I needn't.
I responded that it was too late for that, as I didn't want to stiff my editor by pulling the story days from deadline. I told him that if our "previous connection" had taught him he could be rude to me, then I was glad I'd dispelled the notion of it. I closed on a lighter note - since he was between "jobs", perhaps he might like to consider taking the role of Batman at my little boy's birthday party. I could offer him no money but "all the pies and sausage rolls you can eat."
I feared this little arm wrestle might spell curtains for my relationship with Crowe and, while I hoped not, an exhausted part of me knew that it would be for the best. While willing enough to place my own career in the service of his, I had neither the temper nor the inclination to become Russell's whipping boy, his 'yes man', the dependable Robot to his cursing Doctor Smith. He'd best learn that now rather than later.
And if Russell and I were through, I no longer his future publicist, it occurred to me that I might now be free to write my own story, the whole truth about Crowe as I'd seen it. It was a tantalising prospect, and a neat way out of a moral jam.
But I decided against it. I would write a story that served Russell well, as an outgoing gift to the man who had given me quite a ride. As a thankyou for the friendship that might have been, for the flight up north and the free peek at grandeur. And, for all I knew, we just might patch things up after all. There was no need to tear up my ticket before the race was run to the tape.
So I wrote a story that betrayed my memory, and thus betrayed my journalism. I didn't write about the private things he'd confided in me, the anti-social habits I'd noted with interest, or those damning little utterances that clang like bells in the ears of a journalist. I didn't write about the manipulation I had seen with my own eyes, the columnists he'd done sly deals with, or the critics with whom he was warm and friendly and generous with his time, only to tell me later he thought them dull and stupid. I didn't reveal that he wished he had shoved the phone right up that concierge's kazoo.
I made no mention of my problems with Cinderella Man - the fight scenes that owed their life to Raging Bull, or the slanderously false portrayal of Max Baer as a murderous creep, history edited inside-out for the convenience of slick Hollywood morality. I wrote nothing of that joke about killing the journalist, or the quip about the concierge refusing to be "cool" - as if the burden is on the victim to show charity and poise where his assailant did not.
Most sacrificially of all, I kept to myself my own darkest suspicions - that I was no friend of Russell Crowe, but just another wretched fiddle in a one-song orchestra, a PR tool in a movie star's box, seduced by charm, lured by promises and propelled by my own ego and greed into believing this was anything other than show business. These things that might have made a story great - none of them did I write.
Instead, I added to the international gallery of portraits casting Crowe as the Great Misunderstood. I told - quite honestly, as I had seen it - of his good heart, his ready humour, his sharp intellect and august dedication to his craft. I countered the truth of his folkloric ego with a first-hand tale of the man's humility. I took Russell's corner in the phone-throwing bout, borrowing his explanation for why "whatever" is the new "get fucked". I even gave Cinderella Man a free kick, fulfilling my lousy 'duty' as an unpaid film publicist.
But the story wasn't all air-kisses, for such stories can never be believed and I don't do them. I mentioned our argument - though not the contents of it - and that we were no longer talking. I suggested there were times when Russell takes himself perhaps a little too seriously. I touched on his bad reputation with the media, though I laid equal blame on the media for it. These cheeky shadows of intrigue and doubt assuaged my own feelings of self-betrayal, but they acted in the service of their subject, too, investing the fonder passages with a far more credible sheen. That a modern, intelligent man might fail to appreciate such elementary psychology seemed at the time so unlikely I scarcely considered it possible.
I can say that I told the truth, but not the whole truth, my story rotten to the core with omissions and favour, and I hated writing it. As I filed it I swore I would never again place myself in the position to be writing for anyone but the reader.
On the day the article was published, I received an unusual amount of praise, which I took with a lump in my throat. People found the story "warm", "real" and "sympathetic", a few telling me they'd never liked Crowe until reading it. One reader charged I had "damned Crowe with faint praise" and that was the worst of the negative mail.
The next day, Kellie and I set off for a three-week holiday in New York City, a trip for which we'd been saving for almost a year. Before we left, I decided to send Russell an email, our first contact in weeks. I told him the story was out and that I hoped he didn't have too many problems with it. I explained that by mentioning our argument I had perhaps rendered charges of manipulation impotent. I had wanted people, I wrote him, to know that "you are a clever, funny, warm-hearted guy" and that "I wanted to tell them in a way that didn't smell like publicity - to let them almost learn it for themselves". And I signed off by saying I would be delighted if he wished to continue our friendship but, if not, it had been great getting to know him.
Upon landing in New York, I checked my email at an Internet cafe in Soho, not far at all from the hotel in which the concierge had been assaulted. There was a response in my inbox from Russell.
It was three words long.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
Kellie and I discussed it that night, under rivers of beer in the Old Town Bar. The article had been no hatchet job, but it had been no blow job either, and such is what Russell Crowe clearly expects. This grunt of contempt - the "lowest insult" of all - was all he could muster after so many months of tuning a marquee that dared to malfunction on opening night. I had been quite the sucker. It was the only truth that made sense.
It was time to forget it, to delete his address and pursue Russell Crowe no longer. I did not erase his number from my phone - for some reason I thought I might need it.
Just before flying home, I received another email from Russell, a much longer one than the last.
My work, Russell said, was "low and shitty", my opinions "not required". I was one of the artless lumpenmasse with no idea and no sense of honour. I had betrayed a friendship, apparently, and my little boy deserved a better Batman than anything his father could conjure. It was time, he said, for me to get on with my own life - as if I'd been doing anything else back in March.
Gone was the cautious, wounded victim from past altercations - that phantom had vanished at the end of the publicity parade. Here was the Russell Crowe I had read about all these years, the superior, self-centred, Hollywood jerk I had convinced myself - and anyone who'd listen - was nought but a cynical media fiction. Significantly, this was the only email - the first one in our entire six months of communicating - that Russell signed with his real name.
The email concluded with a piece of advice that I found strangely inspiring:
"You should stop jerking off, Jack, and just write books. It is what you are supposed to do."
I thought about that all the way home from New York. Perhaps he was right - I may have a book to write after all. A little fable that tells how these people are fakers, their pretence on film just the tip of the iceberg. How publicity is a lifestyle to he who seeks it, his lies indiscernible from our daily prayers, his conscience forgiven by his movie star dreams. How success can make a good man swollen with lust for praise, needlessly bluffing his way into good books and buying his way out of bad. About how this egotist's plaything called Motion Pictures is out of control, the characters jumping from the screens and swinging their dicks in ordinary lives. All the world's a stage, it seems, and an elite few are aware of the plot. We clueless extras are there to be deceived, abused and bullied into playing our parts, for the show that celebrates the stars must go on.
By the time I touched down in Sydney I thought I might have a book alright. A cautionary tale, one I wished I'd read back before the autumn of 2005. After all, was it not what Russell himself told me I was supposed to do? The question I could not yet answer was whether I was bold enough to do it.
Evidently, Russell Crowe had been stewing on the very same question.
Six months to the day after that first phone call, I received one last email, short, cryptic and utterly unsociable. I called Russell and left a message on his personal voicemail, demanding he explain the meaning of it. There has never been a reply.
Entitled "book ideas", the email sought to draw my attention away from the topic of Russell Ira Crowe and to consider, instead, one of his associates:
"Michael Castellano, the subject of the song Mickey. Born in Staten Island to a mafia family... he makes a fascinating story teller."