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Crowe's Feat

Juice Magazine

May, 1993
Author: Unknown




Suddenly everyone has a story about what an arsehole Russell Crowe is. Winning best skinhead at the Australian Film Institute Awards for his entirely credible performance as a neo-facist gangster in Romper Stomper last year hasn't had that much to do with it. Crowe has a keen sense of himself. His career as a New Zealand rock & roll singer was met with a barrage of beer cans. But a very "I'm Russell Crowe, who are you ?" attitude took him across the channel and from busking at Sydney's Kings Cross to best actor in six quick years (he also collected an AFI Best Supporting Actor for Proof).

Along the way he has charmed directors, riled photographers, punched up fellow actors, offended interviewers and charmed the pants off everyone else. The tabloid social pages love to sit on his face. He tends to p***-off anyone who irritates him.

An overseas journalist recently met with a boorish Crowe who read the paper while she tried to interview him, and eventually walked out saying he was bored. She was the film writer for The New York Post, and although he didn't know it, chair of the New York's Critics' Circle.

But despite the many stories that are told, the best are the ones he tells against himself. "People say to me, 'So you were a singer'", he volunteers after a round of "Mystery Train" belted out complete with Elvis accent. "And I say, 'Mate, there's a lot of definitions of that word, got nothing to do with what comes out of my mouth when I've got a guitar in my hand'. I do love a yodel."

Since completing Romper Stomper, Crowe has been offered endless "old cop/young cop" films - but nothing about police corruption, 'and that's what really interests me.' Three others Love in Limbo, Silver Brumby and Hammers Over the Anvil, in which he co-stars with Charlotte Rampling, will be released in the next six months. He has also made a Canadian film, a romance, "which my mother will love." At the moment he is busy in L.A.

Anthony Hopkins, with whom he worked in Spotswood, has said Crowe reminds him very much of himself at the same age. This remark has been interpreted as a compliment.

JUICE: Are you a facist?

CROWE: I've never been on the dole. I've never taken a grant. I'm really a facist in that respect, I suppose.

JUICE: What's wrong with the dole?

CROWE: There's a certain amount of people who think the world owes them. I used to think that was a load of s*** with musicians, and I think it's a load of s*** with actors. The world doesn't owe you a g**damned thing. Nobody's ever actually taken me by the hand and shown me the big wide world. I went out and found it for myself. If you have the right personality there's nothing stopping you from getting whatever you want.

JUICE: Have you got the right sort of personality?

CROWE: I busked [street performer] for six months in 1987, when I couldn't get a job to save myself. I had no money. I'd just been fired from being a waiter at Doyle's [popular fish restraunt in Syndey, Australia].

JUICE: Did you throw chips on someone?

CROWE: No. This American woman asked me for a decaffienated coffee. In New Zealand in 1986 if you asked for a coffee it was a teaspoon of Nescafe. I come over here and suddenly I'm faced with long black, short black, cappuccino, coffee latte. And decaffeinated. So I take her a cup of hot water. And she says 'Russell,this is just boiling water,' and I say 'Lady, when we decaffeinate something in Australia we don't f*** around.' She complained to the management.

JUICE: No sense of humour?

CROWE: No tip either. I'm giving her Paul Hogan all night, and she gets offended.

JUICE: But getting back to dole bludgers ...

CROWE: The majority of people I know who are on the dole have parents who own very nice houses and cars, and they sit in their f***ing flats with all their university friends ...

JUICE: Doesn't that say more about the people you know?

CROWE: I'm not saying there shouldn't be a dole, I just think it should be there for people who need it instead of being disseminated into the mouths of all these little wankers who don't f***ing need it. There should be a means test.

JUICE: But what if you were down and out?

CROWE: I'm an entertainer, and the moment I cease to be entertaining, I'm out of a job. Simple as that.

JUICE: Does this mean we could see you up at the Cross again?

CROWE: Don't you worry about that.

JUICE: Were you hanging out to get Best Actor last year? Or don't you care about that stuff anymore?

CROWE: What do you mean anymore? Do you think it was some important thing for me?

JUICE: I don't know.

CROWE: Well, you were implying it was.

JUICE: Everyone cares about those things when they start out.

CROWE: Yeah. Well. Hell, I wish there was some way of enjoying it without offending people. Sure I do. I really like that stuff. I loved watching the Academy Awards when I was a kid. And that three seconds when they read my name for Proof, I really enjoyed it. There's always this thing with being an actor. Are you actually an actor, or one of the multitude of pretenders? You gotta ask yourself.

JUICE: Is it my suit they like?

CROWE:Yeah. Is it my arse? That's the other question you've gotta ask yourself.

JUICE: You won Best Actor for your role in Romper Stomper. David Stratton, the film critic, said he thought the negative should be burnt.

CROWE: Nazi. (pause) Look, I've got respect for Dave Stratton, but he's from another generation. His reaction says to me that it's a very powerful film. I wouldn't want to offend him. I just wish he could distinguish in his own mind the difference between the ideology in the film and the ideology behind it.

JUICE: What was your first reaction to the script of Romper Stomper when you first read it?

CROWE: Same as David Stratton. I rang Geoff Wright, the director/writer, and asked him if he was a Nazi.

JUICE: And?

CROWE: He satisfied me. He's a very intelligent man. I could see the positive aspect of exposing this stuff to the public eye. National Socialism gets strength from being underground.

JUICE: Was the film what you expected?

CROWE: It was an amazing experience. From the day we lost our hair it was almost like an avalanche. A film is like a train, if you don't get on and commit yourself to that journey you've got nothing. And you can't pull it over like a car. You stay on till the end. With Romper Stomper it was like, as soon as you got on the train it started to fall off the rails and over the cliff. Everything went crazy. And down the bottom was Geoff, still waving the remote control. Stupid analogy actually.

JUICE: Analogies often sound stupid if you start extrapolating them too far.

CROWE: Extrapolating ... that's a big word.

JUICE: Yes. Haven't you heard it before?

CROWE: Yes, many times. I was just ... Sounds like something Nazis do.

JUICE: So why the kneejerk reactions to Romper Stomper?

CROWE: It's a very moral story: basically, live by the sword, die by the sword. The problem people have is guilt. The first half hour is really brutal. After that they go with the story, and they start reacting as they would in any other film. They start liking different people, and feeling for them. Then, right at the end of the film, Geoff practically screams out 'this is a film about racism.' People suddenly feel very guilty for enjoying it so much.

JUICE: And what about you?

CROWE: I think its's a love story. Like all Geoffrey's films. It follows the same pattern as Lover Boy (Wright's first short film). He puts love into a very difficult situation to see if it survives.

JUICE: Have you personally experienced racism?

CROWE: I've seen racism from both sides of the fence. My Dad was a hotel manager for while, back in New Zealand: the nickname for the hotel was The Flying Jug - this place was famous for fights. So I've seen racism from Maori to Samoan, Tongan to Maori, not just white to black. My maternal grandfather's mother was Maori. I have an option to vote on the Maori roll. And I've been bashed in New Zealand for being white. You can't stop and say, 'Excuse me, my grandfather's mother was a Maori.' Biff!

JUICE: You must have done a lot of talking about racism since Romper Stomper came out. Your ideas must be well worked out.

CROWE: Not really. The more I talk about it, the more it opens up. It's the whole human race you're talking about here.

JUICE: Did making Romper Stomper change your attitudes?

CROWE: I can't say it did. However when you shave your head you get a little inkling into what's going on. You can't walk anywhere without people moving out of your way. You can sit in a restaurant for 40 minutes before someone takes a deep breath and walks over to you.

JUICE: It's skin deep.

CROWE: Basically it's power. For Romper Stomper we exercised it as a group.

JUICE: You mean your gang?

CROWE: Right. The first weekend I said, 'I'm not going to be socialising and going out because I'll be working, but this weekend we'regoing to go out.'

JUICE: You were bossing them around from the start?

CROWE: F***ing oath. Those nine actors were my gang. They were all ranked. Everybody got a hat with a rank badge, and they all had different responsibilities in the group.

JUICE: So what did you do?

CROWE: Someone said, 'Let's go down to the docks, to some working class pub.' And I said, 'No, we're going to this very upwardly mobile hotel in South Yarra.' Suddenly, in the middle of this, there's nine skinheads playing pool. In a working class dockside pub it wouldn't have meant that much, but in that environment you get a quick appraisal for how much fear you can create in other people.

JUICE: Did it feel great?

CROWE: Well, it's not a matter of that ...

JUICE: But it did, didn't it?

CROWE: It's an observation you make. It's not ... If I really thought it was a great thing to do I would still have no hair.

JUICE: I'm not suggesting that, having tasted power, you would never be able to grow your hair again.

CROWE: Ok, it felt great. Power feels wonderful. Especially to a disenfranchised person who can't get a job, can't get anywhere, is just another figure in the dole queue. When you have no hair you have a badge, you know what I mean. You could almost feel the spine of these young men getting stronger.

JUICE: And you were their leader. Was that scary?

CROWE: I was very worried about what I was getting into when I arrived to do Romper Stomper. The gang situation is a volatile thing. Shave nine guy's heads, make them bond immediately, fire them to that level ... To keep that under control takes a lot of effort and energy. That's not just me, that's Geoffrey and everybody else. Each guy was extremely brave, I reckon. I owe the whole cast a great deal of thanks. Look at the party scene. That's commitment. Not one single person in that scene got hurt.

JUICE: Did you train as a group?

CROWE: The production company refused to let us physically train together, because they thought it was too dangerous and they didn't want to take the responsibility. So I organised it, unbeknownst to them. I had an ex-skinhead, Greg, come in on a daily basis. He was a really nice fella. Isn't that funny? He'd gotten through it. Maybe he didn't need it so much anymore.

JUICE: You've been running with gangs for a long time haven't you? Rock and roll is all about gangs.

CROWE: Yeah, well ... You see Greg matured from being a skinhead. I matured from being a rock & roll singer. You can get lost in that stuff for your whole life.

JUICE: What about Hando, the character you play in Romper Stomper?

CROWE: What Hando is doing is standing up and saying, 'I am strong enough to look after you. If you give me your loyalty I will solve all your little problems. Hang out with me, you'll never want for food, for money. I will organise the lot.' He's the archetypal patriarch. And he loves these guys. People say a guy like that can't love - what a load of s***. He is creating a family, but the bottom line is the people who aren't in the family have to be wiped out.

JUICE: Is that how he defines his family? Is it that, by defining the enemy, he makes the family exist?

CROWE: There's got to be an outside force. For Hitler is was the Jews. For Hando it's the Vietnamese.

JUICE: What's the perfect world for guys like that?

CROWE: The perfect world for Hando is a situation where everyone is of the same mind. It's the idea that society would be more balanced and more easily controlled if everyone is the same. That's National Socialism. That's Hitler. That's racism.

JUICE: Have you ever been intimidated by anyone?

CROWE: Put it this way. I went to the opening night of a play recently, starring Helen Morse. I've been a fan of hers for years. She's got such strength on film. I wish she'd make more films.

JUICE: What happened?

CROWE: After the play I was taken to meet her. Very nervous. I say, 'How do you do, I'm Russell Crowe. That was very nice.' 'Nice?' she says. 'Well you can get f***ed for a start.' And she walks off.

JUICE: How did you feel?

CROWE: I didn't know how to cope with it. I was nervous enough as it was, but after that I just became this autistic blithering fool and just sort of stood there.

JUICE: It's nice to hear you can be reduced to a blithering idiot so easily.

CROWE: It's not easy!

JUICE: Only Helen Morse can do it?

CROWE: There's a few other people.



 



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