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Russell Crowe Savors Success: By Candice Hughes
Associated Press Writer (May 3, 2000)


ROME (AP) - Years ago, when Russell Crowe was an aspiring young rock singer, he wrote a song called "I Wanna Be Like Marlon Brando." These days, he's happy to be Russell Crowe. Only five years after landing his first Hollywood role, he is one of the hottest - and busiest - actors around.

So busy, in fact, that when he was offered the lead in Ridley Scott's new movie "Gladiator" he ignored it. He was too absorbed in the role he was creating for "The Insider" at the time, a role that garnered him an Oscar nomination.

"I was ignoring it because I was working," Crowe said during a visit to Rome. "The two things weren't coming together in my head."

He ended up taking "Gladiator," a $100 million epic of honor and glory in ancient Rome that opens Friday (May 5), at the urging of "Insider" director Michael Mann.

Passing up a chance to work with Scott would be crazy, Mann told Crowe during one of the two-hour-plus makeup sessions that helped transform the 36-year-old actor into the paunchy, middle-aged Big Tobacco whistleblower he was playing in "The Insider."

Crazy Crowe's not. He took the part.

The whole project seems improbable at first glance. A gladiator movie in this day and age? But it works. The filmmakers have created a gorgeously detailed ancient world, one that is savage and civilized at the same time.

The kind of single-minded focus and hard work that kept Crowe from leaping at a juicy role like "Gladiator" is the key to his success. Colleagues say he approaches each role with fierce intensity.

"You know how they say an actor is the custodian of his role? Russell, well, Russell is the bodyguard of his character," said "Gladiator" producer Douglas Wick. "And he's on duty 24 hours a day!"

Crowe's intensity and commitment to his character led to some clashes with the equally forceful Scott, whose credits include "Blade Runner, "Alien" and "Thelma and Louise."

"He would kill for his character," Wick said. "And Ridley would kill for the movie. So you have two very willful people who are sometimes in disagreement."

Crowe and Scott both speak well of each other now ("a great artist, a Dutch master," Crowe says of Scott. "He's worth it," the director says of Crowe.) and insist their clashes proved creative at day's end and made the movie better.

In "Gladiator," Crowe plays the hero of the tale, the Roman general Maximus who is betrayed and sold into slavery as a gladiator.

On the brutal battlefield of the Colosseum, recreated for the film with sets and computer imaging, Maximus transcends disgrace and becomes a hero once again.

Crowe said the written "Meditations" of emperor Marcus Aurelius, played in the film by Richard Harris, served as "a touchstone for who Max was."

"When I discovered the book," he said, "it was like one of those 'Eureka!' moments."

At first blush, Crowe doesn't seem like the kind of guy who sits around with tomes of Stoic philosophy written nearly 2,000 years ago.

Born in New Zealand, raised in Australia, Crowe lives on a 560-acre ranch north of Sydney. He rides horses and punches cows to relax.

But Crowe has the true actor's gift of delving into a character, of creating such a complete inner reality that he can convey a lifetime with just a glance or a gesture on film.

He also has the chameleon's gift of transforming himself physically. For "The Insider," he put on around 50 pounds and - seemingly - 20 years. As Maximus, he is absolutely believable as a grizzled general who personally leads his Roman legions into ferocious hand-to-hand combat with the barbarian hordes.

The real-life Crowe is a sleek, trim, tanned fellow who doesn't look a day over his 36 years. His speech is blunt, sprinkled with Aussie-isms like "mate" and "bloke" and the kind of earthy Anglo-Saxon expressions family newspaper don't print.

Crowe says he always knew he wanted to be a performer, and he grew up around the movie business. His grandfather was a cinematographer and his parents were film set caterers. He was a child extra and landed a part in an Australian TV series when he was just 6.

For a while, Crowe thought he wanted to be a rock star; he still writes songs and plays guitar in an Australian band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. He also tried his hand at theater, doing 415 performances as Dr. Frank N. Furter in "The Rocky Horror Show."

Crowe landed his first film role in 1990 in Australia and his first Hollywood role ("The Quick and the Dead," a gunfighter film produced by Sharon Stone) in 1995. The big breakthrough was two years later, in the critically acclaimed "L.A. Confidential."

He is now shooting his 22nd film, "Proof of Life," a kidnap thriller with Meg Ryan, and has a Depression-era drama directed by Jodie Foster, "Flora Plum," lined up.

Success, he says, is sweet. And a lot of work.

"I wanted to work with the best actors I possibly could. I wanted to do the greatest work I possibly could," he said. "And I can do that because I've kept focused. I've done what I set out to achieve."



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Interview with Connie Nielsen


We know it's difficult, but try to think of Connie Nielsen as just one of the guys.

After all, she keeps popping up in roles designed for hormonal balance against an otherwise testosterone-soaked cast. In 1998, she played an interplanetary pioneer in the action-packed Soldier, teaching specially bred killer Kurt Russell to love small children and fuzzy animals. Earlier this year, she portrayed the only chick among a group of Red Planet-bound astronauts, playing kissy-face with Tim Robbins in Disney's Mission to Mars.
And, of course, movies don't come much more macho than those of the gladiator genre. So, when director Ridley Scott needed a female lead to soften his DreamWorks project Gladiator, he cast the Copenhagen-born beauty smack in between a psychopathic brother (Joaquin Phoenix) and ultrabadass gladiator General Maximus (Russell Crowe).

Which got us to wondering

Russell, your love interest in the film, is quite the babe, no?
"Oh, yes. He's also an intense, extremely intelligent, completely devoted actor. And he's not only extremely generous in his work, he's generous outside of it."

To steal a line from Airplane!, does she like gladiator movies?
"I didn't really know anything about them. I just went to museums and read up on my own."

Wonder if Professor Nielsen thinks Gladiator got it right?
"It [Gladiator] is not a history lesson, and it doesn't want to be. You should see it as a dramatic narrative, which is fictional, built on the edifice of historical characters and their era, reproduced as closely as possible to what we know."

Smarty pants, eh? We hear she speaks fluent Danish, English, German, Swedish, French and Italian. What's up with that?
"Denmark is a very small country, and we have a lot of close neighbors. The government decided that if Danes were going to interact with the world--economically, artistically and socially--they had to be given a chance to communicate with that world. So, these countries are integrated into our education."

That must have come in handy when she found herself living in Paris at the age of 18. What brought her there?

"I went, at first, just with the intent to see it. Then I did Le Paradis Absolument in France and was given the possibility of staying there. I realized that if I wanted to do this seriously, I'd have to get some formal training. So, I studied acting in places like Rome, Milan and South Africa."

Not exactly hotbeds of Hollywood action. How'd she end up stateside?
"I attracted the interest of some American agents, and they told me if I wanted to work over here, I had to live here. So, I decided to give it six months just to see what happened. The month after I arrived, I got a part in a poorly reviewed TV movie with Rutger Hauer and Eric Roberts called Voyage."

Okay, an inauspicious start. But, hey, she's scored with some hot projects and hunky costars since then: Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate, Kurt Russell in Soldier, Ben Stiller in Permanent Midnight, Tim Robbins in Mission to Mars and now Crowe. Who stands out?
"Every one of them."
--Dan Frankel



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A Quick One with Russell Crowe, the Meanest Mother Ever to Swing a Mace


by H.W. Fowler | May 2, 2000

After years of acting in Australian film and theater, New Zealand-born Russell Crowe has recently gone big time with his work in the acclaimed film noir L.A. Confidential, the Academy Award-nominated tobacco-industry exposé, The Insider and now in Ridley Scott's highly anticipated Roman epic, Gladiator.

He's also got a rep for having an edgy personality and an ingratiating, wicked sense of humor. Most of all, though, people are recognizing Crowe as one of the most distinctive and versatile actors of his generation.

Between the Oscar nomination for The Insider and the action-star buzz around Gladiator, your life must have really changed in the last year. How has the success affected you?
It's funny, because you get accused of being arrogant by some people--because I seem to, in some people's view, expect success. The thing is, I've never actually expected success, but it doesn't surprise me when it comes, because I know how much work I put into what I do.

In order to complete the fantasy of my life--which is to work at the highest level in the art form I've chosen to work in--I've got to keep getting on planes. I'm the king of frequent-flier miles. I don't get to spend enough time with the people I love or in a place I love.

But look at the people I'm getting to work with, look at the experiences I'm having, look at the diversity of characters I'm playing. So, I don't have any complaints.

Guess you just covered the "Are you really as difficult as people say?" question.
I only have that reputation because people say that. [Laughs.] Well, it must be true. Man, I'm an intense bastard when I'm doing my job. I don't fuck around.

But your Gladiator costars say you were Mr. Fun on Malta, always throwing parties, organizing sailing excursions. What gives?
I think somebody's got to be a cruise director on a movie, and for whatever reason, it usually comes down to me. Human beings need a balance, mate, y'know? Sometimes, a crew perhaps needs a hat or a T-shirt or a little party to know people are thinking of them.

Is there a particular moment during the making of Gladiator that stands out in your mind?
When you walk into the Coliseum, and there's 5,000 extras chanting, "Maximus! Maximus!" it's theater on a grand scale. It absolutely helps you get into the moment.

And how was it working with tigers?
Pretty damn cool, man, although they did tend to slack off.

You are a man of extremes. Just look at how you changed from an overweight, middle-aged scientist to a buff Roman supersoldier during the gap between these two movies.
Gladiatorcame right after The Insider, so I had a five-and-a-half-month period there where I had to get rid of Jeffrey Wigand and become Maximus. I peaked out at 238 pounds in the last eight days of shooting The Insider.



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