Early Career

During this period, Russell and Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts were busy as well, although I am not positive of the time frame, it must have been about this time that they opened a web site called Gruntland, and released CD’s of What’s Her Name and The Photograph Kills.
Russell’s next movie is said by many to be his worst.  No Way Back was supposed to be a movie of decent quality with a budget that proposed to makeit a good solid movie, unfortunately the budget was cut and along with that most of the corners and the end result was not what it should have been. That being said, Russell’s performance in this movie is quite good.  He made the most of what was given him, and even an annoying female role, a marginal script and the low budget feel couldn’t dampen his talent.  If you watch this movie and spend most of your time studying Russell’s usage of body language and his eyes, you may be surprised at how good his performance was.  I watched it one time with the sound muted, just concentrating on the physical.  Seriously surprising.  

Helen Slater was his female co-star in this movie, and she and Russell shared a common interest.  Helen is a musician, and she was writing songs during the shooting schedule. Russell joined in helping her with what she was trying to get done. 

I assume that his relationship with his female co-stars had always been good, but this was the first time I had heard specifics.  They developed a good working relationship both behind the camera and behind the piano so to speak.  His later co-stars would tell tales of him bringing them small gifts, fruit juice when they didn’t feel well, and just generally taking care of them on the set.  Jennifer Connelly would show up at the 2002 Oscars wearing diamond earrings from her friend Russell. They have also used the term “Professionally Generous” when describing him, saying that he was supportive of their part as well as his own, helping them to be the best they could be.  Jennifer Connelly, Salma Hayek, Connie Nielson and Mary McCormak have all made similar statements about this aspect of working with Russell. 

One of the cute stories that came out about Russell and his co-stars came from the man himself.  He loves to dance and by all accounts does it very well.  He has said he likes to take his co-stars out dancing before they start a role, he says it breaks the ice and that it also gives him an idea of how they will react physically to one another. 

How many men get to play a 50-terabyte self-evolving neuro network?  Well, Russell almost didn’t either. The studio executives weren’t convinced that casting an almost unknown actor from of all places Australia in Denzel Washington’s newest movie, Virtuosity was a great idea. But one man thought it was the only idea. Bret Leonard the director.  Why?  Three guesses, and you only need one, Romper Stomper.  Brett saw RS and figured Russell would be great, he met him and knew he was perfect. In fact he has said.

“Russell is Sid 6.7”

And he was giggling when he said it. Brett Leonard and Russell became friends and later Brett would become involved in Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts documentary Texas.

It took Leonard 10 months to convince the studio, but finally after a screen test with Denzel, Russell was given the role.  Sid 6.7 in Virtuosity is one of his most interesting roles, the character is ultra violent, has a wicked sense of humor, and no conscience, Russell played it to the hilt.  The movie failed but under no circumstance could Russell be held responsible, he is amazing as Sid. 

When he was asked if it was fun playing the bad guy, he grinned and said, , “I used to go to the director and say, (very deep voice and with an evil grin), ‘Who do we kill and how do we do it?”‘

Although Russell had done some interviews before this time, this was when he started to do appearances to promote movies, American movies, and he was exposed to the great studio publicity treadmill.  The hours of interviews one right after another, the TV appearances, the magazine interviews.  But amongst the same questions and same answer interviews he also did a few appearances that stand out.  One of my favorite all time interviews was done on The Denton Show in Australia just as Virtuosity was opening.  See the Audio/Video index for Denton in entirety.

Next was Rough Magic, this movie makes me smile, it is ridiculous, romantic, silly and fun.  Russell in a fedora, double-breasted suits driving a huge convertible. Bridget Fonda with her quirky side in full steam mode, a cute dog, a couple of great old character actors and moments of a romance and sweetness.  Not a great movie, but worth a watch.  

In 1997 Russell stepped into a whole different area of film work, he had done some good work in quality movies, but never anything to compare to LA Confidential. Even Virtuosity with its cutting edge of special effects and the star power of Denzel Washington wasn’t in this ballpark.   L.A. Confidential was an A list movie all the way done with the greatest care, the best script, the most authentic costumes and sets, and director Curtis Hanson.  Russell was to play Bud White a tortured violent man with a big heart and a screaming vulnerability. It was an amazingly complex role in an even more amazing and complex movie.

Russell spent a lot of time in the gym, bench-pressing 225 pounds. He has said he wanted to give Bud that physique he needed, “The man was a tank.”

He got into the character thoroughly, actually making the suggestion that if the suits he wore were a tad too small it would make ‘Bud’ look even bigger.  He also reluctantly gave up beer for the duration of the shoot since Bud didn’t drink beer.   

However, even with all these preparation done, and the shooting about ready to start Russell wasn’t the choice of the studio, they stopped paying his hotel bills and quietly tried to get him to quit.  Curtis Hanson wasn’t having any of it.  He picked up Russell’s hotel bill and stood by him 100 per cent.  The first rushes hit and all objections died, Russell WAS Bud White.  And Curtis Hanson became someone Russell trusted and considered a friend.  He has said if Curtis ever needs him he will be there. Considering the loyalty Russell shows his friends I would say Curtis is a fortunate man.

Curtis Hanson has said about working with Russell, “He will challenge you, but once I gained his trust he would have walked across the Hollywood freeway in rush hour traffic if I asked him too.”  

To me L.A. Confidential is the base of the Triple Crown.  The movie was so good, the role so perfect, it was bound to be either the equalizer that would bring Russell the best roles, or it would be the zenith of his career, something for people to say, “He was in L.A. Confidential” about. But by luck, or talent or the chance of the draw, he would do The Insider, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind in the next few years. All three of them seem to build from LAC, a partial result of the hard work Russell had done so he would be ready to play Bud White. 

Heaven’s Burning was a movie made in Australia with Japanese financing and starring two well-known Japanese actors as Russell’s co-stars.  It is not known for its great cinematic impact on his career, and his appearance in it was interesting to say the least.  Kind of an Australian Elvis, complete with sideburns. 

I find the movie entertaining it is a strange little tragedy, mixed with some camp humor, and some just downright weirdness.  The stand out performance in this movie was Ray Barrett who played Russell’s father. If anything brought dramatic validity to the movie his performance was it.  His was the only part of the movie that had a true tragic pathos, with no comedy relief, and it was unforced and brilliantly played.  Russell did his usual good performance, and in this case had to deal with a co-star who didn’t mesh well with him, and a script that was a bit ludicrous.   

One of the highlights of this film for me is the fact that it was filmed in Russell’s transition period by this I mean he was no longer such a young man, but one moving on to the cusp of his prime.  The costumes and subject matter of the film showcased not only the more mature aspects of Russell, but it also at moments took you back to the lanky youth who played in The Crossing.  It is an interesting film physically and for me is kind of the goodbye role for the young Russell, and a hello to the bulkier man’s man who would show up for Gladiator. 

Breaking Up came next.  This is one of the most frustrating movies I have ever seen, and at times the dialog is excruciating. You don’t know whether to yell at the screen or walk out.  But it is well played.  It is almost totally a two-person movie, the bulk of it involving a train wreck of a relationship between two people falling in and out of love.  If you are interested in Russell’s movie career it is important to see this movie because although it is rough it a very different role for him. The character is an urban artist type in New York, his accent is interesting at moments, but all in all he does a good job playing a thirty something professional.  Steve is not at all like any other role he has played before or since.  There is no external drama in this film, no danger, no guns, no being chased it is just about two people living a normal life.  Many people contend he looks better in it then he has ever looked.  Maybe not the best reason to watch it, but hey beauty is where you can find it. J

Russell purchased a home in Australia, a 500 plus acre farm in New South Wales, about 7 hours north of Sydney, by car.   He has said it was his way of getting something he had wanted as a child, a family home.  And he did mean family home, his mother, father, brother and niece, all shared the property with him and still do.  He went to Australia for a period of time.  Not filming a movie for over a year.