Mid-Career

In 1999, right before the power-house trio, The Insider, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind became a reality.  He did a wonderful ensemble piece called Mystery Alaska.  He played one of my favorite characters a sheriff in a tiny town in contemporary Alaska. Russell’s part is John Biebe, a family man with 3 boys, a wife and 13 year member of the town’s hockey team. He has a wonderful feel of being the man everyone turns to, the “glue” in the community so to speak.   

Director Jay Roach (Ali McBeal) approached him to play the role even though Russell couldn’t ice skate, in fact couldn’t skate period, he had never learned.  Russell decided to to take it on and went into intense training to do the work on the ice.  He has said he became intimate friends with it, falling so often he was quite bruised up.  He managed however to do a credible, if not expert job on the hockey rink.  J 

He laughingly talked about going home after the filming and finding someone had put a skating rink in not far from his house.  He said they were quite impressed when he showed up with skates, but not so much after they saw him on the ice.        

Russell was wonderful in this movie, his character is a big favorite among fans many think they would rather [know] John Biebe than any of the others.  The movie didn’t do well in the box office. However, a number of people seemed to have discovered it outside the theater, and it has done quite well in the sales and rental business. 

Any fan of Russell’s should see this movie, although some caution should be taken with children there are a couple of scenes where blue language is not used as an emphasis but indeed the whole sentence.  J

Russell’s band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts is still going strong and their full length CD Gaslight sells very well on the inter-net. In an interesting side note, one of Russell’s co-stars from Mystery Alaska, Kevin Durand “Tree” does the rap portion of Nowhere on this CD.  The big actor also joined Russell on stage in Austin during the 2000 concert series.   

Mystery Alaska was put through the press mill and this time instead of mostly late-late night TV, Russell was on David Letterman.  It was a treat to have him back after not seeing him for a long period after LAC.  I remember the excitement of waiting for David Letterman to start.  J    

One of the things Russell talked about at this time was a motorcycle trip he had taken with friends in Australia.  They traveled from Darwin to Perth, about the same distance as from Maine to San Francisco.  In one humorous quote he talked about using “nappy cream”  (diaper cream).  He didn’t say where, but I think we have a good idea.  J 

While Russell was involved in Mystery Alaska he got a call from Michael Mann asking him to come talk to him a about a script that he had sent him.  Russell decided to go see him even though he thought the role was wrong for him.  The movie was The Insider and it chronicled the life of Jeffrey Wigand, during the time he was giving evidence against big tobacco.  The problem?  Jeffrey Wigand was 52 during that period of his life, Russell was 35 when he went to see Mann.  His attitude on the way to the meeting director was no way, Wigand is too much older, why me?  He planned on suggesting that Mann look for an actor a bit closer to the target age.  He never got the chance to convince him, Mann turned the tables on him, and a few months later he was starting The Insider.     

He gained somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 pounds for the role.  Mann had told him don’t worry about the physical, but Russell couldn’t “find” the character until he could look in the mirror and start seeing an older man.  Next they started working on his hair, Wigand’s hair was gray and much thinner then Russell’s.  Nothing worked, when they finally thought they had it after thinning it and bleaching it, he went to sleep and the next morning it was back to its electric self. The resilience of his hair won, they gave up, they shaved his head and produced wigs.  The primary was named Rupert, I am not sure if the alternate had a different name, but I know that I got had a laugh over the “rug” having a moniker.   

Russell’s talent became the real star of this film, he disappeared so thoroughly into Wigand that later people would get into arguments about whether he was the same man who played Maximus.  The critics agreed his reviews for this film are about as good as you get.  He won a number of critical awards and when the big ones announced their nomination his name was on every list.  He would win the Broadcast Film Critics Award, but the others would escape him.

You will notice a big lack in the last page or so of the Bio in regard to female companions.  All we really know about Russell’s love life from the time he broke up with Danielle until mid way through the shooting of Proof of Life, is that he dated quietly keeping his chosen partners out of the lime light.  At one point he talked about dating a musician and helping with her sound at performances, he has talked about an artist, and it was said he was dating a woman who owned a store in Australia for a while.  But contrary to tabloid and magazine reports, if Russell is the big womanizer they report him to be, it is not apparent in casual observation.  There have never been pictures of him with a string of different woman, no multiple “living withs” or engagements.  If anything Russell is very private about that aspect of his life.  Possibly this is just another portion of the Hollywood “profile” created by people with vivid imaginations and little class. Russell stated in the last few months that he has never been engaged, married or had any children.

Russell surprised the world by showing up at the Golden Globes with Jodie Foster (2000), they were quite the dashing couple and the rumors about the two of them abounded for months.  In truth they were friends then and still are.  Russell has said about Jodie,

“I envy Jodie her mind, she keeps me on my toes, I can’t stand the look she gets on her face when I say something stupid.” 

Unfortunately the plans they had to work together on a movie called Flora Plum fell through when Russell re-injured his shoulder and was forced to go through surgery.   

He didn’t win that night for The Insider, but seemed to have a wonderful time at the ceremonies, joking and laughing with Jodie and others at his table.  The award went to Denzel Washington for The Hurricane. 

Russell arrived unaccompanied to the Screen Actor’s Guild awards and lost to Kevin Spacey for American Beauty.

Oscar night came and Russell again surprised Hollywood by showing up with his niece, looking very debonair in a classic tux by Armani, complete with tails.  His Academy debut was quite the eye opener, grace under pressure, looking very handsome.  But, unlike some Hollywood types who plaster big gins on their face and hold them until their jaws ache Russell is a bit more of an individual. He is a slightly claustrophobic, very active man who found being in the crowded room for hours a bit much.  He had said earlier he wasn’t looking forward to it because of these things, and that he had asked to be close to an exit.   He smiled on occasion, but because he wasn’t grinning like a ferret all the time, he was touted as being surly.     

Kevin Spacey again won for American Beauty.  Russell would later say his thrill of the night was being able to share the experience with his family and his niece Chelsea.   About his first Oscar nomination he has said:

“For the rest of my career I will be an Oscar nominated actor, and that is enough for me.” 

While Russell was filming The Insider, he was approached about Gladiator, they didn’t want to show him a script because they were sure he would say no.  They asked if they could just pitch it to him.  He said no.  They then said Ridley Scott is directing and you start out as a Roman General, now can we pitch it?  Russell said Yes and in the end took what he called “A leap of faith”.  He accepted a role in a sword and sandals film, with no working script, and with the need to lose the weight he had gained to play Wigand, as usual, nothing is easy. 

By all accounts his career was going well, but I remember thinking, when is “the role” going to come along the knock it out of the ball park role, the one that is going to stop me from hearing the never ending phrase, “Russell who??”  I knew it had to happen, and thought Gladiator was a possibility, but I also knew that Gladiator was fraught with peril, what if it tanked?  I mean really tanked, Ishtar tanked? 

Super Bowl Sunday arrived and I had been told that at some time during the game the first ever preview for Gladiator would be shown.  I taped the game, and later would search for the preview.  90 seconds later I had goose bumps.   This was the one, no doubt.

Gladiator came out in May, and within a week it was a major hit, the profile of Russell Crowe was growing by leaps and bounds, our web sites were joined by scores of others, and our e-mail list received cousins.  Russell was within a short period of time the most popular male on the inter-net.             

I never know where to start when I write about Gladiator, it was such an amazing film and the character of Maximus was very powerful. I saw the film on opening night in Los Angeles.  I remember when I first saw the scene with the little bird I knew it was going to be a major film.  I was right.  J  For more on my views of Maximus and Gladiator you can if you wish follow the link.  Here 

Maximus put Russell on the map, and on many front pages, his face graced cover after cover, and when he announced a few “small” concerts in Austin, Texas with his band Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts it was the must see concert of the Summer of 2000.  (In an interesting note Russell and the guys had no comprehension that they would sell out 3 concerts in less then 2 hours, nor that people would come from all over the world, they had thought they would sell enough tickets to make it worthwhile and pledged the profits to a local charity dedicated to pre-natal care, but had no expectations of this kind of response).  They later extended the charity to include the family of a police officer killed in the line of duty while they were in Austin.  

The concerts would prove to be a phenomenon, people purchasing tickets for hundreds of dollars on E-bay, lines forming outside the Stubb’s venue 12 hours before the gates opened (in 100 degree heat), and thousands of Russell Crowe and TOFOG fans would fill the hotels and motels in the area.  It was a very exciting time and I am eternally grateful to have been a part of it.