Russell Crowe: The Gladiator Speaks
For Russell Crowe, “The last twelve months seemed like five years.” He escorted Jodie Foster to the Golden Globes; was nominated for an Oscar for The Insider; watched his brilliant hockey film, Mystery, Alaska, get pucked over at the box office; and became an international star wearing sandals and a leather man-skirt in Gladiator.
In between filming Proof of Life with his on-and off-screen love interest, Meg Ryan, in England, Poland and Ecuador, the thirty-six-year-old New Zealand native, who now lives in Australia, recorded and performed in Austin with his rock group, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, and dodged the tabloids.
“I do resent being hunted and invaded,” Crowe growls. “It’s another rank stupidity that we have to put up with because some people have a constitutional right to make money out of being parasites. And there’s nothing that we can do about that, except say, ‘Yeah, well, kiss my ass, and get the fuck off my property.'”
A natural storyteller, Crowe is the kind of well-read man who will tell you he knows the birth date of St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors. In New York, where, Crowe says, “I’m sittin’ in a hotel room fielding business calls; I’m a boring bastard,” he reveals how he gains perspective these days. “I’ve seen these cities, like New York and London, so many times, so I got in the habit a little while ago of getting in a helicopter and having a look from the air. I’ve done the Manhattan thing, the World Trade Center, the big high winds – flying over the world and scaring the bejesus out of myself, you know?”
What was the event of the year for you?
Watching Kathy Freeman win the 400 meters at the Olympics. A number of years ago, Kathy made a really big statement for Aboriginal Australians by carrying the Aboriginal flag when she won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. It was a huge controversy, but this one female 400-meter runner has done a massive amount in Australia for reconciliation, simply because of the grace with which she holds herself. And after she crossed the finish line at the Olympics, before she took the victory lap, she just sat down and took her shoes off.
Were you upset that you weren’t asked to duet with Olivia Newton-John at the opening ceremonies?
Um, no, I wasn’t upset. I didn’t want to have any part of the Olympics in a formal way. That’s why I bought my own tickets and sat in the public stands. I think she did a magnificent job — Livvy. That’s what we call her Down Under.
Who was your year 2000 gold-medal winner in the course of human events?
It’s not really my place to make any political comments about this country. But I think that Bill Clinton is the person of the year. Considering the personal overhaul he’s been given in the last few years, you could expect that he would go out quietly. But he’s made a stand in areas where there’s great disagreement — like guns and abortion. And the way that he’s supported his wife, and tried to morally support this country and point it in a more positive direction in the waning months of his term is a great thing. I applaud him for guarding the largest free economy and democracy in the world right up until he has to hand over the keys.
What makes you say to yourself, “Good on you, mate”?
The thing I’m most proud of doing this year is replanting forty acres on my farm with rosewood, red cedars and a lot of the trees that were once native to the area — in Australia, the logging was pretty extreme. As soon as the white man landed there, they were basically, “Righto, let’s chop them down!”
What’s the most humiliating thing that befell you this year?
I was training to do a movie [Flora Plum] about a circus performer and learning this thing called the Spanish Web. It consists of two pieces of material hanging from the ceiling, and you climb up them like a rope and knot them around your ankles and fall backward. And I tore the laborum tissue off the bone inside my shoulder, five meters above the ground with no safety ropes. So I then had to very slowly get myself back down to the ground and tell the trainers, “Excuse me, I’m going to the hospital.” There’s no words to describe how embarrassed, humiliated, bereft I feel. They’ve shut the production down. How do you apologize for that?
You don’t. You just suffer stoically, don’t you?
I was in a massive amount of pain. I’ve never had any surgery before, and if you go to russellcrowe.com, you can see pictures of my innards. I was sitting in a Melbourne hotel room, not allowed to move very much. So I put it up on the Internet. What else am I gonna do? The great irony, I thought, was putting it on with the headline The Inside Story. In the first week it had 130,000 hits!
Because they thought they were getting the scoop on your love life?
Whoever came up with the concept that “because you’re famous, you’re public property” is a fucking idiot.
What event tickled your funny bone?
I got made an honorary Texan — with a certificate and a flag — by the lieutenant governor of Texas, Rick Perry, which strikes me, who comes from New Zealand, as funny. But it’s an honor I take seriously, too. The band and I were down in Austin doing some recording. We played a few shows and donated the money to the People’s Community Clinic, so the mayor proclaimed August IIth as 30 Odd Foot of Grunts Day. The lieutenant governor came to the show and Jeffrey Katzenberg (a co-founder of Dream Works SKG) was giving him a little lip about having to leave early. So he put Katzenberg in a head-lock for his trouble. In Texas, you gotta be careful who you’re talking to.
Did you enjoy the local delicacy known as Frito pie?
I had a lot of barbecue and a lot of Shiner Bock beer, and I’ve had the black-bean enchiladas, but Frito pie sounds fuckin’ disgusting.
What was the oddest thing that you purchased?
This beautiful object made out of oak and brass that I got for a friend’s birthday present. Later I found out it was an 1870 Chinese baby bath.
Fill in the blanks — the coolest place I, Russell Crowe, visited this year was…
Quito, in Ecuador, where I was filming Proof of Life. On the top of this hill in the old town, there’s a statue called the Virgin of Quito. It’s a seventy-meter-high aluminum-sheet statue of the Virgin, standing on top of a dragon. My friends who I took on the walk there said, “This is the most effort we’ve ever seen put into getting up a virgin.”
One night we took a different way home from work and passed a sign that basically translates as “the Artists’ Cafe.” And it looked happy. So we stop and have a beer on the balcony overlooking this huge gorge. And these blokes walked in with bongo drums and guitars, and they turned out to be Manu Chao, this Catalan band I’d been listening to in England, and they basically did a whole concert. They spoke French, everyone else spoke Spanish, and I could barely speak English. It was a great night. The fact that the building kept moving from side to side was a little problematic for me. I’d wonder, “Is that the last shift before it tumbles off the side of the mountain?”
You once said, “Insanity is good for clarity.” What’s the most insane thing you did this year to achieve clarity?
Ten days after the surgery on my left shoulder, I drove from Melbourne to my farm, which is, like, 1,200 miles, in a right-hand-drive manual car. That means my left hand was changing gears. The doctor was a bit freaked out by the whole idea. But I said to him, “As long as the movements are even, then it’s got to have a physiotherapeutic effect.” And he went, “Well, I can’t disagree with you.” “Well, bugger you, then, I’m driving home.” ‘Cause I just needed the space, man, you know? And the one way that I can do that is in the car.
What was the best music you heard in 2000?
Into the Labyrinth by Dead Can Dance. The album is seven years old, but I just got it this year as a present. It’s extremely complicated in its sounds and rhythms. It changes from sort of Moroccan-Papua New Guinean to Celtic to Brecht poems put to music. So it’s a great album to listen to: It’s very atmospheric; it fills the room. You can talk over it or zero in on it, if you want. I’ve also been listening to David Gray, Travis and the new album from Sinéad O’Connor. There’s an Australian artist, Danielle Spencer, whose album I heard the other day. It’s poppy and dancy but also a bit strange.
The gig of the year?
[Laughing] I went to see Kiss in Austin. I got fucking forced into it because we were recording there. Gene Simmons organized it, and he was really cool. Sweet bloke, you know? And the shit with the blood coming out of his mouth — I’ve always said, what a silly idea. But seeing it on a big video screen, it’s kinda scary. Even though I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean.
What fear did you overcome, or what fear came over you in the last year?
I think it’s simultaneous: understanding that for this period of time I have to deal with other people filling in imaginary blanks about my life.
A f’rinstance, please?
It gets printed that Russell Crowe travels with his own Egyptian cotton sheets, and, of course, by fucking telling you, I’m just making the whole thing go around again. What the fuck is Egyptian cotton, and why would I travel with my own sheets? A sheet is a motherfucking sheet, dude.
So what does Russell Crowe never leave home without?
People hand me good-luck charms or leave them outside my house every now and then — a silver dollar, a medal for services in the Second World War, Stars of David, Maltese and Greek Orthodox crosses. They usually come with sincere letters about my ongoing safety, so I feel obligated to carry them with me. Maybe I’m a bit of a dickhead, but I don’t like the idea that if someone writes to me, they don’t get a reply. It takes a lot of time, but I take responsibility for the job and what it means to people.