Inside the Actors Studio
With Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe was born
in Wellington, New Zealand. The son of movie set caterers, Crowe grew up
around actors and fell in love with the profession after performing in
elementary school theater productions. When Crowe sits down with James
Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, he recalls this foray into
acting, as well as his first experience on the professional stage in The
Rocky Horror Picture Show. Crowe also shares a lesser-known detail about
his early years: his first attempt at performance was in music, not acting.
He spun records at local night-clubs under the name 'Rus Le Roc,' and
started several bands in which he played guitar and sang vocals.
Although Crowe's music career never really left the ground, his acting career took off after his first film, Romper Stomper. Crowe describes his experience filming this movie as well as his second, The Sum of Us, in which he plays a gay working-class man. He delights the audience with a story about his response when a co-star in the film asked him if they should rehearse the kissing scene, as neither one of them had ever kissed another man before.
Crowe's early work caught the eyes of audiences world-wide, and he went on to star in such acclaimed films as L.A. Confidential, Mystery, Alaska, The Insider, Gladiator, and A Beautiful Mind. Crowe discusses his experiences filming these movies candidly, as he tells the audience about the battle scars he incurred while filming stunt scenes for Gladiator, how he made the risky decision to play 'John Nash' in A Beautiful Mind, why he never went to acting school, and which character portrayal he believes ruined his metabolism for life.
Original air date, Sunday, January 4, 2004
LIPTON: "As we continue our tenth year celebration, tonight's guest holds the remarkable distinction of receiving Academy Award Best Actor nominations in three consecutive years. Beginning his career in New Zealand and Australia, he has appeared in 25 films in 13 years. From The Crossing, for which he received an Australian Film Institute nomination, to Proof, for which he won the Australian Film Institute Award, to Romper Stomper, for which he received the Australian Film Critic's Award and his second Australian Film Institute Award. The Sum of Us, The Quick and the Dead, L.A. Confidential, Mystery, Alaska, The Insider, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe, British Academy Award, and Chicago Film Critics Association nominations and won the Best Actor awards of the Broadcast Film Critics, the London Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Board of Review. Gladiator, for which he received British Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild nominations, and won the Blockbuster, Broadcast Film Critics, London Film Critics Awards and the Academy Award. A Beautiful Mind, for which he received an AFI nomination and his third Academy Award nomination, and won the Golden Globe, Screen Actor's Guild, Broadcast Film Critics and British Academy Awards. And Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The Hollywood Film Festival has saluted him as Actor of the Year and ShoWest has declared him Star of the Year. And, this is how Time Magazine sums it up: [Lipton holds up Russell's Time Magazine Cover as Capt. Jack Aubrey, Crowe in Command.] The Actor's Studio is proud to welcome Russell Crowe."
[Audience cheers wildly; Russell comes out from backstage, shakes Lipton's hand, and then moves to his chair. He remains standing in acknowledgment of the audience cheers and applause.]
LIPTON: By pure chance, six of the first seven guests of our tenth year have grown up in the bosom or shadow of what was once the British Empire. Where did your life begin Russell?
CROWE: I was born in Wellington, New Zealand, uh, which is the capitol city of New Zealand.
LIPTON: What is your father's name?
CROWE: My father's name is John Alexander Crowe.
LIPTON: Your mother's name is what?
CROWE: My mother's name is Jocelyn Yvonne Crowe.
LIPTON: And her maiden name was?
CROWE: Wemyss, W-E-M-Y-double S. My grandfather, her father, Stan Wemyss, who ended up being a cinematographer for the New Zealand Film Unit in the Second World War, um, grew up with his grandmother who was uh, a full-blood Maori. So there is Scottish and Maori heritage on that side of my mother's family.
LIPTON: When you won the Academy Award, you wore a medal.
LIPTON: Whose medal was that?
CROWE: It was my grandfather's, Stanley J. Wemyss. He was in the OBE, which is the Order of the British Empire, which he received from the Queen of England for services to uh, the Crown during the Second World War. And I wore it, because I thought it was quite… um… just appropriate in a way for myself personally, I just wanted him to be there.
LIPTON: How, how old were you when you moved the first time from New Zealand to Australia?
CROWE: Four years old.
LIPTON: What took your parents there?
CROWE: Well my grandfather, Jack, the other one ah, had uh, among other things, he had the patent for stainless steel mufflers. And he convinced my father to stop working for the scaffolding company which he also had the patent for in Wellington, New Zealand and go to Australia and open a stainless steel muffler shop. And so my father sort of sold up everything and went and did that. Which didn't turn out to be a very good move, and my parents at that stage went in to catering. Um, they did for a few years… [LIPTON interjects: Catering what?] Mainly a TV show called Spy Force. It was really interesting for me as a kid, 'cause I would get to explore the sets and start to realize that not every door went somewhere, y'know? So then it was like, uh, this whole artificial world and it was, "oh, that's cool," and they gave me a part in this show, Spy Force, which you can still see this footage of me as a six-year-old wearing a football jumper from a team called South Sydney which is red and green stripes, so it's like you can't miss me, you know what I mean?
LIPTON: What did you get for Christmas in 1970?
CROWE: I got a mid-sized guitar which was still you know, much larger than me. And I went right next door to a fellow called Reg Livermore's house. Now he always had lots of parties and friends around and was always singing with guitars and stuff, which possibly inspired me to ask for a guitar in the first place. Somebody taught me some chords and I went straight back home and wrote a song.
LIPTON: Did you ever sign up for a talent quest?
CROWE: Yeah, I signed up for a talent quest once… or twice.
LIPTON: With your guitar?
CROWE: With my guitar, when I was a little kid.
LIPTON: How'd you do?
CROWE: Not very well. One by one, the kids get up on stage and do their thing and all that, and um, I probably got about five or six kids away from getting on stage and I just walked out the back door and went home instead.
LIPTON: Were you a shy kid?
CROWE: Well, it's a strange combination I would say but I think this is kind of a natural thing with, in most performers I find that there is a, you know, there's an, an openness on one level and a frankness or whatever but there's also, you know, a very sort of private side of things as well. And, what I just said about that uh, about that talent quest and that illustrates, you know, very shy and intensely sort of aware of, of uh, the difference between terra firma and the stage. However, that same year, I started doing plays every Friday.
CROWE: At B_____'s Public School with a teacher called Mrs. Elizabeth Morgan. And I would do these war plays, [chuckle] where basically everyone would just run around the stage and die, [audience laughter] but there would be some, there'd be some kind of point to it. Each week there'd be a new episode or whatever and I'd spend most of Wednesday and Thursday, um, making uniforms out of paper which I would then pin to the costumes of the cast members.
LIPTON: What High School did you attend…? Sydney Boys?
CROWE: I went to three different high schools.
LIPTON: Sydney Boys, I'm thinking of.
CROWE: I went to Sydney Boys High, Auckland Boys Grammar and Mt. Roskill Grammar.
LIPTON: I think it was Sydney Boys High School had a motto in Latin…
CROWE: Ah, "Veritate et Virtute".
LIPTON: Which means?
CROWE: Truth and Honor.
LIPTON: Yeah. Unless I'm mistaken, I heard something very like it just before a battle scene…
LIPTON: …in Gladiator.
CROWE: Uh-huh. I went to Ridley, 'cause I was [snort!] I was looking for something, you know, instead of just saying, "goodbye". [giggle] Something that felt gladiatorial… military… you know, something that sort of, and felt part of the time. And so I uh, I uh, I remembered that, that um, school motto and I converted it, and I said it to him in Latin. And um… he sort of raised an eyebrow, and he took his cigar out of his mouth and goes, "what's that mean, then?" I said, uh, I said, "Strength and Honor," and he goes, "Say THAT." [Russell mimicked Ridley's movements while describing this scene. The cigar, raising the eyebrow, inhaling the cigar smoke, blowing it out, Ridley pointing at him and telling him to, "say that."]
LIPTON: When you returned to Auckland, with your parents, what is The Potter's Wheel?
CROWE: Potter's Wheel was a hotel. It's a tavern, really. Uh, it was part of a licensing trust in the west of Auckland. Uh, it was the job my father found in order to um, finance moving the family from Australia back to New Zealand.
LIPTON: What's the Flying Jug?
CROWE: That's The Potter's Wheel. The Flying Jug refers to, they use to serve beer in glass jugs roughly about this size [holds up a water pitcher sitting on the table next to him, it's about a 2-liter pitcher]. And if um, a problem started in the room, they'd start throwing their jugs.
LIPTON: What was The Profile?
CROWE: The Profile was a um, a Mod band. Um, a friend of mine called ah, Mark Stalfer (sp?), we had a number of bands together though, you know. We had a, a three-piece called Dave Deceit and the Interrogatives.
LIPTON: What was Roman Antix?
CROWE: Roman Antix was a, a band after that.
LIPTON: Who is Russ Le Roq?
CROWE: I worked in a nightclub called King Creole's with a guy called Tom Sharplin. It was a 1950's nightclub, I had worked in another club before that called Cream when I was 16 and learned how to DJ. So now, at 16, I'm a nightclub DJ! Everybody had a nickname. One night, I was unfortunately given the nickname; remember I'm 16, of Russ Le Roq. And um, so it stuck around for a few years, I did a couple of records as Russ Le Roq as well, you know. And uh, my DJ booth was the front end of a 1949 Mercury 88. It's you know, I really have learned some bad lessons as a DJ, I suppose, cause it was the easiest thing in the world to pick up women, y'know. You got a microphone; you're playing the music… "and this one's for the girl… in the white dress…" [Holds up his arm to check his watch, gives a little whistle, he's just marking time till the girl runs up to his DJ booth.]
LIPTON: I know that you were in Grease briefly in the theater, right?
LIPTON: How did you happen to wind up in The Rocky Horror Show?
CROWE: I bumped into a group of these people that I was in Grease with, and I said, "so, what're ya guys been doin'?" and they said, "Oh, we've just been auditioning for Rocky Horror." I said, "where's, where are the auditions?" as you do right? And they said, "Over at His Majesty's Theatre." So I kind of worked it out, had my guitar with me. 'Cause I didn't have a song prepared or any sheet music or anything, so I said to the bloke, "do you mind if I just accompany myself?" and he said, "No, that's fine." I did this song called Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy, which is a, a Jim Croce song, which is kind of irreverent and cool, and you know uh, to me anyway. Um, and I sang it on the stage and the ____ bloke walked forward, a fellow called Daniel Abineri [Rocky Horror Director and lead] and he basically gave me the job. And I walked out of that theater at the end of the day and its like, "Holy Shit, now I'm a professional theatre performer," right? I'm on the road with The Rocky Horror Show and I got two roles, I got Eddie… and I got Dr. Scott.
LIPTON: Russell received his first Australian Film Industry Award for the role of Andy in Proof. You've said that film was a very good experience for you, was it?
CROWE: When I read the script I couldn't believe that somebody would have written such a fantastic script. It became so important for me to, to be involved in that project. And luckily it came up, you know?
LIPTON: Russell earned the Australian Film Institute Best Actor Award for a fascinating film called Romper Stomper. [applause] What do you play in Romper Stomper?
CROWE: I played the leader of a Neo-Nazi skinhead gang. It's a story set in Melbourne and it's a, basically a series of confrontations between the skinhead gang and a local Vietnamese population that's moving into the area. At uh, it was one of those sort of pieces that everybody that you met and talked to about it at the time, said that you know, you shouldn't do it, it'll ruin your career. It'll affect your career, and nobody'll ever, ya know uh, let you do anything else once you do that sort of film or are associated with those politics. But to me, it was um, a very important subject matter, and one that should definitely be on the breakfast table for discussion, particularly in Australia and particularly, I felt at that time.
LIPTON: In The Sum of Us, you played a part that was again, widely divergent from anything you'd done before. What was the role?
CROWE: I played a, uh, a gay, football-playing plumber. [laughter] And I had to kiss an actor called John Polson. Whenever people ask me, you know, "so Russell, what's been your favorite screen kiss to date?" [more laughter and LIPTON interjects: "A question you will not hear tonight!"] I always say that, just 'cause it freaks people out, you know. [audience laughs, and Russell gives that sly look he uses when telling a joke] And um, you know, I mean, this… he came, he came up to me, right? And he goes, "Russell, uh… look, uh… you know we got the kissing scene coming up, mate… and uh," [long pause as if mimicking Polson] "I've, I've, I've, I've never… never kiss… I've never kissed a bloke, mate and uh, [laughter] I was wondering if we should, do you reckon we should get together and rehearse?" [laughter] And I said, "Johnny, Johnny… mate, sit down, have a seat. Now, I'm about to go and work with Sharon Stone after we finish this movie, John." He goes, "Yeah, yeah." And I said, "I got a kissing scene with Sharon." "Yeah, Yeah." "How do you reckon she's going to react if I ask her for some rehearsal time?" [huge laughter from audience and LIPTON:] And he said, "But I'm only saying it because I've never kissed a bloke!" And I said, "well, mate, I've never kissed a bloke either! But I'll tell you what, alright? You lean in far enough, I'll lean in far enough… I'm sure we'll remember what to do at the time!"
LIPTON: When Kevin Spacey was in that chair, when Kim Basinger was here, we talked about a ground-breaking film, called L.A. Confidential. [Russell's lights a cigarette] You join a great tradition here, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, the smokers! How did the role of Bud White come to you?
CROWE: L.A. Confidential came about because Curtis Hanson had seen Romper Stomper. Curtis just rang me up and, and he, and through my agent he basically said, "Look, I've got this role that um, I've always thought of Russell playing and I know, you know, what he can do in Romper Stomper, I want to see if he can do the other side of, of this character."
LIPTON: How did you see Bud?
CROWE: You know, I always thought he was just trying to do his best job. You know, he obviously had a history which affected the way that he dealt with certain things. [LIPTON interjects: "Which we learn in the movie."] The book describes Bud White as the biggest man in the Los Angeles Police Department. I've been in and out of L.A. a couple times, well I rang up Curtis and I said, "mate, I don't know what ya think you're gonna meet or whatever, but I'm actually not that tall, son! I'm about 5, 11 and half and a bit!" You know, um? And he said, "Russell". Uh, you know, that wasn't his vibe, he didn't need it to be that, you know, physically literal or whatever. He wanted to, you know, to bring the, the size of the man out in other ways.
LIPTON: I'm going to ask you a couple of technical questions about how you built the role.
CROWE: No, I don't subscribe to any particular way of doing things. You know, I never went to school like you guys are. To learn the job. I just started doing it when I was a young kid. And you know, a little bit, when I was maybe uh, 21, 22 I did some classical text classes. I'd always seen the people who had a piece of paper saying that they were an actor as people who were, you know, definitely sort of above me, you know. They had a degree that said they'd studied the craft, you know. And, while I was trying to save money, to go to The National Institute of Dramatic Art in Australia, I ended up gathering all this experience. Which meant that by the time I had enough money in the bank to go to school… I really didn't need to go to school anymore. 'Cause I was already a working actor, you know? Um, so I've just picked up bits and pieces from everywhere.
LIPTON: How much work do you do before you come on the set? Do you work at home with the script? Do you prepare [Russell interjects: "Yes, of course."] on your own?
CROWE: Of course. Preparation and research is a privilege. And, um, I love to do it. I'm very inquisitive. And I also know, I absolutely know, that the more I put into the character, the more is apparent on the screen. So for example, on L.A. Confidential, Bud White was supposed to be the largest man in the Los Angeles Police Department. I hired a flat that was very, very small. Um, I could hardly even fit in the doorway of the bathroom but to me, every day, especially during rehearsals, I felt like I was big, you know, I was over, oversized for my environment which is the mentality that Bud White's supposed to have. I used to pretend to myself that I was, I only operated from the inside, you know? Then I realized when I was doing The Insider that I had nowhere to go unless the fucking hair was right. Address the external. If you're a pirate, get yourself an eye patch, you know… or a parrot or something. You know? [laughter] Address the external as early as you possibly can, get it out of your way. You know, have a look at your costume, think about your costume, and don't be afraid to readjust any of those decisions, you know? The bottom line is as Scorsese said, "man, you don't get anywhere until you make a decision," so start making decisions [snaps finger] quickly, you know, but be open and lucid enough and fluid enough to change your mind if you prove yourself wrong. Okay? And be cool about that, while you're discovering things, you know, look for the nuggets of gold man, you know, don't just make a decision and then, if you find yourself wrong and you do not go back on what you've done, you're just undercutting the whole process, and you're kidding yourself. You shouldn't be doing the gig, if you're gonna fall in love with things like that. You know, serve the character, not yourself.
LIPTON: I'd like to ask you about Curtis Hanson. You enjoyed working with him, didn't you?
CROWE: Yes, very much so.
LIPTON: What do you want ideally, from a director? You've got a lot of director's out there…
CROWE: Just, mate, I just want honesty. Straight forward. Don't try and play any bull shit games, cause you might be able to fool me, cause I'm not that smart, you know… uh, but the thing is, if you don't fool me and I catch you out, well, I'm never gonna listen to what you say again. I'm there, 100% to serve the film. I'm only there to do what it is you direct me to do, but I do love the opportunity to bring ideas back to the director.
LIPTON: Russell received his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination as well as British Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and won the Broadcast Film Critics and National Board of Review Best Actor awards for his performance in The Insider. [applause] How old were you when you made the film?
CROWE: I was uh, 34.
LIPTON: How old was Wigand, the character?
CROWE: 55 or something I think? At the time the story took place.
LIPTON: And, did you have any difficulties getting there?
CROWE: I was very surprised in the first place, that I should be offered that role, but um, Michael Mann is very prepared. I said to him that I just didn't think that I should be playing the role, that he could get a lot of actors of that age to play the role. And Michael came round from his desk, and he put his hand on my heart and he said, "I'm not talking to you because of your age, boy, I'm talking to you because what's in here." You know? Which to me was, you know… Every now and then, people will do that to you man, you know, I mean, somebody's just so kind to you and it freaks you out because it's a hard life. It's a hard job, you know? Every now and then, isn't it folks? You know? And it's really amazing when somebody, you know, gives you one of those days. You know. 'Cause, I mean, once he said that, it's like, I'm going to do anything you want [laughter] I'll be here. I'll do craft service, third A.D., I'll pack up the sets at night Michael, but whatever happens, I'm working on your movie because I love the way you think!
LIPTON: Tell me, how much did you take from Wigand himself?
CROWE: Oh, I was very lucky with Wigand, I had a whole two and a half, three-hour deposition that he'd given in Pascagoula, Mississippi. So I had him talking through the whole experience really, that he'd gone through. And I didn't really wanna meet Wigand, for some reason, which is very odd, I mean I did the same thing on Beautiful Mind as well. And I think it's got something to do with not using the person you're playing as a crutch. I read about the situation. I went through all the legal papers. Uh, I tried to understand it from a scientific point of view, exactly what he'd been pointing out, you know, because I knew there was something more to it than smoking is bad for you, you know? [laughter]Um, so ah.
LIPTON: Clearly, you were not dissuaded [indicating Russell's cigarette].
CROWE: It's one of those ironies of life, you know. Um, so… and I just let myself, you know, physically… become Wigand, as well. You know, I saw…
LIPTON: How much weight did you gain, Russell?
CROWE: A lot, and I, it's been a, it's sort of, it's one of those strange things, but I must have been clearing 235, 240 or something like that at the time. And I'm only, like I said, 5 foot 11 and a half and a bit, so uh, or you know, so that looks gigantic on me, but one thing is my metabolism has never been the same since I did that film. Now I always have this incredible uphill battle, you know, me thinking I'm Mr., you know, Method Chappy or whatever. You know? [giggle] It was not a very smart decision in that respect. You know, get a pillow, put it around your middle. Whatever.
LIPTON: Russell won the Academy Award as Best Actor for his for his portrayal of Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator. [applause] One account I've read has a very strange pitch that was made to you by Walter Parkes, on the phone. He gave you sort of the three points that persuaded you that you might consider playing in an epic of this kind.
CROWE: They said, "It's a 100-million-dollar film, you're being directed by Ridley Scott. You play a Roman General." I've always been a big fan of Ridley's. And I read the script and it was, it was actually, it was substantially underdone. Even the character didn't, you know wasn't, existent on the pages. And that set about like a long process, that's probably the first time that I've been in a situation where… the script wasn't a complete done deal, you know? We actually started shooting with about 32 pages and, um, went through them in the first couple of weeks.
LIPTON: Isn't that scary?
CROWE: Yeah. It was, I mean… possibly, a lot of the stuff that I have to deal with now in terms of my quote unquote volatility, you know, has to do with that experience. Here was a situation where we got to Morocco with a crew of 200 and a cast of a 100 or whatever you know, and I didn't have anything to learn. I actually didn't know what the scenes were gonna be. We had, you know, I think one American writer working on it, one English writer working on it, and of course a group of producers who were also adding their ideas and then Ridley himself, and then, on the occasion where Ridley would say, "look this is the structure for it, what are you gonna say in that?" So then I'd be doing my own stuff, as well. And this is how things like, "strength and honor," came up. This is how things like, "at my signal, unleash hell," came up, you know? Um, the name Maximus Decimus Meridius, um it just flowed well. You know? And…
LIPTON: Where did it come from? Was that from you?
CROWE: From my, my… imagination! I had ten other, things uh writers and names which I just didn't think had that kind of [snaps fingers and giggles] groove to it, you know? And, I mean Maximus is itself… when the character was first called Narcissus, right? Character's called Narcissus and he's going on a journey of vengeance for his wife's death, it's like… do you know what you're talking about? The fellow who wrote that. You cannot call the character Narcissus. So when they came back and said we want to call him Maximus, I said, "Look, I'm just going to get endless jokes about Mad Maximus," which actually did end up happening in a lot of reviews.
LIPTON: Let me ask you a question about the gladiatorial contests. They look dangerous….
CROWE: Uh, hm.
LIPTON: And they look difficult. Were there any injuries?
LIPTON: To you?
CROWE: Yep, yep. [laughter] Lot of blood, lot of blood, lot of grazes, you know, I mean, I've still got, a lot of little scar here and one under here on this elbow, a discoloration of the skin that is directly to Gladiator. But there's a lot of internal stuff, as well, that comes up the older I get, you know. I've had Achilles tendons go out, knees go out, both shoulders, this shoulder's actually had an operation on it. Um, you know, I've got a lower back thing that just won't go away, and that's from a couple, sort of, fall impacts during fight sequences or whatever. I've got a rib up here that pops out every now and then which is not very comfortable. Um, [LIPTON interjects: Jesus Christ!] I've got two, two really bad hips. You know, I've got some kind of bone that's wonky in my foot, too, cause every now and then, if I, if, if I do the wrong thing it'll give me grief for a couple of weeks. You know, I'm sure there's better ways of getting the job done, but they haven't become apparent to me, so.
LIPTON: What this seems to mean, is that you do a lot of your own work. The stunts.
CROWE: I physically commit, 'cause it gives the director that opportunity to get the shot.
LIPTON: How many times have we heard the word 'commitment' tonight? You will find that this is the theme of this particular interview.
[clip from Gladiator]
LIPTON: I liked you enormously at the Oscar ceremony. You talked to people like these students. Do you remember? May I quote you?
LIPTON: You said, "When you grow up in a suburb of Sydney or Auckland a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unobtainable. But this is directly connected with those childhood imaginings. And for anybody who's on the downside of advantage and relying purely on courage, it's possible." I can't think of a better message for people like these out here. [applause] I also recall a toast that you offered at the press conference, you remember what that was?
CROWE: God bless America. God save the Queen. God defend New Zealand, and thank Christ for Australia. [laughter]
LIPTON: One of the things that's noticeable about tonight is the wisdom of Russell's choices. One of your wisest and I would think riskiest choices was the role of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. [applause] How did you prepare that part?
CROWE: It's a lot of reading. Um, a lot of, I mean, I had about 16 black and white photographs or something of Nash. And it kind of occurred to me later on, you know in the process of discovery, that these were episodic photographs that he's actually in the photograph, but he's not in the room, man. You know? He's off on some other planet, you know? 'Cause there was just a slackening of his face, muscles in his eyes, were, uh, had a certain direction. They weren't looking directly at anything, they were like, eh you know, they're still somewhere around here, but he was actually, he'd left for a while. But there was things to learn about his life, things to learn about the time period, things I had to learn about mathematics, you know? Um, you know, for, for example, I mean, I had to come up with my own system of remembering what the hell it was I was writing on the blackboard. Because I couldn't, I couldn't think in terms of being mathematics, 'cause I'd never done that kind of advanced or applied mathematics at all, you know. Um, when I met Nash, I asked him, he snuck up on the set, he wasn't supposed to be there, he hadn't told anyone he was coming, so I went over to him and I said, "Hello, John," and he looked, he was staring at me, he was so intense about it. He said, "I just saw you on the television the other night," and I said, "Yeah," and he said, "How come, on the television the other night, you don't look anything like you look now?" And I said, "Well, I'm trying to be you now, mate." You know?
LIPTON: One of the most astonishing things about this film is that because of the way it was written and directed, that is to say the fantasies played absolutely realistically, what it did was it took us inside a schizophrenic.
[clip from A Beautiful Mind]
LIPTON: Over the more than 9 years of this series another of the subjects that has become imbedded in it, is music. What is Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts? [applause]
CROWE: While I've been doing all of this other stuff that we've talked about, you know, I, I still, uh, sing with the band. And we release records and we tour around every now and then and stuff. Now, to me, it's an outlet, to me, it's you know, a version of, of theatre.
[clip from Texas (Afraid)]
LIPTON: You have said that you always approach acting with a rock and roll mentality. Is that true?
CROWE: Yeah, well it is. It's always been about the entertaining of the audience. It's always been about knowing that you're just part of you know, of the narrative's story telling process. You know, serve the narrative, and you're doing your job. There's a thing that they say, you know, you have to love the character you're playing. [pause] You fall in love with somebody, you forgive all their faults, right? You fall in love with your character you miss out on the opportunity… of showing off those faults. Be objective about the character you're playing because it's those faults that make that person an individual. Make him a human being, he or she sorry, a human being. You know? And I decided to say I've fallen in love with the job. I love acting.
LIPTON: Where is your farm?
CROWE: It's about 6 hours north of Sydney by car, or 6 and a half hours, or actually about 8 hours if you drive the regular speed.
LIPTON: And who lives there, normally?
CROWE: My mum and dad, my brother Terry, his wife Melissa. Um, my dogs, Chasen and Lucy, 500 cows, my horse, Honey.
CROWE: You know, it's just ho-, it's home. Wasn't till I was 14 that I lived in a house, you know, so home is very important to me. My mum and dad had a business that they were operating and they, and they went bankrupt. And um, so uh, you know, I said to them you know, uh, why don't they come over to Australia. And see this is a funny thing, cause I borrowed money, and I'd made a little, a lot of quite famous movies by then. You know? Quite a bit, but I didn't have any cash, man! You know? It wasn't until 1998, that I signed on to do Mystery, Alaska, that I went from the deepest red into the black. I'd stayed out of work for 14 months, because I wanted to do something important [slight giggle] after L.A. Confidential that I got a 710% pay rise between those two gigs, you know. And that's really important, that you, [laughter] that you're patient enough to back your own talent at a certain point when it becomes real.
LIPTON: A couple of nights ago, I was privileged to attend the world premiere of the astonishing movie called Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Is it true that you did not instantly accept the role?
CROWE: No, I, I didn't.
CROWE: I've never been much of a sailor, to be quite frank with, with you. So I began to think about it from the point of view as I really, desperately wanted to work with Peter Weir. Always responded to everything he'd done. I'm such a fan of his. And um, you know, I've done this thing many times in my career where I've used the job I'm gonna do to face down something that I'm fearful about, you know? I just set about spending as much time as I could on boats and walking on and off boats and everything until one, one point in that preparation it just happened that I was no longer motion sick.
LIPTON: The books by O'Brien and the movie are an immaculate primer on the art of naval warfare in the time of Lord Nelson.
CROWE: You know… Peter doing a supposed action film is kind of like a lie. It's a marketing lie, 'cause it's not an action film, you know. It's a very small drama about guys on a British naval vessel.
LIPTON: This is how Richard Corliss of Time magazine feels about Master and Commander: "It puts the passion into action and the thrill into thought."
[clip from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World]
LIPTON: We begin our classroom with the questionnaire invented by the great Bernard Pebo. What is your favorite word?
CROWE: Pusillanimous. Means 'fainthearted'. It was a word my mother would often uh, use when she knew she was talking to someone who wouldn't know what it meant. [laughter]
LIPTON: What is your least favorite word?
CROWE: Three word phrase: "Hollywood Bad Boy." [laughter and applause]
LIPTON: When this goes on the air… what this gentleman gave us tonight is going to ruin your reputation! People will think you're a pussycat. What turns you on?
CROWE: A well-constructed sentence will give me chills.
LIPTON: What turns you off?
CROWE: False accusations.
LIPTON: What sound or noise do you love?
CROWE: Deep, thrumming kind of noises, so possibly one of my favorite instruments is the cello.
LIPTON: What sound or noise do you hate?
CROWE: I hate television coming from another room.
LIPTON: A question I've been waiting 9 and a half years to ask you. Russell Crowe, what is your favorite curse word?
CROWE: Now a curse word by itself is, is nothing. You need to give it some juice. You need to give it a context and then you need to uh, apply some passion. "Fuck me, swingin'". [laughter and applause]
LIPTON: Excellent! What profession, other than yours, would you like to attempt?
CROWE: It would have to be something that's a variation on the aspects of this job. I mean, I even saw being a waiter as a as a um, as a performance opportunity, you know? Uh, I was a really good fucking waiter. And I was a really good cocktail barman. You know? I took that seriously and I knew all the drinks and I could take that and rock and roll with it and enjoy it. But it would probably be something to do with um, with colors or the use of colors and stuff. You know, some sort of uh, design job, you know.
LIPTON: What profession would you absolutely not like to participate in?
LIPTON: Finally, Russell, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
CROWE: Heaven does exist and uh, he'll probably say, "G'day." [laughter]
LIPTON: An Australian God. Here are your students, Russell.
Amy: Good evening, Mr. Crowe.
CROWE: Good evening, young lady, and your name is?
Amy: My name is Amy, and I'm a second-year director.
CROWE: Hello Amy.
Amy: Hello. The career you've talked about tonight is the career of a chameleon, it seems there's nothing you can't play regardless of age, or nationality, or career. Is there a role you haven't played yet that you really want to play, that Hollywood might not normally cast you in?
CROWE: I'm not one of that, like performers that covets roles, you know? I was just talking about this with James backstage that, you know? I'm not interested in being the 174th Hamlet. What I wanna do is, I wanna find who Shakespeare is now, you know? Uh, that's what I'm really kinda looking for. Who the great writer is now. And I wanna work with him and I wanna create something. You know, the whole thing, the whole job for me is about creating. I'm not saying it was because of me but I do know that that movie Master and Commander it only got made because I said yes, you know. They were about to trash Peter and five years of research and everything that he'd put into it because they couldn't get a quote, unquote marquee name that would satisfy the studio. And whether it's a theatrical production or whether it's a movie, working with the people that you respect and perhaps, you know, uh, putting other things aside to work with them. You know, I would highly recommend, you know, I think it's sort of you know, it's a connection that we need to keep in place, you know.
Leah: [nervous giggle] My name is Leah, and I'm a first-year actor here, and you spoke a little bit about when actors and directors have a difference of opinion about the character and I was just wondering what your thoughts are on how far you champion your opinions as the actor, and when, if ever, you just give up and say, "ok, I'll do what the director wants me to do."
CROWE: Alright. It is the director's medium. I make movies and I'm working for that particular person. So, if I can't find common ground with that person, uh, on a particular subject, you know, or aspect of the character then I let it go. Because I'm making his movie. Yes, I'm playing the character and all that sort of stuff, but you know, you've gotta allow for the fact that, it isn't your gig. You know, you're just lucky enough to be on the bus, you know. It's his gig. His or her gig. Many times, you have a situation where you know, something that you said, you know, wasn't listened to or whatever, and then you get a call from the editing room going, "Fuck, I wish I'd listened to what you said, 'cause that's exactly what's missing," you know? So you have those kinda conversations but they're, they're pleasant. It's not, not, not a fight you know? I'm not there to, to sort of have arguments of that nature with a film director. So, your choice of who you're gonna work with is very important on that level. I like to work with directors who are really confident about their point of view. Um 'cause that strength uh, gives you a lot more space, you know? If they're confident on who they are as a director and what and how they approach the medium then they're not threatened when you come up with an idea as an actor. You know, you gotta be fluid enough to correct yourself. If you, if something you assumed about a character early on is wrong and you find yourself out, just let the fucking thing go! Let it go! Drop it, you know? Uh, and wasting time on a film set is not your privilege. Being on the film set is your privilege. So, uh, that's why me and Ron Howard get on really well. Really well, because we both see making films as a privilege and we see the fact that somebody's put up money for us to work in a very expensive art form, you know, it's just like, "Quick! Let's get it done before they discover us!" [laughter] It's, you know, it's a fantastic situation to be in.
James: Hi, Russell.
CROWE: Hi, mate.
James: I'm James, I'm an actor.
CROWE: Hi, James.
James: I sort of come with a bit of a confession, really. When I was 17, I broke onto a film set, ah, in uh, Tilford, which is my local village, in England, and it was Gladiator. Um, and ah, I just wanted to say that, as someone who…
CROWE: Did you steal one of the arrows?
James: I stole a sign. Um, but as, as, as a guy who's, who's at the time, just sort of, just sort of deciding what he wants to do and stuff, I have to say, that like, being on a film set, for me, was an incredible frightening but exciting place.
CROWE: Well, it would be frightening; you were doing something illegal weren't you! [laughter]
James: Yeah, uh, but I just, well I… well that's true, that's true. You can have the sign back, if you want. I just wanted to ask, like for someone who's like at the other end of the uh, the spectrum how does it feel for you when you go onto a film set now, do you still get that kind of excitement, or um, or is it just like going to the office?
CROWE: Not at all. It's never like that. You know? It's always really exciting and I always you know, I always go and open up all the doorways… see where they lead. Have a check, you know? I love going to work man, you know. And I know over time, when I when I was a younger fellow, I use to resent the older people who talked about acting as a job, you know, because I was probably so pretentious and ridiculous I saw it as some kind of a calling. You know what I mean? And I wouldn't you know, wouldn't allow their sort of, uh, lack of passion or seeming lack of passion to affect my belief in what it is that I was doing. Um, but then you kind of, you gotta, you know, you gotta… get over yourself. You know! [laughter] And a little bit, and I began to see, and the thing is you know, as jobs go if you talk about a job, you know, it's a, it's a pretty fucking good job. You know? And so, it's ok to see it as a job and see it, see it as your, your mode of employment and, and you know, focus on it in those terms. But you know, I don't like the idea of going to the office. I'm a fucking gypsy, man, and I come from a long line of gypsies, and some great tradition of gypsies who tell stories. You know? That's what my job is. We're all storytellers, and that's what we're here for, you know? Now, a few hundred years ago it was a different situation, but now through flickering light we get to talk to millions of people at a time sometimes, if you're lucky enough, you know… and uh, it's ok. That's cool. That's a good job. But I would have done it on the back of a wagon in Shakespeare's time. I would have been, you know, in that wagon that's mentioned in Hamlet, you know? I would have been one of those players, pulling up, telling the story, and you know… I never cease seeing this thing as a privilege and seeing the opportunity to tell a people a story as a privilege. And I know that sounds all high-falutin' and idealistic in a way, but fuck it, man, I am.
[Russell receives a standing ovation.]