Russell Crowe doesn’t want to talk about himself or his new movie


LOS ANGELES — It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Russell Crowe is complaining.

As almost everyone on the planet knows, the star
resists most attempts to get him to reveal anything. And he’s happy to
taunt those who take on the challenge. Which tonight happens to be me.

Sitting with director Paul Haggis at Beverly Hills’ Polo Lounge several weeks before the release of their
prison break thriller, “The Next Three Days,” Crowe begins talking
about the film. But it isn’t long before one of his favorite topics
comes up.

“Whatever used to be called mystery, you’re not
allowed to have that anymore,” his lament about celebrity begins. “So
there’s a whole bunch of blank space that’s filled in with stuff that
fills up pages of your newspapers. Which is not real, and you know it’s
not real, and I know it’s not real,” he adds, not realizing — or is it
not caring? — that he’s impugned his present company. “And (readers)
don’t really care because that’s what they’re interested in.”

This could be a long evening.

Crowe decided to make his new movie after three
years of working on the big-budget spectacle of “Robin Hood” because he
wanted to be a part of what he calls “an animal that moves a little
faster” and because he found himself impressed with Haggis’ elaborately
plotted ideas. “It was the best experience I had reading a script since
the ‘Beautiful Mind’ script.”

Haggis, whose eager-to-please enthusiasm offers a frequent counterpoint to Crowe’s prickliness, nods. “You did say that.”

Nursing a Coke Zero and casual in an oversize
zippered sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “North Bergen” (a play
for New Jersey street cred?), Crowe says he treats publicity as just
another part. He learned long ago, he said, that the secret of doing
well on talk shows is “to play a character who enjoys going on talk

He doesn’t seem to be tackling the role tonight,
however. The actor occasionally directs his answers toward me. But most
of his attention is reserved for Haggis, with whom he has an easy
rapport as the two laugh uproariously recalling on-set war stories
(reckless car-chase scenes and the like). Haggis, in a busy blue
T-shirt, is lean and energetic and full of ideas about his movie — and
every so often feels the need to apologize or offer an explanation on
Crowe’s behalf.

“Probably nobody knows that Russell was one of the first people who sponsored our (post-earthquake) school in Haiti,”
Haggis points out as Crowe finishes a give-me-privacy jag. “He put his
money — a whole lot of money — and he didn’t go out and make a big
press thing about it.”

“But you are now,” Crowe responds, half-smiling but also looking perturbed.

There are many celebrities who are reluctant to talk
about their personal lives. Crowe doesn’t really want to talk about his
work, either.

“If I ever was going to torture somebody, I’d put
them in a room where they can’t leave and have someone new come in
every three minutes and ask the same question over a number of days and
then weeks,” he says, describing the process of a film junket, on which
he — oops — is about to embark.

But where were we? Oh, yes, one of the movies that Crowe doesn’t like being interviewed about.

“Three Days,” a remake of the French thriller “Pour
Elle,” puts a twist on the typical jailbreak film by telling the story
from the outside and tracking Crowe’s character, a professor, as he
learns the art of counterfeit passports and lock-picking.

Haggis, who set and shot his film in Pittsburgh,
adds to the French version a web of new characters and an ambiguous
resolution to the climactic getaway. “It may be the only
English-language remake of a French movie that’s darker than the
original,” he says, laughing.

Crowe does offer a thought on why he took the part.
“Paul said to me in our first meeting that (my character) is the guy
who will do anything for the woman he loves, including becoming some
person that she can’t possibly love anymore. And when I left him, I
thought, ‘That is really cool. I have to do this movie.'”

Coming after “Robin Hood,” in which
Crowe leads packs of men into battle with rousing speeches and raised
swords, the actor spends much of this movie on-screen by himself,
laconically planning the prison break. There’s a quiet pain to the role
and a complexity to his actions, which are criminal and dangerous but
oddly romantic and noble.

“I’m always interested in the heroic that comes out
of the simple. In a way, I’m always looking for that in myself. Because
I want to have bigger things to believe in personally,” Crowe says.

The limelight is not, needless to say, one of those
things. Crowe describes fame as something that he and his family have
had to “endure.” At this stage of the game, he may have a point.

After a torrent of publicity about his bad behavior — the infamous phone-throwing at a New York
hotel and the like — more than a few, um, detractors have emerged. Yet
it can be hard to discern where Crowe’s irascibility ends and the
public’s need for celebrity blood sport begins. (Consider the MySpace
group “Russell Crowe is a … douche bag,” whose mission statement has it “dedicated to the demise and defaming of Russell Crowe.”)

But it’s one of the great paradoxes that, for all
his moaning about fame, Crowe actually seems to handle it pretty well,
at least where fans are concerned. As if on cue, a tall,
thirtysomething blond from the next table overhears Crowe and turns to
him wide-eyed to say she’s met him before, on a set in Tucson about two decades ago.

“You’re giving yourself away. You must have been 3
or 4,” Crowe says, his natural charisma — or is it rakishness? — coming
out. She begins to talk of how she and her friends were hanging out
with him at the Holiday Inn where he was staying. “You guys were staying in the Holiday Inn. I was at the old people’s home,” he jokes.

He then tells a story about his buddies in a pub defacing a Clint Black poster by connecting the “l” and the “i” in the artist’s first name, a
story he seems to relish retelling as much as he apparently enjoyed the
act of frat boy vandalism itself.

I have a passing thought that there’s something
refreshing about a star pulling the veil off the orchestrations of
celebrity journalism. Or maybe Crowe’s just ornery.

Haggis said that when he decided to cast the
“Gladiator” star, he encountered skepticism. Because you’d be in this
awkward position? is my first thought. But Haggis, who wants Crowe to
consider a part for his new romantic drama, explains it was a
typecasting issue.

“People would ask me, ‘Why are you putting Russell Crowe in this movie? You know he’s going to break (his wife) out of prison.’
And I’d say, ‘How about “Beautiful Mind”? How about “The Insider”?’ …
You have to remember he plays deeply conflicted, failed characters,
these characters just trying to get through the day.”

That experience may come in handy as Crowe prepares
for a publicity tour on which he will be asked about his opinions and
pet causes. Which, unlike every other celebrity on God’s green Earth,
he doesn’t want to talk about either.

“Some people believe celebrity is a power that
should be used. Ultimately, your dollars are more powerful,” he says.
“I’m famous for making movies. Celebrity just happens to be an
unfortunate byproduct of what I do.”

A few minutes later, the interview ends, and as I
stand up, Crowe rather unexpectedly apologizes for “the bumbling bull
…” that he has offered. It’s unclear whether he means his comments
about the movie or his squirming about celebrity.

But maybe he does care what stuff fills the pages of newspapers.


(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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