Since 1990, New Zealand-born, Sydney-based actor Russell Crowe has tackled a spectrum of envelope-ripping film roles, from the sadistic neo-Nazi Hando in 1992's Romper Stomper (for which he won an AFI Award for Best Actor) to the shy and sensitive plumber Jeff Mitchell in The Sum of Us. 'Jeff's a nice character,' says a semi-relaxed RC, swigging a Coke at Sydney's Sebel Town House Hotel, 'but a lot more emotionally scarred than you first think. When he feels, he feels very, very deeply.'
It seems those feelings have struck a chord with Australian audiences: In its nine weeks in cinemas here, The Sum of Us, the warm and witty story of a straight meat-and-potatoes dad (played by Jack Thompson) and his footy-playing, beer-chugging gay son(RC), has taken around $3 million and is due to open, with a 100-city release in the U.S. in February. Also opening then is The Quick and the Dead, a western in which Crowe, 30, plays 'an ace gunfighter turned preacher man' alongside Tinseltown heavyweights Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman.
'It was certainly different being on a $35 million studio film,' says RC. 'It was an incredible cast. There were lots of (actors) with names I didn't know but I'd go, 'There's the guy from Splendor in the Grass! Remember the big black guy from Spartacus? He's like f@#$in' 80 million years old now, but he's still got the same face!' But while RC's track record is undeniable dazzling--in the past four years, he has appeared in 12 movies--the man himself is low-key. 'People see the surface level of what's happened, but there've probably been another hundred films that I wanted to do and they got somebody else. There's been a lot of bad luck as well.'
One stunning example of what that is the thriller Red Rain, a Rosa Colosimo production co-starring Jennifer Beals, which began shooting in Italy in September, 1993, only to fold in the second week. 'Me and Jennifer got the nod that we'd better hightail it out of the hotel because police would be coming,' a distinctly unamused RC recounts. 'They hadn't been paying the bills, and there was no money. It was cool: I got to meet Jen--she's a really nice girl--and I got to go to Italy.' According to Melbourne-based Colosimo, who is engaged in legal action against the funding body, the Film Finance Corporation, 'Russell was paid a fair percentage of his salary. I hope if I win the court case, I'll be able to pay him out in full.'
Happily for RC, the Red Rain experience is a one-off exception and business, as it were, is booming. In March, For the Moment, a Canadian-made 'eight Kleenex' wartime weepie starring RC as an Australian pilot was screened at Canadian and U.S. film festivals with raves in the Hollywood trade bible, Variety for RC's 'stardom-in-the-making lead performance.' Rough Magic, a mystical thriller co-starring RC and Bridget Fonda, wrapped in the U.S. in August. Producers of RCÕs planned project, Pacific Meltdown, in which he got to play the lead and contribute to the script, hope to have the funding to film in Queensland next year. In the meantime, he's trying for 'one film in particular--a U.S. Romper Stomper so to speak. If I get it, I'll be extremely lucky.'
Luck, it seems, is something RC thinks about a lot. 'People look at me now and they see success, but I'm thinking, 'Wow, it's going to be really weird when they look at me and see failure!' He shrugs, 'The higher you get, the bigger the drop,' he says dismissively. 'But hey, I'm just tellin' stories folks!'