The Big Somewhere with Russell Crowe

by David Bradley

Australian actor Russell Crowe knew his star had risen when he was recently captured in the prestigious pages of New York's society bible Vanity Fair. But what was it that catapulted him to stardom and onto the Hollywood's A list? A role in James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential. While scribes arehappy to allude to the clean cut sass of fellow Australian and 'startlingly handsome' co-star Guy Pearce, the New York Times swooned at Crowe's portrayal of 'Officer Bud White, handsome and tan, but with the hooded eyes of a street thug'. Recently in Sydney, Australia to promote the dark and sordid tale, Crowe chatted with David Bradley about starring alongside Kevin Spacey and -- in particular -- the illuminous Kim Basinger.

Russell Crowe looks a trifle weary as he slumps back into a hotel sofa, looking very much like someone who's been doing the worldwide interview circuit for the past four months. However, he still seems to remember me from our discussions concerning two of his previous forays into Hollywood, The Quick and the Dead and Virtuosity. When I generously describe his sterling performance in L.A. Confidential as 'stealing the show' and 'finally making the big time', he cuts in with the comment, 'oh, so you liked this one?'

As an Aussie actor who can boast being second billed after Kevin Spacey, and sharing the limelight with Danny DeVito and Kim Basinger, Russ is unusually modest (especially considering how proud he was coming off his earlier films, neither of which have been as commercially or critically successful as L.A. Confidential). 'I don't see it as "having made it" or anything -- I see think it's great and a terrific chance for me to do the kind of work I want to do with great people like Kevin and Curtis (Hanson), a really great director. I was also extremely happy to be doing this one as I'm a big fan of James Ellroy. But I never tried to "steal the show" or upstage anyone. I was merely wrapped up in the Bud White character, someone who allowed me to be physical and someone who really leapt off the script page.'

One of the most striking aspects of the film is the casting od Crowe and fellow Australian actor Guy Pearce as the '50s L.A. cops -- it seems a ballsy move indeed. Or was it? 'Well Curtis went around explaining to lots of people that it was a daring thing to do, but then when we sat down and talked it through, it seemed less so. It was a gamble, but it was also important to have rather lesser known actors as Bud and Ed -- if they'd been played by bigger stars, the audience would have assumed these people were going to rule the narrative. And L.A. Confidential isn't about just two characters. It's about a group of characters, and how they interact and move the story. The casting is brave, but it's also very smart.'

Also, as Crowe's Bud is a traditionalist strong-arm sort reverting to fists to get what he wants, the obvious conclusion is that Hanson saw Crowe's notorious performance as psychotic racist Hando in Romper Stomper, but the truth is, once again, not quite what you think. 'My agent read the script, and suggested I do it. That was that. Romper Stomper isn't that well known.' But Crowe is adamant about Guy. 'One of the best things about doing this movie was working with him. It was so great to have someone like him there to help me through. I mean, when the days were long and the thing feels like a real job, hard work, it was terrific to have someone there who was both a great actor and a great guy.'

When it comes to the luminous co-stars, though, Russ loathes gossip. 'Kevin's a brillant actor. Kim -- now there's someone who really fits in with the tone of L.A. Confidential -- her image is so against what she's really like, just like her character. All that stuff the media say about her, and then she shows up, so unaffected, in jeans and a t-shirt, and gives off this tremendous energy in her acting. She's going to go on to even greater things.'

Dismissive of two films he completed two years ago, Rough Magic (with Bridget Fonda) and Breaking Up (with Salma Hayek), and another he turned down (Anjelica Huston's directorial debut, Bastard Out of Carolina, refused because of its child abuse scenes), he's all systems go with his soon-to-be-released Heaven's Burning (shot on location in Adelaide, which 'got a huge response at the Toronto Film Festival' but which some people might find 'a very unsatisfying experience') and a film he's soon to start where his co-stars will include William H. Macy and Robert Duvall, and which he jokingly describes as 'Fargo' meets 'Bull Durham'. 'It's a Disney/Hollywood Pictures movie, where I ice skate and investigate a murder. Judging by how it's going, it should shape up to be a pretty damn good movie.'

Never let it be said that Russell Crowe is a conventional or predictable interview as, grinning widely, and getting ready to make his way to a radio spot, he suddenly launches into a series of questions regarding not his personal life, but mine. I tell you, when it comes to this particular star, nothing can be expected and nothing's a secret."