August 2, 1995

Russell not one to Crowe

Toronto Sun
 NEW YORK -  Russell Crowe is the only one in the film business who is cynical about his rising star in Hollywood.
 "When it comes to Hollywood actors, I'm at the back of the car park holding the valet parking stubs," he recently told Interview magazine. "Only if everybody else is busy or distracted can I get a car out of the park and drive home."
 Today, in a private interview and later in group sessions, Crowe continues the rant with the self-deprecating humor that makes him so interesting and entertaining. He delights in telling me that it took director Brett Leonard seven months - "that's how high my star has risen!" - to convince Paramount Pictures executives to let Leonard cast him in Virtuosity.
 Crowe is the cyberspace psycho-villain in the futuristic science-fiction thriller, which opens Friday. Denzel Washington plays the flawed hero who has to track him down. Leonard says Crowe's stunning performance will clinch his star status, regardless of Crowe's cynicism. But Crowe says he's just an actor aggressively "looking for good roles."
 So who is this guy?
 Born in New Zealand with a blend of European and Maori heritage, raised there and in Australia and now based in Sydney, Crowe is a 31-year-old veteran of Down Under films, including Proof, The Sum Of Us and the controversial Romper Stomper. A sensation at the Toronto filmfest, it starred Crowe as a tattooed skinhead neo-Nazi named Hando.
 So it's no great leap to play the villain Sid 6.7 in Virtuosity. Sid is a computer blend of 183 people, including Charles Manson, Adolf Hitler and Crowe's personal dentist: "I've decided not to give the full list out to anybody so I don't get my ass sued." More laughs.
 "It's pretty far out," he says of Virtuosity. "As is revealed in the movie, Sid is totally interactive so he's just playing with what he's got. He's come out of the machine, he's looked around, he's examined humanity in the one half of the millisecond it takes him to work it out, and he realizes that human beings couldn't possibly go around doing what they do if they didn't want to die. He's just trying to help them out. He's a very generous guy." Crowe chortles. He's rocking and rolling with the movie. Life is a blast.
 But don't write the movie off as just another violent thriller, he says. "It's not really violent. A lot of the blood is computer-driven effect and you can see that pretty obviously. I bleed blue. The film is about violence.
 "And I think there's a depth level that Denzel brings by virtue of who he is and how his mind operates and how he applies himself to his character. It takes this film to a different place." The comments are typical of Crowe's generosity. He is never heard slagging his co-stars, famous or not. Crowe always has had nice things to say about Sharon Stone, who hired him to play a defrocked priest in The Quick And The Dead, Crowe's Hollywood debut earlier this year.
 At the same time, he has no problem playing unsavory roles - his own image is of no consequence. He just refuses to defend their villainy or even like the characters he plays.
 "The reality is I'd be scared of a Hando. I hate his ideology. I hate what he stands for. Basically, Sid is the same thing. The scary thing is that he is very close to the people we all laud and applaud and give a lot of money and power to."
 Call Crowe the thinking man's villain. And burgeoning Hollywood star. No matter what he says.