Is Russell Crowe stripping down celebrity journalism? Or just dressing down reporters?
Of all the actors a journalist can find himself interviewing, Russell Crowe is probably the most challenging. Or entertaining. Or both.
Many actors like talking about their work and not their personal lives. Crowe offers this about movie junkets when the subject of film publicity comes up: "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."
And even those stars who don't like talking about acting still love talking about their pet causes, don't they?
"Some people believe celebrity is a power that should be used. Ultimately, your dollars are more powerful," Crowe says. "I'm famous for making movies. Celebrity just happens to be an unfortunate byproduct of what I do."
In fact, when Paul Haggis tells me that Crowe donated a whole lot of money to his school in Haiti, the actor blanches.
I spoke to Crowe and director Haggis for their new thriller "The Next Three Days," which comes out next week, for a print piece in Sunday's Calendar section.
Over the course of the interview, it was clear how Crowe can be enjoyably contrarian, calling out even compatriots he feels deserve it. (Of Ridley Scott's decision not to go to the Cannes premiere of "Robin Hood," he says: "We'd been on this three-year journey, and two days out, Ridley calls
and says, [Crowe takes on an exaggerated British accent] 'I'm not going to make it. My knee's sore.' And I'm like, 'Come on. Take three nurses and get on a plane.'")
Crowe also has an anti-establishment bent that can amuse reporters inclined to the same. In a riff full of colorful profanities he gives his take on some big-budget studio productions: "This whole thing has evolved into this massively-organized-to-the-nth-degree, army-on-the-march thing. It's like ... me. Yes, massive preparation is absolutely required. But you can never account for the chaos. You can talk about shooting on the streets of Pittsburgh at 4:30 in the afternoon in one of those ... tunnels where everybody from Pittsburgh wants to get home because there's a hockey game on at seven o'clock and you're slowing down their ... lives."
But there's also a sense that he doesn't really want to be there -- more than a sense, actually, since at one point he talks about fame as something to "endure" and acknowledges "contractual obligations" as a reason he's doing publicity for movies in the first place.
It's all a bit Marlon Brando -- an actor acclaimed for gritty roles but also known for his disdain for public life. Actually, the Brando thing is an image Crowe has done little to dispel: a song he recorded early in his career is titled, plainly, "I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando."
As he tells me that "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 may in fact achieve the wish expressed by his song title.
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Photo: Russell Crowe promoting 'Robin Hood' in Italy. Credit: Claudio Peri/European Pressphoto Agency