He has a reputation for being tricky, but Susan Griffin finds Russell Crowe in jovial mood on the set of The Nice Guys
He’s just arrived from Cannes, where he’s been busy promoting his latest movie, The Nice Guys.
“It’s the funniest thing, because you’re so appreciative that something like Cannes exists, but really, from an actor’s perspective, it’s a dog and pony show that you just cannot wait to leave,” he confesses of the prestigious film festival.
Crowe looks well, dressed in a blue polo shirt and grey suit, and noticeably slimmer than the rotund physique he sports in The Nice Guys, a buddy action movie set in Seventies Hollywood.
He plays hired enforcer Jackson Healy, opposite Ryan Gosling’s bumbling, and near-fraudulent, personal investigator Holland March. “We’ve talked in the past about working together, but we didn’t realise it would be with a 6ft-tall smoking bee in the back of the car,” Crowe notes with a laugh, referencing a particularly trippy scene from the film.
“There are aspects to this that neither of us have done before, which is why it was so attractive. It felt fresh,” the 52-year-old adds.
Directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3) and produced by Joel Silver (The Matrix, Sherlock Holmes), who first worked together on Lethal Weapon back in the Eighties, the plot sees March and Healy become unlikely partners in their search for a missing girl.
Described as a ‘film noir with elements of comedy’, the movie makes the most of the period setting, with its loud palette, eclectic fashion and ultra-flashy settings, juxtaposed with the seedier side of retro Hollywood.
“Initially, I was kind of fearful of LA, and in that strange, youthful arrogance, the fear turns into a superiority complex,” admits Crowe, grinning beneath knowing blue eyes as he recalls his arrival in LA back in 1992.
“I was fond of making quotes about Los Angeles as being the last place on Earth I’d live, but in reality, as you get a little wiser I suppose, you look at that town and it’s kind of a beautiful place.
“I’m not just talking about the weather or its geographical location, but the City Of Angels opens its wings every single day for the dreamers and the gypsies - and everybody who has aspiration in our business. People go there and they create incredible lives for themselves, because there are so many like-minded people around.”
This wistful outlook seems in contradiction to the bad-tempered actor we’ve read about in the papers, a man who’s allegedly been involved in numerous altercations over the years. Perhaps he’s simply mellowed with age and experience...
Born in New Zealand, Crowe lived in Australia for 10 years from the age of four, in which time he appeared in a couple of TV series, before returning to his country of birth.
At 21, he moved back to Australia, and after stints in Neighbours and Living With The Law, was cast in 1990’s The Crossing, which earned him a Best Actor nod at the Australian Film Institute Awards.
He didn’t win that year - but the following two years he did, for Proof and Romper Stomper, even travelling to Cannes for the former; Crowe’s “first overseas trip outside Australia and New Zealand”.
His Romper Stomper performance also caught the eye of Sharon Stone, who wanted him for her Western, 1995’s The Quick And The Dead.
By now, Crowe’s star was well and truly rising, and after a string of big-shot movies - Virtuosity alongside Denzel Washington; L.A. Confidential alongside Kevin Spacey and Guy Pearce - he earned his first Academy Award nomination in 2000, for his portrayal of a tobacco company whistle-blower in The Insider.
Two years later, he was nominated again for his performance as Nobel Prize-winner John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, while he’d won the Best Actor the year before, for Gladiator.
“I shot that in 1999 and there is not a single day of the year where it won’t be on prime-time TV somewhere in the world,” he remarks of Ridley Scott’s historical epic.
“My kids [he has Charles, 13, and nine-year-old Tennyson with ex-wife Danielle Spencer] wanted to see it at Christmas for the first time. My youngest one loved it, my oldest one talked all the way through it. I didn’t sit and watch it with them but the people who did told me afterwards,” he reveals.
“I think because my eldest has explored that film so deeply on the internet, he feels he has a sort of connection with it, so he was looking for all the mistakes that are listed, rather than actually watching the movie.”
This is nothing new, apparently.
“My eldest one is very critical in that regard, yes,” says Crowe, laughing. “Not just of my work but of anything. He’s a real sponge and a big reader.”
Crowe tends to watch his movies at the premiere and, bar catching a snippet here and there, “I never watch them again”.
“My ex-wife said something funny one night when we were coming back from the opening night of [2007’s] 3:10 To Yuma,” he recalls, eyes gleaming with amusement. “She said, ‘It must be so hard watching yourself age on screen’. I was like, ‘Well thanks very much!’ I’d never thought of it from that perspective, but now I will for the rest of my days.”
In the 13 years since his last Oscar nomination, he’s appeared in the likes of Master And Commander, American Gangster, State Of Play, Les Miserables and Man Of Steel.
He’s also dabbled in directing, first with documentary and shorts, before making his feature film debut with 2014’s The Water Diviner.
It received mixed reviews, but that’s not deterred him from giving directing another bash.
“I’ve got to wait until the passion for something is really deep and excites me. I’ve been offered a lot of stuff to direct, but it’s all five people talking in a room, and you can see by The Water Diviner, I’ve got epic aspirations,” Crowe adds with a grin. “I’m waiting for something a little bit bigger.”
In the meantime, he’s filming The Mummy, an “entire universe” of monsters, which will see him star as Dr Henry Jekyll alongside Tom Cruise.
“Whatever people think of him, this is a guy who has a massive career in the cinema and he’s a very fine actor,” Crowe notes of his co-star.
“At one point, we were really good friends, and it’s just the way this business goes, I hadn’t seen him for years. But we exchanged a couple of emails a few weeks ago and it’s the same bloke.
“We get on like a house on fire and we’ll do our very best to make something really special.”
The Nice Guys is out in cinemas now