Happy Belated Birthday, Russell Crowe!

Russell Ira Crowe turned 46 this past Wednesday. I guess I have a penchant for rugged men with a gravelly voice. Before Gerard Butler captured my attention, the New Zealand-born Aussie thespian blew me away as general Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator (2000). There’s not a lot of actors who consistently turn one impressive performance after another, but Crowe is definitely one of those. With the exception of Master and Commander, Body of Lies and the little seen indie Tenderness (due out on dvd April 13th), I’ve seen all of Crowe’s movies in the last decade, and I must say he hasn’t disappointed me. I’m not saying all his movies were excellent, but even in less-than-stellar movie like Proof of Life, Crowe’s performance is still the best thing about it and perhaps even make it more ‘watchable’ than if someone else had been in it.

He obviously can carry an epic-scale flick and gives it plenty of heart, but Crowe’s just as adept in playing a regular joe in extraordinary circumstances, most notably in The Insider. Though he was robbed of an Oscar in that movie, I consider it his finest performance – a gem even amongst his pretty golden resume. He transformed himself by gaining 35 pounds and wearing a white wig to play real guy Jeffrey Wigand, a research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco.

His fiery temper and no-nonsense attitude might turn off a lot of people, but I respect a guy who doesn’t play by Hollywood rules and that he couldn’t care less about schmoozing or hobnobbing with the power players. In fact, this blatant dislike of the town is pretty apparent in this quote, “I’d move to Los Angeles if Australia and New Zealand were swallowed up by a huge tidal wave, if there was a bubonic plague in Europe, and if the continent of Africa disappeared from some Martian attack.” Ha! That makes me like him more. I also dig that he’s got the cojones to stand up to big studio execs who demanded for a sex scene in Gladiator: “I’m sorry boys, but it doesn’t suit the character. We can’t be avenging the death of the wife and child, and stop for a bit of nookie along the way. I’m sorry, it’s not gonna happen.” You call that complacent? I’d say he’s got integrity, a rare virtue indeed in that business.

Crowe is also a talented musician, I actually bought his rock album of his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, which is actually quite good. He might not have the best voice, but his music is soulful and that it’s something he can really channel his creativity and passion. According to IMDb, he even wrote a song to his good friend Jodie Foster called “Other Ways of Speaking”. He’s now formed a new band with another quirky name The Ordinary Fear of God.

With his next epic project Robin Hood (read my review), Crowe – and his frequent collaborator Ridley Scott – looks to be returning to the story of a hero who faces terrible odds. As told to Empire in the Icons of the Decade issue (I actually searched for the one with Maximus on the cover), both of them are aware of the inevitable comparison and neither of them mind it. Crowe was quoting Scott when he said, “… if you’re going to doff your cap to an influence, it’s okay if it’s your own. It’s been ten years. Other people have tried to do it and not come anywhere near, so I don’t have a problem with us doffing that cap.”

I was going to post my Top Five Favorite Russell Crowe’s roles to commemorate his birthday, but I think that deserves its own post – and more time to write it. So again, happy birthday, Mr. Crowe, here’s to a long lasting and even more fruitful Hollywood career!