Q & A With Russell Crowe - and win State of Play on DVD!
Russell Crowe drew on decades of personal experience to play a reporter in State of Play. This time, of course, the roles were reversed - on screen his character, Cal McAffrey, gets to ask the questions whereas in reality Crowe has spent years under the media spotlight because of his high profile as an Oscar winning actor.
Crowe, 45, won the Oscar for Best Actor for his riveting performance as Maximus in Gladiator. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as a tobacco industry whistle blower in Michael Mann's The Insider and a third nomination for his portrayal of mathematics genius John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, directed by Ron Howard. He was also awarded a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for his performance in A Beautiful Mind.
Crowe's other credits include playing hard-boiled cop Bud White in LA Confidential, a rogue cyber space killer in Virtuosity, a hostage negotiator in Proof of Life and an 18th century British sea captain in Master and Commander.
Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Crowe is married to the actress and singer Danielle Spencer and they have two children, Charlie, 4, and 2 year old Tennyson.
Q: Did making State of Play change your opinion of
newspapers at all?
Russell Crowe: No, not at all. I think I already had a pretty firm opinion of how journalists work and I've sat in front of journalists for 30 years and been flayed and betrayed by them, but also formed friendships with them. So there is a lot of talk about objectivity in journalism but it's an absolute myth, and so it should be because if you are a writer you are a creative person and it may be news but it's still a level of creativity in terms of the imparting of that news. And as an audience member I want that personal subjection from the writer, I want that person to put themselves in that situation. However the next stage of that is where you either achieve something or your laziness makes that crumble because it's the re-drafting and the self editing that may actually eventually get you somewhere near objectivity. It's just not human to have objectivity on every subject matter. And that's one of the things I said to Kevin Macdonald right at the beginning, if you expect me to play journalist as hero then you are totally talking to the wrong man, but if you are OK with me playing a journalist as a human being and bring those faults and predilections and prejudices to the table then I'm fine with that.
Q: And director Kevin Macdonald was in agreement
Russell Crowe: Yes, he was fine with it. It was probably something that he spent some time thinking about at the beginning because I know one of his inspirations for the movie was All The President's Men but we talked about that many times and things have changed, things have moved on. Take for example, there's a scene early on in the movie between Cal McAffrey, the character I play, and Stephen Collins who is Ben Affleck's character. And Stephen is outlining to Cal the situation that he is currently in and telling him some truth about that situation. And Cal's instinct is not to re-write that story because he knows that there is already a public opinion that exists, his instinct is to use his privilege and use his position to write a smokescreen - take one sliver of that story and expand that and perhaps get his friend off the front page and on to page four or five or preferably page 9 or 10. And take one aspect of that story; in this case it's public transport, and blow that story up as being the lead feature. So right from the start no matter what the game is that Cal talks, he is corruptible - and he is corruptible from the point of view of friendship and his self-belief. He believes in Stephen, he believes in Stephen absolutely and he has believed in him since college. So it's OK to be human, as long as if you are in this job you stay fluid as information comes to you. And gradually over time information comes to Cal and he does actually stand up for the things he believes in over time. I've been talking a lot about the fact that he has no vanity - in that what he dresses in, what he eats, how he lives, he has no vanity - he loves his job and he is obsessed by his job. And ultimately at the end of the day his vanity is about how he is perceived by the words that he writes and quite frankly, that's the best job.
Q: How important was it that the newsroom was
Russell Crowe: The art department on this film spent a lot of time getting that right. Most people that I've talked to assume that we went into a real newspaper and just took it over for a while. They can't believe that we would go to that level of detail with the stacks of papers and the books. There's almost a Nashian schizophrenia about the filing system that Cal McAffrey employs which to the outside observer just looks like a bunch of papers everywhere. But Cal knows what exactly is in that cubicle and where it is he can find it. It only takes him a few seconds to zero in on something once he is looking for it. Those things on the wall are badges or courage or moments of realisation for him and these things he puts on the wall to remind himself of those moments, be they positive or negative, to remind himself of the cruelty of humanity or to remind himself of the strength of humanity. And when you have an art department that will go to that degree for you it just makes your job easier. I had a history with that particular art director and he was amazing in what he allowed for in terms of what I might have an opinion on. Even down to what the colour of my bedroom would be. He wanted me to come in and walk around my apartment and he allowed me to change where the pictures were, you know, shift this bit of furniture or that piece of furniture so that environment felt comfortable and that all plays into it. Because it's all pretend but it's how much you are allowed to pretend. And when you have that kind of surrounding it's exactly the same as walking into the Coliseum and there actually is a gigantic crowd of people and then you are on a big stage and you can feel a sense of what it must have been like to do that in reality and so it just helps you stay in the moment and play the character, whatever the character.
Q: Did you meet some journalists specifically to prepare
for the role?
Russell Crowe: I've been meeting journalists for the last 30 years of my life and all I had to do was unlock that memory bank of all of those conversations of being praised, betrayed and flayed and use those experiences. I didn't do one minute of extra research. We had on set a guy from the Washington Post who was a consultant for the film so there were some aspects that I asked him about but all in all that 30 years of experience of talking to journalists is what I based pretty much every single decision on - from the way I dressed to the way I talked to the way I took notes.
Q: Cal is an old school reporter and has some issues
with the new media climate - the blogging and gossip. Do you share
Russell Crowe: I don't fear it the way he does because it's not my job. I see it as a natural progression. If you trivialise the news decade after decade, if you turn news into entertainment, if you corrupt how people get information and you corrupt that information in the first place, and you have a cynical view where you can take a piece of fluff that's not really true, and you know it's not really true, but we can bang that up so it fits nicely on Page 5 next to the ad for women's lingerie, if you start thinking like that then sooner or later people are going to distrust what those sources all are and we've actually built a generation who don't know how to discern bullshit from truth. At least I'm lucky enough that I'm old enough to have grown up in an era where there were certain newspapers that were absolute purveyors of the truth and that has morphed and changed over time. But I'm not threatened by it but I'm not excited by it either because the one thing I don't need in my life is anymore trivia.
Q: What do you think of the way the relationship between
Cal and Della is handled in the film?
Russell Crowe: I thought it was truthful. I think there is a large amount of unrequited sexual tension from Cal's perspective going on. I think he takes his time to begin to see her fully, to begin to appreciate her intellect and I think from a personal point of view it's the heartbeat of the movie.
Q: If you were a reporter and wanted to investigate
something what would it be?
Russell Crowe: What do I think would be important? Well, many of the things that I think that need to be on the breakfast table for discussion are in this movie - the blurred line between news and entertainment, the blurred line on the secret handshakes between politics and journalism, the privatisation of war - there are a myriad of subjects that this movie covered that I thought were relevant and important.
Q: You're about to make your fifth film, Robin Hood,
with Ridley Scott. What's the connection you have with
Russell Crowe: I'm staying away from him at the moment because the last few days before you start filming people get shot left, right and centre (laughs). My thing with Ridley is what happens on the set - when we are on a set together, we begin to see the world in the same way and it's just a really enjoyable experience for me. I have a lot of responsibility when I work with him but I have a lot of creative space when I work with him. And there's nobody that I've experienced who creates a world, a complete world, better than Ridley Scott and that's what I enjoy. The part of me that was a theatre actor appreciates being on a Ridley Scott set because I'm a time traveller and I can live in the world and that's a great privilege and I really enjoy it. At the end of the day he is a master of the cinema and I'm very lucky to know him and know him professionally the way I do.