Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy in The Nice Guys (Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Russell Crowe admits he has a reputation, but hearing him talk about his work on the action comedy The Nice Guys makes one question whether that reputation is entirely deserved. In his two decades of Hollywood stardom, the public persona of Crowe is one of a gruff, temperamental and downright intimidating person, aided by work in such classics as L.A. Confidential and Gladiator, but when sitting down in a hotel room at the Beverly Hilton, Crowe is polite, charming and wickedly funny. Some of the public Russell Crowe is present in person – his co-star Ryan Gosling does, after all, recall renting out a bar for the cast and crew to watch the rugby team he owns during filming – but the overall impression of Crowe is that of a merry mischief-maker, more George Clooney than Sean Penn.
Describing how he joined with co-star Gosling, director Shane Black and producer Joel Silver for The Nice Guys, Crowe doesn’t talk about how these strong personalities butted heads, but how they relished their jobs.
“The four principles on this all come to work together with quote-unquote reputations, but we get on set together, and it’s the Beatles. At the bottom line, we’re passionate professionals who love our job. We do what we need to do, and have fun doing it.”
There is a certain dissonance in hearing Crowe chuckle, but he does a great deal of this in person, and did perhaps more while filming The Nice Guys with Gosling.
“He makes me laugh. He’s a funny motherfucker,” Crowe says. “Corpsing is the theatrical term for laughing inappropriately. You could take the 49 movies I’ve made previous, and the number of times I’ve corpsed on camera were less than any given week working with Ryan.”
Perhaps if Crowe has indeed mellowed, it is because he is at the point where he can look back on his career with pride. It has been nearly 20 years since L.A. Confidential, and now Crowe can be circumspect about his place in cinema history. He recounts an experience working on “Saturday Night Live” last month, in which the young comedians on the show started reenacting scenes from American Gangster.
“It was like when my actor friends did Taxi Driver, but these guys were doing Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts at me. I was really touched. They’ve seen it so many times that they’re jamming.”
The generational appeal of Crowe’s cinematic efforts has even finally reached his own children, who are now old enough to watch much of the actor’s work. He finally screened Gladiator for his children, who knew enough of the film from internet comments to spot the various gaffes throughout the movie.
“My eldest has been on the computer looking into it for such a long time that he knows all of the negative comments made about the film and the things to look for, like where you can see that I’m wearing Calvin Klein underwear, so he ran a commentary on the film based on that.”
Seeing his father in his most iconic role did not change his son’s view of him, however.
“My eldest has an attitude that I should get used to the fact that it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m his dad, so he says nothing I do is cool.”
The Nice Guys is in theaters May 20.