Russell Crowe is certainly one of the more memorable actors of modern times. He’s been in a variety of acclaimed films and TV series, and bagged a number of coveted awards in his decades-long career, including an Oscar for his iconic turn in Gladiator. Here are 20 things you might not have known about this enigmatic star.
20. He once threw a telephone at a hotel employee for no good reason
Crowe has kept a lower profile in recent years, possibly in an attempt to stay out of trouble and repair a slightly tarnished reputation.
Back in 2005, Crowe faced considerable backlash after throwing a hotel telephone at an employee of the Mercer Hotel in New York City.
Apparently, the employee had informed Crowe that the phone was broken which prompted the violent outburst.
The hotel employee was hurt in the skirmish and taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital where their injuries were treated.
While Crowe’s team insisted that he threw the phone at a wall, the actor was ultimately charged with felony assault and 4th degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Crowe has since referred to the incident as “the most shameful situation I’ve ever gotten myself in.”
19. He threatened to kill the producer of Gladiator “with my bare hands”
The phone incident wasn’t just a one-off. Apparently, Crowe has quite the reputation for having a short fuse on set as well as off.
LA Confidential director Curtis Hanson went as far as telling Variety in 2010 that “Russell has a reputation of being difficult.”
There are also stories about Crowe’s behaviour on the set of Gladiator which don’t cast him in the most flattering light.
Apparently, Crowe once called the film’s producer Branko Lustig late at night and threatened to kill him “with [his] bare hands” if he didn’t attend to all of Crowe’s on-set demands.
Lustig was appalled and immediately contacted DreamWorks head Stephen Spielberg to ask to leave the production.
According to Nicole LaPorte’s book, The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company called DreamWorks, Lustig’s exact words were: “Steven, I’m leaving. Russell wants to kill me. I’m leaving.”
18. Michael Jackson used to prank call him
For years, Crowe would be on the receiving end of mischievous prank calls whenever he stayed at a hotel.
The prank caller would usually call up Crowe, pretend to be the hotel manager, and claim that there was some problem with his hotel room.
Bizarrely, the prankster was none other than the then King of Pop Michael Jackson.
Crowe revealed more about these strange phone calls when speaking on the Graham Norton Show in 2016.
“He just got into the habit of, wherever I was staying, he’d just call the hotel and ask for my room and put on funny voices,” he said.
“I never met him,” he continued. “The thing is, with the first couple of people I said it to, I didn’t want to sound like I was insane. But people who knew him well – they’d go, yeah, he does it all the time.”
17. The original Gladiator script was so bad producers were too scared to show it to Crowe
Nowadays, Gladiator is widely regarded as one of the best movies to come out of the 21st century.
But the film could have been a flop – according to Crowe, the original script was so bad that the film’s producers didn’t want him to see it before it had been revised.
“The producer did not know I was able to already get a copy, but the thing he said was, ‘I don’t want to send you the document we have because you won’t respond to it,” Crowe revealed on The Tonight Show in 2020.
Instead, a meeting was arranged between Crowe and director Ridley Scott, where Scott pitched the general idea of the film to Crowe.
Scott talked his lead actor through the plot, visuals and other details, which was enough to placate Crowe, who then signed on for the lead role of Maximus.
Thankfully so – to this day, Gladiator remains one of Crowe’s most successful films ever.
16. He went for years without a front tooth
Crowe used to play rugby as a child, resulting in a minor injury when he was 10.
During one fateful game, Crowe knocked out a front tooth on the field – an injury that could have seriously impacted his career later on in life.
When he started out in his acting career, Crowe managed to get by and secure work on some small projects.
But he landed his first big break when he was cast in The Crossing at the age of 25.
The film’s director George Ogilvie asked Crowe about his missing tooth, and Crowe explained that he’d never had the money to repair it.
Ogilvie then kindly put his hand in his own pocket and paid for Crowe to fix his pearly whites.
15. He turned down the role of Wolverine because of a misunderstanding
Speaking to News.com.au back in 2017, Crowe revealed why he turned down the role of Wolverine.
“If you remember, Maximus [in Gladiator] has a wolf at the centre of his cuirass, and he has a wolf as his companion at the beginning of the film,” he said.
“Which I thought was going to be a bigger deal [at the time], so I said no, because I didn’t want to be ‘Wolfy the general’ and then ‘Wolfy the other bloke,’ like now I’m Mr. Wolfman, I can only do movies that have something to do with wolves.”
It seems, then, that Crowe turned down the role due to a misunderstanding – as wolverines are not the same animal as wolves.
Hugh Jackman revealed that this was the second time he got a role that Crowe had turned down. “Russell turned it down,” the actor told The Daily Beast in 2020, recalling how he got the part of Wolverine.
“That’s the second role I’ve gotten that Russell’s turned down. He’s been very good to me, Russ. The other one was Australia.”
14. He considers the horses from his movies to be “lifelong friends”
Back in 2018, Liam Neeson revealed in an interview how closely he’d bonded with one particular horse on the set of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
Crowe then weighed in on Twitter, agreeing with Neeson that it is certainly possible form tight bonds with horses on set.
“This is absolutely true,” the Gladiator star tweeted. “There’s a horse George who I gave the speech in the forest in Gladiator on.”
“Years later he was on the set of Robin Hood and we would chat every day,” he continued.
“Same with the white horse Rusty in Robin Hood we chatted again on Les Mis. Lifelong friends.”
Although Crowe seems to have brushed many of his co-stars up the wrong way on set, at least he gets on with his animal colleagues!
13. He met his ex-wife on the set of his very first film
Back in 1989, Crowe met Australian singer Danielle Spencer while working on George Ogilvie’s film The Crossing.
The two began an on-again, off-again relationship, before eventually breaking up and going their separate ways.
Crowe entered into a relationship with Meg Ryan in 2000 while working on Proof of Life, but the romance proved short-lived.
Then in 2001, Crowe and Spencer reunited, marrying two years later in 2003. They wed at Crowe’s property in New South Wales and the couple went on to have two sons together.
The pair eventually separated for good in 2012, before making their divorce official in April 2018.
Neither Crowe nor Spencer have either remarried or seriously dated anyone else since their divorce three years ago.
12. He once gave nearly £3,000 to a stranger so they could afford to attend a drama course
There’s a lot of plans and dreams being shattered these days … Will Harry succeed?
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) August 24, 2020
Back in summer 2020, student Harry Pritchard received an offer to study at the esteemed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).
But the young man was unable to afford the deposit and living expenses – and the course fee itself – totalling £13,799.
23-year-old Pritchard then created a GoFundMe page in order to raise money for the expensive fees.
Crowe spotted the appeal and, as a Leeds United fan, he was keen to support Harrogate-based Pritchard.
Crowe then shared Pritchard’s GoFundMe page on Twitter, tagging his friend Terry George in the post.
The two donated £3,741 to Pritchard in total, with Crowe shelling out a generous £2,741.
11. He lived in a tiny apartment to make him feel like a “giant” for LA Confidential
Crowe stands at an average 5ft 11, but has played some larger-than-life characters in his time.
Notably, Crowe played Bud White in the 1997 film LA Confidential, a formidable cop on the Los Angeles force.
In order to get into character, Crowe moved into a tiny apartment where he had to duck to get through doorways and stoop when he stood up straight.
Crowe claimed that living in the unusual flat made him feel like a true giant when he was on set and helped him embody Bud White’s ‘big’ persona.
It’s fair to say that Crowe gave a stellar performance as Bud, so it looks like the tiny apartment trick worked.
Crowe, as well as other cast members Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and David Strathairn were all nominated for the Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture Award by the Screen Actors Guild for their performances in the film.
10. He financed his divorce with a (very) public auction
Getting married is expensive – and so is getting divorced, as Russell Crowe found out firsthand.
When Crowe split from Danielle Spencer in 2018 he had to resort to unorthodox means when it came to financing the proceedings.
Crowe raised money for the divorce by hosting an auction on his 54th birthday in Sydney, where he sold old movie memorabilia.
He also auctioned off art, watches, and – notably – a mosasaur skull he’d bought from Leonardo DiCaprio.
While the skull sold for $65,000, Crowe’s collection of artwork brought him in hundreds of thousands.
Brett Whiteley’s Moreton Bay Fig and Palms sold for $190,000 while Charles Blackman’s The Suitor fetched a staggering $360,000.
9. He started out as a musician called Russ Le Roq
Back in the early 1980s, Crowe didn’t want to be an actor. Initially, he wanted to be a musician, after his friend Tom Sharplin convinced him to pursue a music career.
Crowe went by the stage name Russ Le Roq and released several singles before he achieved international fame.
Titles of his early songs included Shattered Glass, Pier 13, and I Just Want To Be Like Marlon Brando.
Unfortunately, however, none of these singles ever charted and Crowe failed to get his music career off the ground.
Crowe then went on to manage a music venue in Auckland called The Venue in 1984. Then, in 1986, he decided to pursue an acting career instead.
But he’s not abandoned the music industry completely – to this day he remains part of a band called Indoor Garden Party with Samantha Barks, Scott Grimes and Carl Falk.
8. He’s not actually Australian
Although Crowe has permanently lived in Australia since 1985, he was actually born in New Zealand.
But despite Crowe being a Kiwi, arguably the Aussies themselves have claimed Crowe as one of their own.
Crowe is one of only two people to have featured on an Australian stamp – the other person being Queen Elizabeth II.
Crowe has been on two Australian stamps in total – on one he appears as his Gladiator character Maximus, while on the other he simply appears as himself.
To this day, however, Crowe remains a citizen of New Zealand and technically does not have Australian citizenship.
In 2015 it was reported that Crowe had applied for Australian citizenship in 2006 and 2013 but was rejected – although the Australian Immigration Department refuted these claims and stated that Crowe had never even applied for Australian citizenship.
7. There was a plot to kidnap him in 2001
Back in 2001, the FBI approached Crowe while he was in LA celebrating the success of Gladiator and informed him that there was a terrorist plot to kidnap him.
Crowe recalled the ordeal in a 2005 interview with GQ. “We just arrived in Los Angeles, and we got contacted by the FBI,” he said.
“They arrived at the hotel we were staying at, and they went through this big elaborate speech, telling us that for the whole time we were going to be in America, they were going to be around and part of life.”
“I do wonder if it was some kind of PR thing to attract sympathy toward me, because it seemed very odd,” he continued.
Crowe added that he was likely not the only targeted celebrity: “I don’t think that I was the only person,” he said.
“But it was about—and here’s another little touch of irony—it was about taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as a sort of cultural-destabilization plan.”
6. He got his first professional acting job in The Rocky Horror Show
Crowe’s first film appearance was in The Crossing in 1990, but his first acting job was actually in The Rocky Horror Show.
From 1986 to 1988, he played the role of Eddie/Dr Scott in a New Zealand production of the iconic show.
He also occasionally played the role of Transylvanian mad scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry’s character in the 1975 film).
In total Crowe played the role of Frank-N-Further around 50 times while he played Eddie and Dr Scott a further 400 times.
Crowe has since said that he reckons he was “pretty good in high heels” back in the day.
It seems unlikely that Crowe will reprise either of his Rocky Horror roles any time soon – but never say never!
5. He lost more than 50 pounds for his role in Cinderella Man
Back in 2005, Crowe dazzled as boxer Jimmy Braddock in biographical sports drama film Cinderella Man.
Crowe put in a lot of work to achieve such a stellar performance, including a year’s worth of training and losing 50 pounds.
Director Ron Howard even brought in real-life boxers to fight against Crowe to prepare him for the role.
Although Howard told these boxers to make sure that none of their punches actually landed on Crowe, mistakes were occasionally made.
As a result, Crowe suffered multiple concussions as a result of this intensive training programme.
He also dislocated his shoulder on one occasion and had to undergo surgery before resuming filming again.
4. He thinks he’s a fundamentally shy person
As aforementioned, Crowe has got into a few sticky situations with his temper over the years.
Throwing phones at hotel employees and threatening to kill film producers is hardly the behaviour of a timid person – but Crowe actually thinks of himself as very shy.
Speaking to GQ in 2005, he revealed why he was so drawn to the acting profession.
“I’m fundamentally quite shy, so that thing of taking on another character is quite a liberating thing to do if you’re a shy person,” he said.
“Because within that character framework you can now go to all these other places. And I never found another job that I was actually that good at.”
When the interviewer suggested that most people wouldn’t think of Crowe as “shy,” he responded: “Sure, it’s very easy for me now to be up-front and open with people, because I’ve met millions of people in my time, so you kind of get past that.”
3. He owns a professional rugby team
Crowe is a big sports fan. He’s a supporter of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, Leeds United FC, and generally like to keep up to date with sporting news.
Crowe is also actually an owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league team, which he co-owns with businessman Peter Holmes.
He regularly attends the team’s home games and has financially supported the club over the years.
But Crowe’s time as co-owner of the Rabbitohs has not been completely free from controversy.
In 2016, he raged at player Luke Keary during a team bonding session at Crowe’s farm.
The Gladiator star accused Keary of not being worth the money of his contract – resulting in Keary walking out of the team altogether.
2. He calls actors who do commercials ‘sell-outs’
Many actors start off by appearing in TV commercials, while others dabble in commercials after becoming successful.
But not Russell Crowe. Crowe has stated before that he’s extremely averse to the idea of ever featuring in a TV commercial.
“It’s kind of sacrilegious,” he said of fellow stars who choose to appear in commercials.
“It’s a complete contradiction of the f****** social contract you have with your audience,” he continued.
“I mean, Robert de Niro’s advertising American Express,” he added, slating the star for ‘selling out.’
“Gee whiz, it’s not the first time he’s disappointed me. It’s been happening for a while now.”
1. He’s a director and producer as well as an actor
Crowe is of course best known for his work as an actor; after all, he only ever appeared in front of the camera for the first half of his career in the entertainment industry.
But he’s not only an actor – he’s a director and producer too. In 2010 he helped produce Robin Hood (in which he also starred.)
Then in 2015 he was an executive producer for the film Fathers and Daughters, where he starred as Jake Davis.
He’s also an executive producer on the TV series The Loudest Voice, in which he also features as character Roger Ailes.
In 2014, Crowe – like many other long-time actors before him – decided it was time to try his hand at directing.
Crowe made his directorial debut with the 2014 film The Water Diviner, in which he also starred. He went on to direct a short film called Remedy later that same year.