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Profile of Movie "The Passion of Christ" and Mel Gibson, Actor Russell Crowe

Aired February 28, 2004 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, it's a film that's sparked a religious controversy.

JESS CAGLE, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: If there was no controversy over "The Passion" it would not be going out on 2,000 screens.


ANNOUNCER: "The Passion of The Christ," anti-Semitic, a religious masterpiece, or just another movie?


RABBI MARVIN HIER, FOUNDER, SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER: He's insulted all of the Jewish people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a deeply faithful film and I think it is Mel's attempt to be faithful to Christian scripture.


ANNOUNCER: The man at the center of it all, an action star who rediscovered his traditional faith.


MEL GIBSON, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I used "The Passion" as a meditation of healing myself.


ANNOUNCER: Now the actor/director putting his money and career on the line in his controversial new film.


GIBSON: That's what art is, sort of throwing it all out there. And if the fur is not flying, you ain't doing nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: The personal faith that drived the passion of Mel Gibson.

Then, he's a rough and rowdy Aussie that became one of Hollywood's leading men.


LEAH ROZEN, MOVIE CRITIC, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Russell Crowe is on everyone's A-list.


ANNOUNCER: An athletic standout in high school who had early dreams of being a rock star.



RUSSELL CROWE, ACTOR: All hands down!


ANNOUNCER: His swash-buckling film, "Master and Commander" is up for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. And now, Hollywood's bad boy is tackling a new role, family man.


CYNTHIA SANZ, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Russell really teared up. I mean he got all emotional about it.


ANNOUNCER: The life of Hollywood's master and commander, Russell Crowe. Their stories and more now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.

Mel Gibson's new movie, "The Passion of The Christ" is certainly stirring passion. The reviews have been mixed. It is big at the box office. The film took in nearly $25 million on its opening day alone. And Gibson is expected to recoup his $30 million plus investment in the movie by this weekend. It's a gamble that seems to have paid off financially for Gibson but there is still the question of how the furor over the film will affect his career. But then, this actor and director never shied away from controversy. Here's Sharon Collins.



SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For two decades, Mel Gibson has defined the word "superstar". He's the sexiest man alive, an Academy Award winning director and producer, an actor whose films have taken in billions at the box office.

GIBSON: I feel like a 100 bucks.

ROZEN: He's just an actor with a lot of range. But no matter what role he's playing, you like the guy.

COLLINS: From "Mad Max..."

GIBSON: Don't get mad at me.

COLLINS: "Maverick"...

GIBSON: Do you really want to jump? Do you want to?

COLLINS: "Lethal Weapon" to "Braveheart," he's what women want...


COLLINS: ... and what men want to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're like a genius. You know that?

GIBSON: Oh, what can I tell you, buddy. I'm blessed.

CAGLE: The sexiness for women, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), sort of jovial, he could be my best friend quality for men makes him a movie star for all seasons.

COLLINS: But there's more than Gibson than Hollywood fame. He's married with seven children and a conservative Catholic out of the mainstream.

GIBSON: I probably sound like an egotist saying the Roman Church is wrong, but I believe it is at the moment, since Vatican II.

COLLINS: Gibson's faith is on full display in his latest film, "The Passion of The Christ." It's Gibson retelling of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. It's been surrounded by controversy, most notably, over how Gibson portrays Jews and their involvement in the crucifixion of Christ.

HIER: He is a person that is highly regarded as an actor and as a director. But in this area, he's crossed the line. He's insulted all of the Jewish people. Jews who watch this film will be horrified.

MICHAEL MEDVED, FILM CRITIC: This movie is not Auschwitz. We have real dangers in the world. We have real enemies in the world as Jews. Mel Gibson isn't one of them.

COLLINS: Not surprisingly, the polarizing film opened to mixed reviews. "New York Daily News" calls "The Passion" -- quote -- "The most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II." "USA Today" gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Subtle, haunting moments sustain the power of 'The Passion,' but the intensity is numbed by excruciating violence."

The film's extreme violence has been one of the main topics of criticism.

JIM CAVIEZEL, ACTOR, "THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST": Many people look at this and say, well, this is gratuitous violence, but we don't see it that way. It is a sacrifice, the greatest sacrifice.

COLLINS: Gibson says he had to tackle "The Passion" no matter what the risks.

GIBSON: Because I'm passionate about it and because that's what art is. And that's what making art is about. It's about sort of throwing it all out there. I think -- and if the fur is not flying, you ain't doing nothing.

COLLINS: A creed Gibson has lived by his entire life. Mel Gibson is known as one of Australia's most famous exports but he was born in upstate New York.

CAGLE: His father was a railroad man, and the family fell on incredibly hard times when his father had an injury. But the saving grace for the family came in 1968 when Hutton Gibson who was very, very smart won $25,000 on "Jeopardy".

COLLINS: The windfall helped Gibson's father move the family to Australia when Mel was 12. In part, so his sons would avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. The children were brought up as strict Catholics.

CAGLE: Mel, his life, has been heavily influenced by his father. His father was very unhappy with what he considered the modernization of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. So Mel has now, after a few wild years, embraced the same kind of very, very conservative Catholicism that his father believed in.

COLLINS: Gibson considered joining the priesthood as a youth but instead found his way into acting. He attended Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Art after his sister sent him an application.

GIBSON: She just wanted to get me out of the house.



COLLINS: In 1979, 23-year-old Mel Gibson landed the lead in the Australian action film "Mad Max." The film was not a huge box office hit, however, the sequel, "The Road Warrior" was.

ROZEN: Mel Gibson was just totally cool in "Toad Warrior."

GIBSON: You want to get out of here? You talk to me.

ROZEN: He was obviously this sort of fabulous, tough guy with a little bit of a kind of sneering sense of humor and it proved a potent combination.

COLLINS: In 1985, "People" named Gibson its first Sexiest Man Alive.

GIBSON: The sexiest man alive, hey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you think?

GIBSON: Well, it's true, of course. And, I was just very relieved to read that I wasn't the sexiest man dead.

COLLINS: He may have been sexy, but he wasn't available. In 1980, he married Robin Moore, a nurse.

CAGLE: One of the ways that Mel shows her respect is by not talking about her. He'll talk about changing the baby's diapers and being a dad and all of that stuff but he really respects her right to privacy.

COLLINS: But in the mid 1980s, Gibson was also known as Mad Mel with a reputation for drinking and causing trouble. While filming the movie, "The Bounty," Gibson was involved a bar fight forcing the director to temporarily shoot Gibson from one side. And in 1984, he was arrested for drunken driving while filming "Mrs. Soffell" in Toronto.

CAGLE: These days, all you read about is Mel is such a Catholic; Mel is making a movie about Christ, etcetera. But it was not that long ago when Mel's reputation was really, you know, despite the wife and children, a guy who really liked to go out and tie one on. And that's what he was known for.

COLLINS: In 1985, after making four films in little more than a year, Gibson realized he needed a break.

GIBSON: I wasn't channeling the energy properly. It was too much in the race and I didn't have enough Petrol, but I was going for the finish line anyway. And I think you just got to make a pit stop every now and then. Don't you love these crappy analogies?

Come on, you got to get up and catch bad guys.

COLLINS: After a year off in Australia, Gibson returned to Hollywood with a bang, in the movie "Lethal Weapon."

GIBSON: He's got a gun.

COLLINS: The film became the biggest hit of his young career. Mel Gibson was a full-fledged star.

GIBSON: There's no way to prepare for it. I think you do yourself a disservice by trying to sort of rail out against it because you're only doing damage to yourself. You might as well lay back and enjoy it.

COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, Mel meets Oscar. GIBSON: Yes, this is a pretty cool night. As experiences go, it's better than an appendectomy.

COLLINS: And later, Gibson's passion ignites controversy.

GIBSON: He's an anti-Semite. He's an anti-Semite. He's an anti-Semite. I'm not. But they like to say that in the newspapers.





GIBSON: It's surprising you haven't heard about me, you know, because I got a bad reputation. I mean sometimes I just go nuts like now.

COLLINS (voice-over): In 1989, Mel Gibson proved once again he was an explosive force at the box office. "Lethal Weapon II" was a bigger hit than the original and the four-part series would take in nearly a billion dollars worldwide.

ROZEN: "Lethal Weapon" made Mel Gibson an international box office star. I mean it made him huge. It showed he could really -- in action pictures, he could do it. He could be romantic. It also showed that he could really do the sense of humor thing.

GIBSON: We're bad. You're black. I'm mad.

I try to make it fun. If it's not fun to me, it's just not worth it. One has to enjoy one's craft. I mean if it becomes a burden, you might as well give it away.

COLLINS: Gibson is known for making it fun on the set, pulling pranks such as putting a frozen rat in Julia Robert's trailer when they made the movie, "Conspiracy Theory."

JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS: More than once that day.

GIBSON: No, it was the same one, but several times. It was recycled.

ROBERST: I kept hiding it and he kept finding it and giving it back to me in different ways.


COLLINS: Gibson's career was white hot. But off screen, his party boy image was starting to cool down. Gibson had gotten the nickname, Mad Mel, in the 1980s due in large part to his drinking. That rowdy reputation would change when his wife pressured him to stop. CAGLE: When Mel decided to change his life, and quit drinking, that is when he really went back to the Catholicism of his youth. And I think that that spirituality is what has filled him up once the alcohol stopped filling him up.

COLLINS: Gibson and his wife, Robin, now have seven children who are kept out of the public eye.

GIBSON: I'm kind of a household Hitler, I suppose, if I can use that word. And, you know, it's our decision that they stay away from it until they're old enough.

COLLINS: Gibson has never been known for his political correctness and his choice of words has gotten him into trouble. In 1991, he made comments about homosexuals to the Spanish newspaper, "El Pais," which offended gay groups. Gibson later said his quotes were misinterpreted. And in the 1995 "Playboy" interview, he raised eyebrows when he expressed his belief in creationism, his dislike of feminists and expounded on conspiracy theories, involving Rhodes scholars, several presidents and the Federal Reserve.

CAGLE: Mel has stirred up some controversy before. He said some dumb things like, you know, a seemingly homophobic remark at one point, which he regrets. But in general he doesn't mind a fight.

COLLINS: Gibson risked more criticism began branching out his career. In 1990, he left behind the big budget action flicks and tried his hand at Shakespeare, tackling the role of hamlet.

GIBSON: To be or not to be, that is the question.

It's all there, sex and violence and passion and love and hate. We just want to make it accessible to an audience. It is kind of scary and it's exciting but, hey, live. You might only live once, you know.

ROZEN: It wasn't an entirely successful Hamlet but he was impressive in the role. I mean, you didn't go, whoa, is that embarrassing? What was he thinking? You said, worthwhile interpretation.

COLLINS: Gibson also went behind the camera. He made his directorial debut in "The Man Without a Face." He starred in the role, as well.

GIBSON: Everyone does sooner or later.

It's a most fulfilling way of expressing yourself that I have found to date because you have to conceive of a whole story and a way to tell it and a way show it, you know, with image, with film, which really, I guess, tests your metal.


COLLINS: Gibson's next directorial challenge was one of epic proportions, "Braveheart." The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Picture and a Best Director statue for Gibson.

GIBSON: I feel like, you know, the Doublemint twins, you know. It's...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.

GIBSON: ... my wildest expectations come true for this evening.

ROZEN: I think "Braveheart" enabled him to show that he could be a director of a film that was commercially successful and that he could make the movie he wanted to make.

COLLINS: But when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, the controversy over Gibson's latest film and how he portrays Jews in "The Passion of The Christ."

MEDVED: I think "The Passion of The Christ" has been unfairly attacked as some kind of the anti-Semitic creed, as some kind of hate- filled cinematic document. It is none of that.

HIER: The main theme is that basically, it was the Jew that did Jesus in.





COLLINS (voice-over): After winning two Academy Awards for 1995's "Braveheart," Mel Gibson turned his attention back to acting. He tackled drama, playing the father of a kidnapping victim in "Ransom."

GIBSON: I don't think we'll ever see Sean again, that's if he's still alive to begin with.

COLLINS: He played soldiers, a Revolutionary one in "The Patriot" and a Vietnam Lieutenant Colonel in "We Were Soldiers." He even did light comedy in the hit "What Women Want."

GIBSON: Honey, you just lost yourself five pounds.

COLLINS: Gibson's most recent smash was a movie that hit close to home, "Signs."

Are you hurt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think God did it.

ROZEN: In "Signs," he's playing a dark -- it's a dark and troubled character. He's playing a reverend who lost his faith following the death of his wife. It's one of these tales of sort of salvation and I think Gibson is very much attracted to this kind of material.

COLLINS: Gibson has said he went through a spiritual crisis of his own about 13 years ago. In an interview with the Roman Catholic Network, Eternal Word Television, he described how he turned to the story of Christ's crucifixion for help.

GIBSON: Like most of us, I mean you get to a point in your life where you're pretty wounded by everything that goes on around you, by your own transgressions, by other people's -- you know, I mean just life as a -- it's kind of a scarring thing. So, I used "The Passion" as a meditation of healing myself.

COLLINS: Gibson says it was that spiritual experience that motivated him to make his latest movie, a retelling of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life in "The Passion of The Christ." Gibson is a Catholic but has expressed his displeasure with the Roman Catholic Church, especially since the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s. He has even built his own church in California where mass is performed in traditional Latin.

LARRY KING, HOST: You don't like the new church? The mass in English? The...


KING: Why not?

GIBSON: It's missing some stuff. It's missing some very important things. I don't believe the trance substantiation occurs anymore. I mean if there's not rules, if there's not an absolute, then it's not worth much.

COLLINS: Gibson's film has been the subject of much discussion since Gibson announced the project in September 2002. He first raised eyebrows by financing the movie with $30 million of his own money and then by having his actors speak in only Latin and Aramaic.

However, curiosity soon turned to controversy. In March 2003, the "New York Times" magazine interviewed Gibson's father, Hutton. Like his son, the elder Gibson is a devout Catholic who finds fault with the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II. But in the interview, Hutton Gibson also stated that the second Vatican Council was -- quote -- "A Masonic plot backed by the Jews." He also questioned whether six million Jews were actually killed in the Holocaust.

MEDVED: The terrible thing about bringing Mel Gibson's 85-year- old father, Hutton Gibson, into this dispute is you put Mel in a completely untenable position. Either he rejects and attacks his own dad, which no one wants to do, or he is guilty by association of some of his father's more outrageous and unconventional ideas.

COLLINS: The controversy grew when a group of scholars concerned about the direction of "The Passion" obtained an early version of the script without Gibson's permission. The group then raised concerns the film would be anti-Semitic, angering the filmmaker. GIBSON: They submitted a 26-page document from a script that they read of how I was to change my film. This is not communist Russia. This is not China. This is the United States of America. How could they do that? How can they do that and get away with it?

CAGLE: He risked being seen as an anti-Semite himself by, you know, attacking them back in public. He just will not tolerate anybody picking on him or saying that he's wrong without good cause.

COLLINS: Gibson himself has repeatedly denied he or his film are anti-Semitic.

GIBSON: I don't want to lynch any Jews. I mean it's like -- it's not what I'm about. I love them. I pray for them. I pray sincerely that every man, woman and child of the Jewish people ends up with his name written in the book of life.

COLLINS: Before the film was released, Gibson held screenings for hand picked audiences, mostly consisting of Catholics and evangelical Christian groups.

ROZEN: The whole marketing campaign, publicity campaign for this Mel movie has obviously been controversial. I mean he's been showing it to very select audiences, not including those who have criticized the movie without ever seeing. And yet, mostly Mel Gibson man, his people, have not given them a chance to see the movie.

COLLINS: The marketing campaign paid off. Opening on more than 2,800 screens nationwide, "The Passion" raked in nearly $25 million on its first day. That's more than half the amount Gibson put up to finance the film. There were protests outside some theaters. Several Jewish leaders who have seen it are angry about how they say Jews are portrayed in the film and the conclusions that may be drawn about who killed Christ.

HIER: The disciples of Jesus, they come across as moderates. The Romans, sensitive. The Jews, cruel on the -- it's almost like demon-like characters. So, the audience will conclude who did this inhumanity to Jesus? And they'll conclude it was the Jews.

MEDVED: The real victims of this stupid controversy are going to be people like my children and Jewish people around the country because the attacks on the movie are producing far more anti-Semitic reactions than anything in the movie itself.

COLLINS: Despite criticism, Gibson says the film stays true to the gospel and its message.

GIBSON: This film collectively blames humanity on the death of Jesus. Now, there are no exemptions there. All right? I'm first on the line for culpability. I did it. Christ died for all men, for all times.

COLLINS: A personal statement of faith from a Hollywood icon who has risked his reputation to follow his passion.


ZAHN: Mel Gibson, though, not working on a project now, has said in interviews he would like to make more religious films in the future.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, he's a master of the movies and a commander at the box office. Now, his bad boy reputation takes a beating.




Russell Crowe's latest movie, "Master and Commander" is second only to the "Lord of The Rings" in Oscar nominations this year. The Academy Award-winning actor is known as Hollywood's tough guy on- screen and off. But Crowe's life has recently taken a surprising change of course. Here's Bill Hemmer.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russell Crowe cannot miss. Since his 1995 Hollywood debut in "The Quick and The Dead," he's garnered not one, not two, but three consecutive Academy Award nominations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Russell!

HEMMER: In 2001, he took home the Oscar for "Gladiator." And although a fourth nomination alluded Crowe this year, his newest film, Master and Commander" showed its seaworthiness by capturing 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

RUSSELL CROWE, ACTOR: By the end of the filming, I think the community and the spirit of the community was created was fantastic. And I'm quite sure that I would have gotten a number of volunteers to jump on the boat and head off to wherever if that's what would have been available to us.

HEMMER: Set in the 19th century, the film follows the high seas adventures of British Navy Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey. It's pure swashbuckling cinema.

CROWE: Fire!

HEMMER: Crowe is at the top of Hollywood's A-List, commanding $20 million per picture.

CROWE: There's not a moment to lose.

HEMMER: But through the years this Australian import has seemed anything but interested in the attention.

ANNE-MARIE O'NEILL, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: He doesn't conform to the Hollywood stereotype of how a movie star should be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must feel you're on a bit of a roll.

CROWE: Slightly.

O'NEILL: He certainly comes across as surly when he's at award shows.

HEMMER: Award shows, press conferences, you name it.

CROWE: Mate, I don't do my job to garner praise or garner awards. So you can take your cynicism and you can put it where the sun don't shine.

SANZ: You think of Russell Crowe as this sort of party boy. I mean he's not really the sort of sensitive type. You think he's tough, and he gets into fights, but I think at his heart, he's really very romantic.

HEMMER: Russell Crowe, a romantic? Judging by last spring's headlines, you bet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. and Mrs. Crowe.

HEMMER: On April 7, 2003, after 39 years of bachelorhood, Crowe married longtime girlfriend, Danielle Spencer, on his birthday. The intimate ceremony was held on his Australian ranch, and as 100 guests looked on, the notorious bad boy shed more than a few tears.

SANZ: Really, the most touching part of the ceremony was about halfway through when he was reading his vows. Russell really teared up. I mean, he got all emotional about it, and he had to start over.

HEMMER: It seems Russell Crowe is as complex as the characters he plays on the screen.

RON HOWARD, DIRECTOR: He's a really interesting paradox because he is a rough- and-tumble Aussie, he is really -- he's a rock 'n' roller, he's a motorcycler, he has a farm. He loves his farm. He's also an artist. He's an interesting combination, and I think that's probably what makes him so sort of fascinating to watch.

HEMMER: Russell Ira Crowe debuted back on April 7, 1964 in Strathmore Park, New Zealand. You could say he was born into show business. His parents were film caterers, and his grandfather was a decorated World War II cinematographer.

The family moved to Sydney, Australia when Russell was 4, and within two years, he made his first TV appearance on the series, "Spyforce."

TIM EWBANK, BIOGRAPHER: Wandering around those TV and film sets at an early age, he lost all fear and he also saw how it worked. He'd go behind a door and see there was nothing there.

HEMMER: At Sydney Boy's High School, Russell's no-fear attitude helped him on the cricket and rugby field, but it was his talent for mimicking others that got him noticed.

EWBANK: He's got a great ear, and even now, he can mimic most people.

CROWE: How wonderful, I'm talking to the BBC. Now, move your hand over here. Now, move your hand over there. Hello, how are you?

HEMMER: The family headed back to New Zealand in 1978. Russell was 14 then. Putting his acting career aside, he picked up a guitar, and he picked up a new name.

O'NEILL: In his mid teens, Russell started a band. He named himself Russ le Roq, and he was this Elvis look-alike with this hair, this big Elvis hair, really bad clothes. And he wrote his own songs, and one of them was called, "I Wanna Be Like Marlon Brando."

HEMMER: Russ le Roq would soon drop out of high school to pursue his pop star dreams.

But when his singles went rocketing to the bottom of the charts, he took up with the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," playing Dr. Frank N. Furter and Eddie for more than 400 performances.

EWBANK: I think he suddenly realized when he got up on stage and he wasn't just the singer in a band that acting was really what it -- what he really wanted to do. And from that, the seed was sown to really try and make it.

HEMMER: In 1987, Russell headed for Sydney, opting not to study at the famed National Institute of Dramatic Arts. He would audition and then hone his craft performing in the streets of Kings Cross.

Surviving would mean picking up odd jobs -- bingo caller, fruit picker, insurance salesman and waiter. He worked at this famous Sydney restaurant, Doils, for a short time, but finally in 1990, he got his big break.

He was 25, cast in a small film called "The Crossing," and during the filming; he would meet and fall in love with his co-star actress, Danielle Spencer.

EWBANK: The film opens with an incredible scene of them together, making love in some shed, I think it was. And he kissed her very, very passionately. And I think she sat up and really felt that, you know, there might be something more to this.

HEMMER: There was. The two would date on and off for the next 13 years.

Crowe's star would rise quite quickly in the land down under. He would win two Australian Film Institute Awards -- the first, for his role in the 1992 film, "Proof."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Describe him to me.

CROWE: What, each one? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Each one.

HEMMER: But it was the controversial film, "Romper Stomper" that would garner Russell Crowe his second AFI award and make him a star.

CROWE: I want people to know that I'm proud of my white history and my white blood.

ROZEN: He was the leader of a group of skinheads who were beating up anyone who didn't look like them.

CROWE: Hando is a white supremacist. He's a racist, a fascist, extremely disturbed man.

ROZEN: And you just came out of the movie going "who is that guy," "What else can he do?"

CROWE: Come on, I'm not going to fight.

HEMMER: When our story continues, Hollywood's sexist leading lady brings Russell Crowe to the Wild Wild West. But to many involved in "The Quick and The Dead," his arrival is anything but welcome.




CROWE: What are you doing here?

HEMMER (voice-over): By 1994, just about everyone in Australia knew the name Russell Crowe. Following his star-making turn in "Romper Stomper," his next film, "The Sum of Us," stunned everyone.

CROWE: I like doing it with blokes, dad, and I don't think that's ever going to change, because I don't want it to.

ROZEN: He said part of the reason he want to do it was because there were all these people who actually liked the skinhead, you know, and admired him, and he wanted to confuse them.

HEMMER: Crowe's gift for transformation and confusion would ultimately catch the eye of one of Hollywood's biggest stars, Sharon Stone. But his big-screen Hollywood debut would be anything but quick.


EWBANK: Columbus Studio heads didn't want him to be there. They felt that he wasn't up to it. Who was this guy? Nobody knew him.

SHARON STONE, ACTRESS: I saved your life last night.

ROZEN: All kinds of people were saying to her, "Are you kidding? No way, no way." She said, "No, no, no, he's the guy." EWBANK: She stuck to her guns and she was proved right. She said, you know, Russell Crowe is the sexiest guy working in movies today, and she was ahead of her time.

HEMMER: It would take two years, but in 1997, Russell Crowe happened.

HOWARD: I think "L.A. Confidential" is probably the first time that I was really sort of aware of the name "Russell Crowe" and a performance.

HEMMER: Director Curtis Hanson would cast Crowe immediately after this screen test.

CROWE: What is this justice? That's where (EXPLETIVE DELETED) justice.

HEMMER: "L.A. Confidential" would garner critical acclaim and America would notice Russell, the movie star, for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to be a big star. Are you ready for it?

CROWE: Yes, yes, when? Yes, right. Whatever.


HEMMER: Concerned he was being typecast as the tough guy, Crowe took a 14-month break. He would retreat back to his farm in Australia to read and write, play the guitar, and search for the perfect script.

It came in the form of "The Insider," playing a middle-aged corporate whistle-blower. But when director Michael Mann approached him, he hesitated.

CROWE: And I said, look, all right, it's very flattering and all that and it's a great script. But you're being a little silly here, Mr. Mann. You should go and get yourself one of them 50-year-old actors to do this job.

MICHAEL MANN, DIRECTOR, "THE INSIDER": And he came down and we read. And it was just the two of us. I was reading one part and he'd read the other, and we're working right across my desk.

CROWE: He put his hand on my chest, and he said I'm not talking to you because of your age. I'm talking to you because of what you've got in here.

MANN: I knew right then and there, this is the guy. This is Jeffrey Wigand.

CROWE: And I thought, best work with this fellow.

CROWE: You manipulated me into this.

HEMMER: Gaining nearly 50 pounds, audiences were stunned by his appearance as the former tobacco executive. That 1999 performance would garner his first Academy Award nomination.

CROWE: Forty-eight pounds I put on to play that role. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How'd you do that?

CROWE: Cheeseburgers and bourbon, mate. Ah, it was heaven.

HEMMER: Kevin Spacey took home the Oscar that year, but Crowe, once again, would make a remarkable transformation.

CROWE: At my signal, unleash hell.

HEMMER: Emerging six months later, 40 pounds lighter, with muscles to spare, he would unleash hell at the box office.

When our story continues, Hollywood's master and commander finally meets his match.

SANZ: She knew that he would eventually come back, and he did.

HEMMER: But first, Crowe falls hard for Meg Ryan, and nearly falls into the hands of kidnappers.





HEMMER: When "Gladiator" debuted in May of 2000, Russell Crowe's star power would shift into overdrive.

CROWE: You walk out into the Coliseum and there's 5,000 extras going, "Maximus, Maximus," you know, it's theater on an absolutely grand scale.

HEMMER: Ridley Scott's epic would gross nearly half a billion dollars, catapulting Crowe to Hollywood megastar, a megastar with reports of a mega ego.

O'NEILL: Russell Crowe's reputation is, as someone who's tough and arrogant, somewhat surly.

CROWE: Mate, I'm not thinking about that, you know. I'm thinking about going down to try to vixen and having a drink.

EWBANK: You know, he certainly likes to party. He likes to drink. Women find him very attractive.

HEMMER: And so would the tabloids, linking him to everyone from Jodi Foster to Nicole Kidman. Crowe denied every romance except one.

CROWE: With Meg, we were doing the job and the personal thing was separate, separate altogether. HEMMER: In June of 2000, news of an affair with "Proof of Life" co-star, Meg Ryan, would explode in the headlines. Cast as a hostage negotiator who falls in love with a married woman. Clearly, life had imitated art.

HEMMER: In the fall of 2000, photographers tracked the couple around the globe.

O'NEILL: Both of them seemed to be totally in love with each other. He took her to Australia. She met his family. He showed her around his beloved farm.

HEMMER: Crowe also introduced Meg Ryan to the band he had been playing with since the early 1990s, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.

After a successful tour, Crowe headed home to Australia. And in December, when a white tent on his property fueled rumors of marriage to Meg Ryan, he responded with anger.

CROWE: Just take, for example, the fact that, you know, somebody announces in the press that I'm getting married. If I ever am lucky enough to find the woman to make that absolute commitment and decision that I'm going to be with for the rest of my life, I don't get to experience that joy or share that joy because this parasite prick has actually published it in the newspaper or foreign people say, "What, again?"

HEMMER: The rumors were way off. Their six-month relationship was actually coming to an end. Reports would vary as to who broke it off.

CROWE: She is a magnificent woman, a marvelous person and a great actress. So that's -- you know, I don't...

KING: Sounds like you're friends.

CROWE: Absolutely. You know, and we just had an hour-long conversation maybe two nights ago.

HEMMER: Just when you thought Crowe couldn't grab one more headline, a plot to kidnap the film star surfaced.

CROWE: I had to meet with these FBI guys and stuff when I -- so I met with them, and they laid out a situation that they were very concerned about.

HEMMER: The FBI confirmed the threat, although details of the bizarre plot were never truly revealed. Some labeled it a publicity stunt. Crowe just seemed amused.

CROWE: They obviously don't know me very well. After a couple of days, mate, they'll be on the phone, now, look we've got 50 grand, please take him back!

HEMMER: In March of 2001 still surrounded by security, Crowe took home his first Oscar. The "Gladiator" was stunned.

CROWE: If you had asked me, you know, right up until the minute, I would have put a lot of money on Tom Hanks.

HEMMER: Flash forward one year later, Crowe is doing it again.

CROWE: Find a truly original idea. That's the only way I'll ever distinguish myself.

HEMMER: His role in "A Beautiful Mind" garnered his third Academy Award nomination.

ROZEN: I think there were two factors at work here, in his not getting the Oscar. One, I'm not sure the Hollywood community was ready to canonize him yet, to go yes, you are the new king. So that was a factor. Two, Denzel Washington was really, really good.

HEMMER: Oscar aside; it was his increasingly high profile companion, fellow Aussie, Danielle Spencer, who had fans abuzz.

KING: Are you now in love?

CROWE: Yes, I am. Yes.

KING: Do you want to tell us who?

CROWE: No, I don't.

CROWE: Sarah's coming home again.

EWBANK: He's written some very nice songs, and several of them are very much about his longstanding girlfriend, Danielle. She's seen the lows. She's seen the highs. You know, she's seen him when he was absolutely nothing. She's -- was at his side when he won an Oscar.

HEMMER: And on April 7, 2003, she was by his side again, this time as Mrs. Russell Crowe. Clad in Armani, the couple emerged from the small chapel on Crowe's Australian ranch. The ceremony had been short, just 20 minutes, and as rose petals flew and portraits were taken, emotions ran high. This union, 13 years in the making, seems to have tamed the edgy super star.

On November 14, after a two-year hiatus, Russell Crowe returned to the big screen in "Master and Commander." Since its release, the movie has grossed more than $189 million worldwide. But it's not just "Master and Commander" that has everyone talking. The 39-year-old actor recently took on another demanding role, as a new father. He and wife, Danielle, welcomed their son, Charles Spencer Crowe on December 21, 2003.

CROWE: And you can sail away tonight.

HEMMER: Father, lover, fighter, rocker, biker, farmer, movie star of global magnitude, the young Aussie who penned the song "I Wanna Be Like Marlon Brando" seems to have gotten his wish, and then some.

CROWE: This is a great job, and I want to encourage every one of you in this room to give everything you can to the story. God bless narrative. God bless originality. Good night. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Russell Crowe is currently recovering from a dislocated shoulder he suffered while preparing for his next role as Depression- era boxing hero, Jim Bragg.

That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Coming up next week, from unknowns to American Idols. We look at the transformation of Rueben Studdard and Clay Aiken. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. I hope you'll be back with us next week.

ANNOUNCER: For more on Mel Gibson and his "Passion of The Christ," pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week.


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