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The softer side of Russell Crowe

'Master and Commander' star enjoys marriage, awaits fatherhood

Crowe and Spencer
Russell Crowe with wife Danielle Spencer at a London showing of "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World."

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LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- It was his 63rd day of being sober, and Russell Crowe seemed to like it.

But before anyone thinks the Aussie Oscar winner has gone stone cold sober, his was "not an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) announcement."

As he explained to a group of reporters, not drinking was all part of his training for boxing film "Cinderella Man" that again teams Crowe with "Beautiful Mind" director Ron Howard.

Crowe, 39, has the reputation of being a Hollywood bad boy and barroom brawler, but marriage and impending fatherhood may be calming the star of seafaring tale "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," which opened in the United States last week with sails set for the Oscars in February.

Dressed in a crisp blue suit, Crowe declared, "This is my 63rd day without a drink," and he joked through much of the news conference. His good humor was a far cry from two years ago when in a similar setting for "Beautiful Mind," Crowe's rumpled shirt hung over his jeans, and he scowled and grumbled through his 30-minute session.

He and his wife of seven months, Danielle Spencer, are expecting a baby boy in January and Crowe told reporters that fatherhood won't change him.

"It might change what is written about me, which has always been quite separate from who I am," he said.

Crowe said he is looking forward to gazing into his baby's eyes and shaping the boy's personality. "I'm looking forward to diapers. I'm looking forward to all of it," he said.

About Danielle, he added, "I'm really enjoying watching my wife flower at the thought of being a mother."

Broadening appeal

In "Master and Commander," Crowe plays the brash Capt. Jack Aubrey.

It's hard to think Crowe hasn't gone a little soft.

Yet, when questions stray too far into fatherhood, the star of "Master and Commander" steers reporters back to the movie.

"Master and Commander" is based on Patrick O'Brian's 20 books about the 19th century adventures of swaggering sea captain Jack Aubrey, at the helm of the British Navy's HMS Surprise, and Aubrey's best friend, ship doctor Stephen Maturin.

Crowe is Aubrey and "Beautiful Mind" co-star Paul Bettany plays Maturin. "Lucky" Jack Aubrey is a hard-drinking man of the sea whose orders are to hunt down the French battleship Acheron off Brazil and sink her or capture her for England.

Maturin is a thoughtful gentleman who seems more interested in scientific discovery than battles on the high seas.

O'Brian's books were widely acclaimed for their historical detail and attention to daily life on the sea. Despite what the battle-filled advertisements might make audiences think, director Peter Weir stuck close to O'Brian's formula.

For adventure seekers, "Master and Commander" has two major skirmishes at beginning and end, and a treacherous trip around the stormy seas off Cape Horn halfway through.

"Within that framework, I could go into the minutiae of life that I wanted to go into," Weir said, "and that appeals to another kind of audience."

Early reviews put Weir's take on 200-year-old seafaring on a steady course for Oscars.

The show business paper Daily Variety called the movie "thoroughly satisfying as an atypical adventure tale studded with unusual detailing and diverting sidelights."

Learning violin

Master and Commander
Aubrey's best friend and foil is Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany).

Central to the story is the relationship between Aubrey and Maturin, and neither is the movie character he seems initially. at first. The ship's doctor wants greatly to venture across the far off Galapagos Islands and conduct scientific experiments, but when beckoned by war he performs dutifully for king and country.

"Lucky" Jack is a master tactician who is as skilled with a violin as he is with sword and pistol. He understands his duty lies not only in battle but in caring for his men and bringing his young officers up through the ranks.

It is only when Aubrey and Maturin get together to play music in private quarters that they shed they shed their rank and talk to each other as friends.

At the news conference, Crowe joked that playing the violin is "probably the most difficult stunt I've done," but he said it is central to Aubrey because it shows his sense of humanity.

"It's a big part of the balance of who he is," said Crowe.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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