The lone ranger

Was it coincidence that in the same week that Russell Crowe joined such superstars as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Jim Carrey as celebs who could demand at least $20 million a movie, he was also voted winner of the Nightmare Category in a poll of top Hollywood bosses! "He's the most difficult guy I've ever worked with," said one Hollywood producer. "The problem is he makes hit movies and the public love him!"

And another said: "Russell always has an opinion and  thinks he's smarter than anyone else The trouble is that he usually is." Just 20 years years  since he burst on the Hollywood scene,48-year-old Russell Crowe  can take his pick of the plum roles. His new movie, Les Miserables, reckoned the best-ever film musical, is already being tipped for a handful of Oscar nominations for Russell and co-stars Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. Russell plays menacing police officer Javert and gets to sing live in the movie. "One of the most frightening things I've ever done," he says. Now he has enough back-to-back movies to keep him working non-stop for the next three years. But if Hollywood is deeply impressed by Russell Crowe, the feeling isn't always reciprocated. "I just have to get away from Los Angeles before it drives me mad," he says.  So nowadays he spends as much time as possible in Australia, where he has no less than four houses including a waterside apartment in Sydney and a 600-acre remote Australian ranch eight hours north of Sydney .

Here Hollywood's new tough guy walks for hours among the animals and birds, or indulges in his other relaxing hobby...knitting! "It may sound pretty strange," Russell says. "But it's something I've done since I was a kid and it's very soothing. Just what I need after being in the Hollywood rat-race." In fact TV and film sets have always been part of Russell's life — his parents were food caters for film casts and crews and by the time he was six, Russell was playing an orphan in the Australian TV series Spyforce. Russell says he always knew he wanted a life in show-business but it took him a long time to get a real break — "I did lots of auditions and failed miserably."

Finally he got a small part as a neo-Nazi skinhead in the controversial Australian movie Romper Stomper and was snapped up by a major Hollywood studio. Despite a reputation for being a volatile hell-raiser, Russell was soon accepted as a rising star. After a sensitive portrayal of a gay man in The Sum Of Us, he got his big break in LA Confidential as a brutal cop who fell in love with a hooker played by Kim Basinger. Kim won an Oscar but Russell Crowe was surprisingly overlooked. "I was a bit disappointed but I don't begrudge Kim the honour," he says. It didn't take long for fellow-professionals to appreciate Russell's talent. "He reminds me of myself when I was young," said Anthony Hopkins,who co-starred with Russell in the thriller The Efficiency Expert.  And Sharon Stone, who insisted on Russell being cast opposite her in the quirky western The Quick and the Dead, said: "He is a major talent."

Sadly, Russell's personal life is less successful than his soaring career. His nine-year-marriage to Danielle Spencer — they have two sons — ended last October and now Russell is bracing himself to pay a divorce settlement which could be more than 15 million pounds. After his current movie, Russell plans to take off for his Outback hideaway for a little peace and quiet. "I've got so much land I can walk for hours without seeing a soul," he says.


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