Russell Crowe was social distancing before it was cool and advantageous to one’s health.
“It turns out that I’ve been self-isolating on and off for the last 30 years and I’m completely comfortable with it and quite good at it,” says Crowe, 56, by phone from his Australian farm. While the global COVID-19 crisis “worries me,” everything’s been OK in his daily existence: “I live in a rural area surrounded by wildlife and other animals – Angus cows and horses and what have you – so it’s been perfect for me, actually.”
His laid-back nature is a contrast to his latest role in the road-rage thriller “Unhinged” (in theaters Friday), the first major new movie released in reopened cinemas since the pandemic struck in March. He plays a nihilistic, truck-driving character known only as The Man, who viciously pursues a woman (Caren Pistorius) and her son (Gabriel Bateman) after the mom honks at the unstable stranger at a traffic light.
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“I was extremely turned off when I read the script. I actually got a little physically ill, and I said to my agent, ‘I definitely don’t feel like I would engage in this at all,'” Crowe says. But “it just started to become something that I felt compelled to do, to flip the intellectual process aside and understand the importance of this subject. Where is this rage in society coming from? What do we do to unpack what we’ve built with that?”
Crowe spoke with USA TODAY about “Unhinged,” bringing people back to the movies and his newest ride.
Q: How have the last few months been treating you?
Russell Crowe: I’ve been very productive. I started to feel like I was dragging around empty tin cans and loose tailpipes, and this period of time where my travel has been reduced to nothing, it’s allowed me to be able to complete a few things. So I’ve actually been writing songs and writing scripts and working on future projects (as well as) the health of the paddocks and the cows and the horses.
Q: Do you feel The Man is one of your most intense roles?
Crowe: I’ll leave that for other people to judge. The difficulty in a character like this is his singular purpose. There’s no way you can justify his actions. You can’t use humanity to soften who he is because that would be cheap. This is a real thing. We’ve seen episode after episode of people taking these types of actions. Obviously, I’m alluding to mass shooting incidents, but in this instance, the weapon is not an AR-15; it’s a car. But it’s the same type of thought process where for his reasons, this man has stepped into a fight that completely lacks humanity and empathy, and he is just going to destroy until he is destroyed.
Q: If you had your druthers, would you have waited a little bit longer to release “Unhinged” in theaters?
Crowe: If the exhibitors and local governments are working together on what the definition of safety is, that’s the most important thing for me. It’s like this strange place we’re in at the moment where all these things are happening for real around us and we’re kind of leaning back to that place where those things only exist in our imagination.
I learned very early on that I shouldn’t have an opinion about when a film comes out because we held back “Cinderella Man” from its December release (in 2004) and released it the following (June). I was feeling like I’d had a big year; I’d separated my shoulder so I had to get it operated on, and then straight into rehab and then back into the film after 20 days. That was right on the heels of “The Insider,” “Gladiator,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Master and Commander” so it was a busy period for me. I suggested a date shift and then absolutely ruined that movie. (Laughs)
Q: Have you picked up any new hobbies in lockdown?
Crowe: Well, not new hobbies, but I did buy myself a new tractor. Every time I went to get a little tractor to do a job, there was another job that needed doing as well. So I spent 20 grand or so and bought myself a Kubota BX – it’s not like a full-size tractor, it’s a little one, but it has a ripper and it’s also a mower. Being dexterous with the bucket on the front of the tractor has definitely been a new skill that I’ve taken upon myself to learn. And I’m pretty good with it, actually. So, you know, it’s not playing the (expletive) violin.
Q: A tractor is so much cooler than the violin though.
Crowe: (Laughs) It has its practical uses.