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It’s been ‘A Good Year’ for Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe has gone from Aussie bad boy with a reputation for throwing punches and the occasional telephone to sturdy, loving family man.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Though not yet 3, Russell Crowe's oldest son already is adept at packing for long overseas trips.

After two months on his own shooting a film in New York City, Crowe was eager to see his wife and kids, who had stayed home in Australia. The feeling was mutual, Crowe said, relating a telephone conversation he had with his wife a couple of weeks before the family was to join him in New York for the rest of the shoot.

"She was saying she heard all this noise in the corridor, so she went to check out what it was, and there's my son dragging a laden suitcase down the corridor," Crowe said in an interview at September's Toronto International Film Festival, where his latest movie, "A Good Year," premiered.

"She said, ‘What are you doing?' He said, ‘I'm going to America to see Daddy.' So they turned it into a game. Every day, he packs his bag now."

Since marrying longtime girlfriend Danielle Spencer in 2003, Crowe, 42, has gone from Aussie bad boy with a reputation for throwing punches and the occasional telephone to sturdy, loving family man.

The sweet romance "A Good Year" reflects that, tracing an investment shark's transition from ruthless competitor to laid-back lover who takes the time to smell the grapes on the Provence vineyard he inherits.

The film reunites him with Ridley Scott, who directed Crowe to a best-actor Academy Award for the savagely violent "Gladiator." "A Good Year" shows the soft, romantic face of Crowe, a side he continually shows in conversation as he gushes about his wife and children.

Ready for reunion with his familyAfter their second son was born last July, Crowe had to leave for New York almost immediately to work on another film with Scott, "American Gangster." Following a weekend of publicity for "A Good Year" in Toronto, Crowe was heading back to New York, where his family was to arrive a week later.

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"I'm away from them at the moment, so it's a little difficult right now. But a minute ago it was eight weeks, but now it's eight days and I'm gonna see them, and that's fantastic," Crowe said.

After "American Gangster," in which Crowe plays a cop going after a Harlem drug lord (Denzel Washington) in the 1970s, Crowe and his family planned some time off in Europe. Then they were off to New Mexico, where Crowe was shooting the Western remake "3:10 to Yuma."

Despite the busy schedule, Crowe said he's far less consumed by work now that he has a family. As a single man, "I was a gypsy, I could leave in 30 seconds," Crowe said.

Now the work has to fit with his top priority, his wife and kids.

"I don't think I expect what I used to expect out of my job, and that certain level of intensity that I would bring to the job," Crowe said. "That kind of intensity, that energy to be that intense has to be filtered now through my wife, through my boys and through all these other things that I've learned over time are far more important than making a movie.

"That doesn't mean I have a negative attitude. I love being on a film set. It's a really privileged place to be," Crowe said. His wife "doesn't want to stop me being creative. She doesn't want to stop me enjoying and filling myself in that side of my life. But she doesn't want me to be that man who doesn't know where the fallout is."

Crowe has had to deal with public fallout from his temper in the past. He has a reputation for scuffling with photographers, and he pleaded guilty to third-degree assault last year for throwing a telephone that hit a Manhattan hotel concierge.

"My life is full of some days that are diamonds and some days that are not, the same as everybody else," Crowe said. "Unfortunately, you have that thing of when you have a (bad) day it makes the front page, and somebody else can get away with it.

"But there is a lot of just intentional misinformation, as well. I've never had a fight with a photographer, for example, but you can find hundreds of articles on the Net which will list me fighting with paparazzi, something I do apparently on a regular basis. But that's just not true. ... I just don't bother letting it bug me anymore, and because it doesn't bug me, in this odd way, it happens less."

It all seems to come back to Crowe as a happy family guy. Even the telephone incident was family related. It happened after Crowe became frustrated that the phone would not work as he tried to call his wife back home in Australia.

"I think it comes to us all at a certain point. ... You get your priorities in place," "A Good Year" director Scott said. "I think he's really enjoying being a dad."

Scott said he went for a simple poster to promote "A Good Year" — a tight shot of Crowe with a tranquil air and a broad grin — because it toyed with audience expectations.

"That poster of him is kind of disarming, because you're going, who is that? Oh my gosh, Russell Crowe looking relaxed and happy?" Scott said of the actor known for heavy dramas such as "The Insider" and "A Beautiful Mind," which earned Oscar nominations for Crowe.

"A Good Year" parallels the choices Crowe made to keep family life ahead of career. His character, Max Skinner, finds himself torn between his take-no-prisoners life as a London investment whiz and the idyllic world he finds in Provence.

For Max, it's an agonizing decision. For Crowe, it was easy, except for the occasional separations such as the two months away from his family on "American Gangster."

"I don't want to be in a situation where we're apart, but this is just about practicalities. If you want to, you can take a newly born baby onto a plane. Is it safe? No. Is it the best thing for the baby? No," Crowe said.

"Last week, he got his first series of immunizations. It was the right time to wait. Wait until Danni was comfortable about herself and about traveling and stuff. She's really enjoyed this, because she's gotten to do all the Pilates and stuff without me being around. So she's really enjoying the thought of walking back into my actual eyes and eye-line and not having any residue of being pregnant. So she can be magic girl again."