A few weeks ago Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, who are both starring in the new movie American Gangster. I was reading along, amused at their reminiscences of the only other movie they’ve both been in, Virtuosity (a completely nonsensical piece of trash that I sat through only because I was on a Russell Crowe kick at the time), when I was totally knocked out of the mood by the following exchange:
Russell Crowe: I said a thing to Spike [Lee] one night, and he’s never been the same with me since. He was trying to get me to play Max Schmeling in the Joe Louis story. If I was in it, he’d get this $100 million financing. But it’s just a secondary role. And I said to him, “I want to be Joe Louis. I want to be Muhammad Ali. If you want to work with me, let me be Joe Louis. Can you not dig that, man?”
Denzel Washington: And you haven’t heard from him since?
Crowe: Well, I think he took it the wrong way. And quite frankly, I think there’s no wrong way of taking that. It’s like, You’re the fucking man, you’re going to make the movie, but I don’t want to be there, playing second fiddle. I want to be the thing you’re focused on and I’ll focus on you and we’ll work on this together. But for whatever reason I don’t get any more birthday cards from him.
— Entertainment Weekly, Nov. 2, 2007
Crowe has a reputation for being an asshole that I used to discount as selective reporting, willful misreading of the facts in pursuit of controversy, whatever… Now I have to admit that he IS an asshole. So he’s only willing to work with someone if he gets to play the lead role? Even if that flies in the face of plausibility and takes a job away from a black actor? He’s not satisfied with all the white boy roles? He wants to take the small sliver of the pie that black people get away from them, too? What an arrogant, self-involved, clueless jackass. Granted, he is from Australia, where the cultural backdrop and history of racial tension is a little different than here in the States, and maybe he doesn’t fully understand how his words will be taken. But he isn’t even willing to try. In his mind, Spike Lee is the one who is at fault for not understanding him. Except that, even if you do understand him, he still comes across as an egomaniac. I can just imagine Spike Lee leveling his patented dead-eyed stare at him in reaction.
Washington’s reaction is a model of restraint. Rather than immediately calling Crowe out on what he just said, he waits until later to point out something obvious:
Washington: Have you been offered any superheroes?
Crowe: (smiling) A couple.
Washington: Ha! “A couple.” See, I haven’t gotten that. I can’t be Superman. I’ll tell you what: if you can be Joe Louis, I’ll play Superman.
Touché. I wonder if Crowe realized how thoroughly outclassed he was in this interview. If not, maybe someday he’ll figure it out.