When I was at the industry premiere the other night for “State of Play,” sandwiched between Hollywood agents, the reaction to seeing Russell Crowe for the first time on screen as the film’s investigative journalist was pretty blunt — as in “OMG, is he porky!”
Having been around reporters for years, I wasn’t so shocked, because Crowe’s look was all too true to life — I can’t think of any sportswriter who’s ever been nicknamed Slim. But with “State of Play” opening to a very mediocre $14.1 million over the weekend, Crowe’s ample girth has inspired a host of unpleasant industry speculation, largely revolving around the fact that the star’s films did a lot better business when he looked muscular (think “Gladiator”) than chubby (think “State of Play” or the star’s previous commercial flop, “Body of Lies”). You know you’re fair game when the august New York a story over the weekend all about overweight actors. The obvious hook was Crowe. Describing a scene in “State of Play” in which Crowe, as the journalist hero, squares off with an oily politician played by Jeff Daniels, the Times’ Michael Cieply drolly wrote: “Two men. One notebook. Four chins.” The story was so crammed with carefully disguised snark that the Vulture blog was moved to mercilessly mock the whole affair, saying it made the lofty Times look like US Weekly.
So it wouldn’t involve a great leap of faith to imagine that today’s USA Today “first look”at Crowe’s appearance in Universal’s upcoming “Robin Hood” movie was a pretty shrewd example of damage control. As you can see, Crowe looks, well, almost back to his former self. He’s just as rough-hewn as nearly every other Robin Hood we’ve ever seen — wearing a week’s worth of stubble, a burlap hoodie, a bow-guard on his left arm and pants that look more like deerskin leggings than tights. He may not be as slim as Errol Flynn, but at least he doesn’t look like he should be playing Friar Tuck.
Universal’s PR wizards insist that the photo exclusive wasn’t in reaction to the industry waggishness about Crowe’s heft. The story was more of a tactical move to get a good photo into circulation before an unflattering paparazzi shot surfaced, because the film is shooting exteriors that could be subject to long-lens chicanery. But of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a new photo in circulation featuring Crowe in better physical shape than he’s been seen in lately.
USA Today didn’t get access to Crowe, only to “Robin Hood” producer Brian Grazer, who stayed on message, explaining that Crowe is “very medieval. he looks, if anything, more like he did in ‘Gladiator’ than anything we’re used to seeing with Robin Hood.” Grazer added that Crowe’s character is “trying to create equality in a world where there are a lot of injustices. He’s a crusader for the people, trying to reclaim some of the ill-gotten gains of the wealthy.”
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