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Tussle with Russell

First Brando, now Crowe. Greatness is never easy

Long before Maximus plunged a stiletto into Commodus’ throat and Bud White raged against L.A. corruption, Russell Crowe (a.k.a. Rus le Roq) loved to sing “I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando” in O’Reilly’s Pub in St. John’s Newfoundland.

“That song, tongue- in-cheek to a degree, has some truth to it,” says “The Sum of Us” director Kevin Dowling. “It goes to the complexity of Russell’s character. Marlon Brando was this mythic unbelievably talented, meticulous actor. And that’s the kind of actor Russell wanted to be, and is.”

In his early days as an Aussie film actor, Crowe played a neo-Nazi Korean head-basher in “Romper Stomper” and a gay rugby player in “Sum of Us,” proving to Hollywood that he had the rage. And the range.

The actor went on to demonstrate to other directors that he had guts, vulnerability and also the ability to ask seemingly endless questions about his character.

“He came to my office wearing this beard and mustache,” says “No Way Back” director Frank Cappello. “He was really into his character, FBI agent Zack Grant. He explained that Zack’s beard and moustache were about ‘this man in hiding, this man that needs another chance.’ ”

Or, as “L.A. Confidential” director Curtis Hanson remembers it, “Russell likes to have his beer, and he gave up having anything to drink during the entire time we were shooting. He wanted to be that hard, that solid.”

Crowe is a bloke’s bloke. And if you do your job you could be one of Russell’s blokes. If not…

“People think he’s a bully,” adds Cappello. “But his bulliness comes out when he just gets sick of a bunch of people that don’t move. I’ve always defended him. When I hear he threw a phone at somebody, I go, ‘Well, the guy was probably a prick anyway.’ ”

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