Russell Crowe and director-screenwriter-producer Paul Haggis on the… (Phil Caruso / Lionsgate )
It's 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Russell Crowe is complaining.
As almost everyone on the planet knows, the star resists most attempts to get him to reveal anything. And he's happy to taunt those who take on the challenge. Which tonight happens to be me.
Sitting with director Paul Haggis at Beverly Hills' Polo Lounge several weeks before the release of their prison break thriller, "The Next Three Days," Crowe begins talking about the film. But it isn't long before one of his favorite topics comes up.
"Whatever used to be called mystery, you're not allowed to have that anymore," his lament about celebrity begins. "So there's a whole bunch of blank space that's filled in with stuff that fills up pages of your newspapers. Which is not real, and you know it's not real, and I know it's not real," he adds, not realizing — or is it not caring? — that he's impugned his present company. "And [readers] don't really care because that's what they're interested in."
This could be a long evening.
Crowe decided to make his new movie after three years of working on the big-budget spectacle of "Robin Hood" because he wanted to be a part of what he calls "an animal that moves a little faster" and because he found himself impressed with Haggis' elaborately plotted ideas. "It was the best experience I had reading a script since the 'Beautiful Mind' script. I remember telling you," he says, turning to Haggis, "that it was just that complete as an idea."
Haggis, whose eager-to-please enthusiasm offers a frequent counterpoint to Crowe's prickliness, nods. "You did say that."
Nursing a Coke Zero and casual in an oversize zippered sweatshirt emblazoned with the words "North Bergen" (a play for New Jersey street cred?), Crowe says he treats publicity as just another part. He learned long ago, he said, that the secret of doing well on talk shows is "to play a character who enjoys going on talk shows."
He doesn't seem to be tackling the role tonight, however. The actor occasionally directs his answers toward me. But most of his attention is reserved for Haggis, with whom he has an easy rapport as the two laugh uproariously recalling on-set war stories (reckless car-chase scenes and the like). Haggis, in a busy blue T-shirt, with the last tendrils of his hair clinging to the base of his scalp, is lean and energetic and full of ideas about his movie — and every so often feels the need to apologize or offer an explanation on Crowe's behalf.
"Probably nobody knows that Russell was one of the first people who sponsored our [post- earthquake] school in Haiti," Haggis points out as Crowe finishes a give-me-privacy jag. "He put his money — a whole lot of money — and he didn't go out and make a big press thing about it."
"But you are now," Crowe responds, half-smiling but also looking perturbed.
There are many celebrities who guard their privacy. But those actors want to downplay the tabloid fodder to talk about their movies. Crowe, however, doesn't really want to talk about that either.
"If I ever was going to torture somebody, I'd put them in a room where they can't leave and have someone new come in every three minutes and ask the same question over a number of days and then weeks," he says, describing the process of a film junket, on which he — oops — is about to embark.
Crowe turns again to Haggis: "Have you ever been on a junket where at the beginning of the day you find you were definitive about certain things? And then over the course of the day your brain is going 'What am I saying?' And so by the end of the day, you find yourself putting to death what you were championing that morning." Haggis nods. "I've done that."
But where were we? Oh, yes, one of the movies that Crowe doesn't like being interviewed about.
"Three Days," a remake of the French thriller "Pour Elle," puts a twist on the typical jailbreak film. Unlike genre classics such as "The Shawshank Redemption" or "Midnight Express," this story is told from the outside, lending the free-ranging perspective of a heist picture to the usual urgency of a prison film. In his quest to free his wife ( Elizabeth Banks), whom he believes has been wrongly convicted of murder, Crowe's character, a literature professor named John Brennan, learns the art of counterfeit passports and lock-picking as the breakout plot slowly takes shape.
Fred Cavayé's 2008 original had a streamlined narrative; Haggis, who set and shot his version in Pittsburgh, adds a parallel police investigation, a web of new characters and a more ambiguous resolution to the climactic getaway. "It may be the only English-language remake of a French movie that's darker than the original," Haggis says with a laugh.