Archive for December, 2009

Crowe-ing About Pittsburgh
December 5, 2009

When you work in broadcast journalism, be it local or network, you get to interview some fascinating people.  You even get to interview some famous people. And, sometimes, you get to interview famous people who are fascinating. Russell Crowe is one of those. Dynamic, brilliant, gifted, versatile, observant, funny, and so devoted to his family. Am I gushing? You bet. He has always been my favorite actor, along with Viggo Mortensen of LOTR fame. According to bios about Mr. Crowe, he was offered the part of Aragorn, but had to turn it down because of “A Beautiful Mind,” for which he received an Oscar nomination.  Coincidentally, Mr. Mortensen was here a little less than two years ago, making “The Road,” which is in theatres now.

The local stations didn’t get to interview Mr. Mortensen, which is often the case when big films and big stars are in the area. Frankly, it’s understandable. The actors and directors are working killer hours, so who has time for a flurry of distractions?

That’s why I was so surprised that Lionsgate, the production company for “The Next Three Days,” got in touch with a couple of us who had requested an interview with Mr. Crowe. Blown away is a better description. When you spend decades in this business,  you interview a lot of celebrities–in sports, politics and entertainment.  This was the only time I can remember freaking out when I learned that a request had been granted. A huge “thank you” to publicist, Emma Cooper, who was just wonderful in setting this all up, and to  Jessica Connor , from the Pittsburgh Film Office, for helping to facilitate it .

What made it even better was this guy, Lenni Todd, one of our veteran photojournalists.  Mr. Crowe recognized Lenni, when he saw him  on the Sharpsburg set Thursday. Lenni had met Mr. Crowe during the G20 Summit. Lenni and a BBC photographer had gone to one of  Lenni’s favorite  taverns in Lawrenceville. (Lenni says it is a bar, but I liked the sound of tavern better). Who should walk in, but Russell Crowe. Lenni talked to him for some time, and told us all what a great guy he was.

Mr. Crowe started popping up everywhere in Pittsburgh. Penguins games, Steelers games, local restaurants. He told us he had  biked over 500 miles all around the area. I even had the chance to meet him in Regent Square. They had been filming at a house across the street from friends of mine, Dr. Geoff Kurland and his wife, Kristen, a CMU professor. Kristen had met some of the crew members,

because of a family connection (Kristen is on the right, Skip is the crew member, and her sister Sueanne, next to me, is the “family connection”). So one night, Kristen invited me over, and Mr. Crowe was talking to all the neighbors watching the production. Someone brought him toward us, and Kristen was introduced to him. But she forgot to introduce her husband and me! We teased her that we were standing right in front of THE Russell Crowe, and never met him. Well, that changed!

Both director, Paul Haggis and Russell Crowe seem to have a genuine fondness for this region. Haggis, an Oscar winner for “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby,” specifically chose Pittsburgh as the setting for this thriller about a man–a teacher– whose wife (played by Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of murder. The man resolves to break her out of prison, with the advice of an expert, played by Liam Neeson. Mr. Haggis says one of the reasons he placed the story here was the unique character of the neighborhoods.

Add to that, Mr. Crowe’s description of  Pittsburgh as one of the friendliest cities he had visited in America. And he was spot on when he extolled the beauty of the region’s architecture. It is so true, but we locals often forget to point it out. He even orchestrated where we did the interview so two stunning church towers were behind him–and he joked about how he was arranging the interview.

And, yes, Pittsburgh, he loves sports. He was generous in his praise of the owners and managers of the Pens and Steelers (he says he didn’t get to visit the Pirates), and the education he had gotten here about their organizations. He is so enthusiastic about the rugby team he owns in Australia–The South Sidney Rabbitohs–102 years old, who last one a championship when he was 7. He added,”When I was 7, I believed anything was possible, and it gave me confidence.” He added that owning the team was more about the community service to the people of the district than winning football games. I highly recommend viewing his message to the members of the club-full of Burgh stuff. This week-end(12/4-12/5), you can see it in Hot Topics on the Home Page of thepittsburghchannel.com . After that, here’s the link:http://play.viostream.com/?play=57475375-3c07-4850-84f9-0d7b53c7f446.

And last, but not least, what was most touching was his expression of  how deeply he misses his wife and two young boys. His oldest son turns 6 on December 21st, and Mr. Crowe was counting the days until he can go home to them in Australia. I know some people may point to his reputation in the media. But he has been a great and appreciative friend to Pittsburgh, and Lenni and I found him to be a stand-up guy, who could not have been more gracious.