I confess, Russell Crowe is my favorite contemporary film actor. His performance as John Nash, in "A Beautiful Mind," stole my allegiance from any others who were previously at the top of my list. And his most recent performance as James J. Braddick ("Cinderella Man"), the heavyweight boxing champion of the 1930s, was a role that seemed made specifically for Russell Crowe. And I have not even mentioned his leading role in the epics "Gladiator" and "Master, Commander." I think Russell Crowe can simply act, there is just no queston about it.
To my great pleasure Russell Crowe was featured on an NBC Inflight Interview on my United Airlines flight from Sacramento back to Chicago yesterday. The interview was almost as brilliant as the subject. Several lessons stand out to me that I think are worth your thought.
First, Russell Crowe (a native of New South Wales and New Zealand) was trained in the art of acting by doing it, not just by formal schooling. Most of us can use all the formal schooling possible to perfect any skills we may have been given. But the simple fact is this—some are born with great talent and using that talent is still the best way it will be developed. The simple truth is that all of us learn best by doing, not by listening. Think discipleship and spiritual mentoring here.
Second, Crowe stressed that good acting comes from regularly making quick decisions. You can dilly-dally around, study things very carefully, and interact with others, but in the end you must decide. (Think Malcolm Gladwell and the best-selling book Blink here.) Decisiveness is central to success in any venture, especially if it involves public response.
Third, an actor must serve the character, never himself. Crowe described how John Nash was on the set once when he was filming "A Beautiful Mind." Crowe went over to greet Dr. John Nash, who said to him, "I saw you last week and you were quite different today." Crowe said, "Well John, I was being you today." As a follower of Christ I should always, and with incredible authenticity no less, be the one who I really am yet all the time knowingly representing someone else, namely Christ. If an actor can study and adopt a role for a movie I can study and adopt my own living role, not one I simply act, for a lifetime. And the way I get this role down is to really know the one whose life I am seeking to act out.
Fourth, Crowe said a good actor must always settle the issue of personal appearance, costume, and set design, and then forget all about these things and get into the part with his whole heart. How this is for a true Christian believer in the light of my third observation above. Get into your role and forget completley about your appearance. Don’t worry about what others see. Stay focused on the one that you are seeking to represent.
Finally, Crowe noted that he was a personally shy man. Frankly, I have found over the years that shy people generally make the best actors. Shy people are not inherently outgoing and confident. Self-confident people find it difficult to be absorbed into another person and to adopt the life of that person. This means that if you are too full of your own abilities, and have too much confidence about yourself, you are lifely to find it much harder to represent Christ properly through your unique personality. It is not impossible, for sure, but much more difficult. I found myself thanking God this morning that I was a very shy person, an introvert really. Over recent years I have understood just how benefical that has been to my spiritual formation.