Russell Crowe is going for laughs in his latest film. He tells Dominic Corry why.

In February this year, early on in the Oscar ceremony, film fans around the world were exposed to something they hadn't seen in quite some time.

Something they may have forgotten was even possible: the sight and sound of Russell Crowe being charming.

Presenting an award with Ryan Gosling, Crowe and the younger actor delighted the room with their sardonic patter and light-hearted interplay. Coming off a long series of deadly serious films, Crowe seemed to be enjoying himself for the first time in ages.

The chemistry on display boded well for Crowe and Gosling's new action comedy The Nice Guys, and the studio was clearly paying attention, as their comedic interplay has since been the focal point of the film's marketing.


The actors have even gone so far as to film a series of couples therapy videos. A lot of work must go into generating that kind of onscreen rapport.

"Nah. It's just a natural thing," Crowe explains during an exclusive interview in Los Angeles.

"You'll find that chemistry is the great alchemy of the film industry and if it's there, it's there. You cannot - you cannot - manufacture it."

In The Nice Guys, Crowe and Gosling play Jackson Healy and Holland March, a couple of less-than-amazing private detectives in late-1970s Los Angeles who get mixed up in a missing persons case involving some of the city's seedier elements.

At odds when the story begins, much of the fun of the film is in the interactions between these two dropkicks.

"From the first phone conversation I had with Ryan, which was a few years back, we just had a very easy sense with each other and then we met for the first time and again had just a very simple easy rhythm with each other.

"We can talk, listen and understand and then that translates easily on to camera."

A star of Crowe's stature and experience can be relied upon to know how to make a journalist feel at ease. So despite the somewhat ... loaded ... feelings many New Zealanders have for the Auckland Grammar old boy who has long considered Australia home, the atmosphere is relaxed in the Beverly Hills hotel room with the actor and his everpresent ciggie.

Crowe demonstrates an awareness of how he is perceived by many, and relates it to why The Nice Guys works as well as it does.

"To me, if there's any kind of magical element here, you take the principals, you take [producer] Joel Silver, you take [writer/director] Shane Black, you take Ryan, you take myself - these are all people who are reputationally difficult, right? So you put these four people together and you would think this would create an explosive situation.

"But in reality, those four people who are reputationally difficult just care about their job. So when you get four people in those positions who care about their job, you have a really smooth-flowing film set."

The Nice Guys is definitely a smooth-flowing film, and it beneficially recalls the early work of Black, who experienced a major career resurgence in 2013 when he directed and co-wrote the ridiculously successful Iron Man III.

The power he gained from that success allowed him to finally mount the long-planned The Nice Guys, in which the rarely-recaptured spirit of classics like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout (both written by Black and produced by Silver) comes roaring back to life. Surely that makes Crowe a fan of the kind of 80s action movie that The Nice Guys so wonderfully evokes?

"I'm not really. Not really at all. But I think there's something in this that actually makes a comment on that. So I'm a fan of really good writing and that's what I was confronted with this script. It was presented as a comedy script, and I'm reading it and I'm like 'This is way more serious than a comedy'.

"I loved the fact that [Black] seemed to have reached back in time and picked a point and said 'This is where America corrupted itself, right here' and created absurdity around that."

There are indeed several more layers to The Nice Guys than we've come to expect from our mainstream action comedies.

In addition to the villain's motivation being very relevant to 2016, Healy and March constantly reveal themselves to be less than heroic, especially in their often-shocking dialogue.

Ryan Gosling as Holland March and Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy in the film The Nice Guys. Photo / AP
Ryan Gosling as Holland March and Russell Crowe as Jackson Healy in the film The Nice Guys. Photo / AP

"It's f***ing subversive," says Crowe. "There's a couple of lines in there, where we looked at each other while we were delivering them going 'Are we going to hell? I think we're going to hell'."

There is genuine joy in Crowe's eyes as he discusses The Nice Guys, a film that is the actor's most buzzed-about project in years - years that have seen the rough-edged masculinity he specialises in decrease in blockbuster cinema.

"I've gone through a little bit of a rough patch recently where I've made the same decisions that I always make: here's nine things in front of me, here's the one I'm passionate about, so here's the one I'm gonna do.

"And because the business is balanced towards the tentpole at the minute, some of those decisions are a little bit extreme for [the studios'] tastes, so we didn't get the opportunity to make them.

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, right in a scene from The Nice Guys. Photo / AP
Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, right in a scene from The Nice Guys. Photo / AP

"I've gotta hold fast to the way I make decisions about things. I can't be in a situation where I'm on a set and I don't believe in what I'm doing. I just cannot get myself up at four o'clock in the morning to go and do some bullshit."

Crowe's blokey geniality extends to him perhaps finally revealing the true reason he chose Australia over New Zealand: the weather.

"I left New Zealand in 1968 and came back in 1978 and we - Auckland Boys Grammar - were playing cricket. And I think out of 11 weekends, eight got washed out. And I was like 'I've been taken to some form of hell'."

Who: Russell Crowe
What: The Nice Guys with Ryan Gosling
When: At cinemas from May 26