By CHRIS DANIELS and SCOTT INGLIS
Russell Crowe wanted to be a rock'n' roller rather than an actor.
In the mid-1980s, he travelled around the North Island under the stage name Russ le Roq in the band Roman Antix, trying to be the consummate rock'n' roller.
Says fellow band member Mark Rimmington: "Russell was not the world's greatest singer, but he is a great showman ... He did tend to live the rock and roll lifestyle, I don't know how the hell he afforded it."
Rimmington says he "highly recommended" that Crowe concentrate more on acting than singing. As it turned out, that was good advice.
Yesterday, the former musician-turned-Hollywood heart-throb capped a 30-year performing career by winning a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Gladiator.
The New Zealand-born, Australian-raised star headed off two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Cast Away) to take the coveted award.
His journey to the pinnacle of acting began as a child.
Born on April 7, 1964, in Wellington to Norwegian and Maori ancestry, Crowe moved to Australia by the age of 4, where his parents, Alex and Jocelyn, worked as cooks for film crews.
According to the Maximum Russell Crowe website, he quickly caught the bug.
"I was on film sets and TV sets all the time ... and it just fascinated me," he said.
By the time he was six, he got his first part on Spyforce, directed by his mother's godfather, delivering his first line to future acting colleague Jack Thompson.
Back then, his dogged determination was apparent.
"Even at 6, I would look at the 28-year-old guy playing the war veteran in a film and tell my parents, 'I don't know why the director doesn't see me in that role. I might be a little short, but I can do it'."
At age 14, the Crowe family returned to New Zealand and he finished high school in Auckland - "because my dad never intended us to have been away that long" - and Crowe says he developed into a Kiwi-Aussie hybrid.
"New Zealanders tend to be very persistent, you know. And Australians are quite happy-go-lucky, so I've got kind of a combination of the two things."
His parents ran pubs in Auckland, including the Albion. He attended Auckland Grammar for form five, where he was a year behind cousin and cricketer Martin, before going to Mt Roskill Grammar.
At high school, he met Dean Cochran and the two formed the band Roman Antix. Music became a major focus in Crowe's life during this period. He recorded several songs under the name Russ le Roq.
One of his early songs was I want to Be Like Marlon Brando.
He became well known in the Auckland music scene in the 1980s, and known for his cocky, sometimes arrogant attitude.
Says Rimmington: "He really wanted to be a rock and roll star without a doubt. But I think he also wanted to be famous and come hell or high water, no matter how it happened, it would happen."
He also worked as a night club DJ and continued as a rock guitarist (he still plays with his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts), before returning to acting in 1986 for a two-year stint touring Australia and New Zealand in a production of The Rocky Horror Show.
In 1990, he scored his first proper movie role in Blood Oath. After three more films (The Crossing, Romper Stomper and The Sum of Us), he headed for Hollywood, where he gradually emerged as a heavyweight actor.
Crowe had to serve his time on several forgettable films in the early 1990s. But his break came when he was cast by Sharon Stone in Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead (1995) alongside Stone and Gene Hackman. The same year he starred opposite Denzel Washington in Virtuosity. He played violent cop Bud White in 1997's LA Confidential, with Kim Basinger.
In a career spanning at least 24 films, he has also starred in Heaven's Burning, The Insider (for which he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination last year), and this year's Proof of Life with Meg Ryan.
But Crowe, who has had a few long-term relationships but never married or had children, remains a country boy at heart, at home on an Australian rural station, with his horses and dogs.
"Being on a farm, I read books. I structure my day around the needs of my animals ... "
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By CHRIS DANIELS and SCOTT INGLIS