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Interview of the week: Russell Crowe

By KAREN BUTLER

NEW YORK, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Actor Russell Crowe says he used a method of "deduction and intuition" when figuring out how to play schizophrenic, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. in his latest drama, "A Beautiful Mind."

Comparing the role of Nash to that of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, the real-life character he was nominated for an Academy Award for playing in "The Insider," Crowe said: "In retrospect, Wigand was so easy because the situation had only happened a few years before and it had happened in modern times and it had been a media circus, so it was very well-documented on tape and a lot of major TV shows had talked to Wigand and they had footage of him, so I had hour upon hour of stuff to sit down and view ... With Nash it was a different situation."

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"[Playing Nash] was a much scarier journey because there were whole big patches of stuff we just couldn't really get information on," he added.

The Oscar-winning actor ("Gladiator") pointed out that because much of the film is set more than 50 years ago there was a lot less material available about Nash for Crowe to study when he was preparing to play the troubled genius.

"Even though he was noted in academic circles, mainly for his eccentricities, I might add, and [for] his analytical mind, there was no footage of him and not a single piece of film showing him as a young man, showing how he walked. [There was] no audio so I could hear how he talked ... You have to take the facts of his life and look at what you can really use ... I had to take photographs and I had to take really big, broad-stroked facts and say, 'Okay, he was born in West Virginia. No matter what he talks like now at the age of 70-plus, I'm going to make him a West Virginian,'" explained the Golden Globe nominee.

"You've got to take the facts of his life and look at what you can actually use given the facts of the script. So, really, at a certain point in the research the only place we have to move from this point is deduction and intuition," said the 38-year-old New Zealander.

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Crowe didn't want to spend too much time with the real-life Nash, who is now in his 70s, he said, because he felt the 35 years Nash spent medicated or in the hospital being treated for his disease made him a different person than he was as a young man.

The actor also revealed that on several occasions he had written out questions for director Ron Howard to give to Nash to answer. However, Crowe said he found the elderly man's replies somewhat unreliable.

"As all of us are, really, false witnesses to our own life," he noted. "A man in his 70s remembers certain things."

Crowe said he asked questions so he could better understand Nash, not because he wanted to put any pressure on the older man.

"But the types of questions I was asking initially were kinds of feeler questions to see how reliable he could be as that witness [to his own life]. 'Did you ever smoke cigarettes?' 'No.' 'Brother, I've got evidence that says you smoked cigarettes for so many years...'

"[Nash] cannot remember whole periods of his life, okay, so I can't use him..." Crowe added.

To get into Nash's mind, Crowe said he studied what photos of Nash he could get his hands on, then read up on the mental disorder with which the mathematician was afflicted and mined Sylvia Nasar's biography, "A Beautiful Mind," for details about the brilliant enigma.

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An actor who has amassed 25 screen credits since 1990, Crowe said he refuses to let success change him or dictate what films he will appear in, adding that he plans to continue taking chances and working in qualities projects like "A Beautiful Mind," "Gladiator," and "The Insider."

"I've always approached my job with a level of serious, but not taken myself seriously, so now I'm expected to play to [a star status] that was manufactured in the first place? F___ that ... Now, the thing is if my salary tumbles and my life situation changes because I simply choose to take the job of acting seriously, so be it. Who cares? Because if I don't have satisfaction in my work life, then I'm not going to be happy within myself," he said.

"A Beautiful Mind," which co-stars Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly and Judd Hirsch, is in theaters now.

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