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Friday 24 November 2017

As the Crowe sings... Why tough guy Russell is calling the tune

The actor's leading part in the new film version of Les Misérables may come as a surprise -- but he's not the first action man to sing for his supper, writes Joe O'Shea

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 12: Russell Crowe sighting as he arrives at the Palais de Festivals on May 12, 2010 in Cannes, France. (Photo by David Thompson/FilmMagic)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 12: Russell Crowe sighting as he arrives at the Palais de Festivals on May 12, 2010 in Cannes, France. (Photo by David Thompson/FilmMagic)

Joe O'Shea

He may be best known for Tough Guy roles involving buckets of blood and extreme mayhem. But it seems that all Russell Crowe really wants to do is an old-fashioned Hollywood musical.

The Aussie actor is to sing on the big screen for the first time after being cast in the long-awaited film adaptation of Les Misérables.

Crowe will star as Inspector Javert, opposite fellow Australian Hugh Jackman (as Jean Valjean) in the film version of the musical. The big-budget production will be director Tom Hooper's follow-up to The King's Speech.

And it is a role that Crowe really wanted, to the point where he reportedly badgered the initially sceptical producers for a first audition before winning the part with a very strong vocal performance in a second.

Crowe has been singing and playing guitar with his own rock band, 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts, since the early '90s.

But while his co-star Hugh Jackman has a long track record in musical theatre, the Gladiator star's previously hidden talents as a serious vocalist were said to have wowed the Les Mis producers, convincing them to overlook the previous frontrunner for the Inspector Javert role, English actor Paul Bettany.

There have been several failed attempts to bring Les Mis, running since 1985, to the big screen. But this production will involve original producer Cameron Mackintosh and feature a heavyweight cast and big budget.

The move into musicals may surprise fans who are more accustomed to seeing Crowe in action epics such as Gladiator, Robin Hood and Master And Commander.

But Hollywood has a long tradition of getting tough guys to sing and dance, going back to the days when Jimmy Cagney would swap a Tommy Gun for top hat and tails.

Crowe is following in the footsteps of tough-guy thespians with a song in their hearts including:

Clint Eastwood

Best known for his Dirty Harry and Spaghetti Western roles, until his developing career saw him star in and direct gritty movies such as Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood made a surprise appearance as a singing gold prospector in the 1969 film version of the Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon.

Eastwood growled his way through the croon-some 'I Talk To The Trees' while Lee Marvin, another Hollywood tough guy, sang 'I Was Born Under a Wandering Star'.

A musical role was not as much of a stretch for Clint as you might expect; he is an accomplished musician, playing jazz and ragtime piano, and has composed music for several of his movies (including Million Dollar Baby), as well as a track on Gran Torino.

Marlon Brando

The star of The Godfather and On The Waterfront may be one of the greatest film actors of all time -- but he was not much of a singer.

For the 1955 gangsters'n' molls musical, Guys And Dolls, Brando murdered his way through the classic 'Luck Be A Lady Tonight', to the point where the producers were forced to take multiple takes and splice them together to make one, half-decent vocal performance.

To his credit, Brando was up against a co-star who knew his way around a tune in Frank Sinatra (and there was tension on the set -- Sinatra was furious that Brando got the bigger part of Sky Masterson).

Richard Harris

The Irish actor and hellraiser was an enthusiastic singer and released the first of many singles and LPs in 1963 when he sang the theme tune to his breakthrough movie role, This Sporting Life, in which he starred as a rugged rugby league player (the role won him a Best Actor Oscar nomination).

Harris combined tough guy roles and serious acting with musicals -- one of his best-loved roles was in the film version of the musical Camelot -- and released 11 studio albums.

His biggest chart success was his wholehearted version of Jimmy Webb's epic 'MacArthur Park', which hit the US Billboard top 10 in 1968 and was a major chart success around the world.

Jimmy Cagney

An immensely talented song-and-dance man who could also star in the toughest gangster movies of the first golden era of Hollywood, Cagney had it all.

His best musical performance may have been in the biopic of legendary Irish-American composer, singer, dancer and Broadway impresario George M Cohan, 1942's Yankee Doodle Dandy -- Cagney won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

Jack Nicholson

Best known for his drama and comedy rolls, Nicholson got an early role in the Barbara Streisand musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and sang (with a British accent) in The Who's rock opera Tommy in 1975. Nicholson also sang the Edith Piaf classic 'La Vie En Rose' in 2003's Something's Gotta Give.

Richard Gere

Gere can do tough guy -- one of his best ever performances was as the doomed killer Jesse Lujack in 1983's Breathless (an American remake of the French crime-romance classic A Bout de Souffle).

But Gere can also sing and dance, as he proved as attorney Billy Flynn in the movie version of the musical Chicago, tap-dancing and singing his way through numbers like 'All I Care About (Is Love)'.

It wasn't such a big stretch for the actor, though -- he got his start in musical theatre.

Irish Independent

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