Russell Crowe was not director Ridley Scott's first choice to play the gladiator. That offer, not incidentally, went to another Australian, Mel Gibson, who told Scott he was "too old, mate." Instead Gibson is playing a more age-appropriate he-man in The Patriot. And isn't that Guy Pearce, another Aussie, all straitlaced machismo in Rules of Engagement? Hollywood has discovered what we Australian women have understood for some time: the discreet charm of the Bloke.
The Bloke is a certain kind of Australian or New Zealand male. (We have other kinds, such as Rupert Murdoch, but we prefer to call them emigres.) The classic Bloke is not a voluble beast. His speech patterns are best described as infrequent but colorful. Mel Gibson once described a director as "slick as eel snot." And this was a director he liked. Crowe's rock band is called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.
The Bloke is pragmatic rather than classy. One of the first things Pearce did on arriving in Los Angeles for his role in L.A. Confidential was study the bus routes. The notion of a limo was beyond him. If said Bloke does catch a taxi, he gets into the front seat with the driver. This is not practical, but the Australian Bloke fears anyone's thinking he has put on airs. This explains Crowe's odd behavior at the Oscars this year. He wasn't scowling because he was grumpy; he was just letting his mates back home know he had not gone Hollywood, so they would not stop inviting him to their barbies. (Where, I hasten to add, nothing so big girls' blouse as shrimp is ever served.)
You won't catch Blokes sending out press releases about their tuxes either. The Bloke is not given to grooming. Almost every story one reads about Crowe, or most any Australian actor, with the exception of Cate Blanchett, mentions a five-o'clock shadow.
Most of all, the Bloke does not whinge. This is a combination of whining and cringing, commonly associated with Britons. In the antipodes we like it gritty. This is why Australia's biggest national holiday--Anzac Day--marks its worst military defeat. We know how to take a beating.
Of course, the Bloke is not perfect. The above qualities make him a lousy romantic lead. (Joke among Australian women: Q. What is the Australian male's idea of foreplay? A. "You awake?") But when it comes to salt-of-the-earth heroes, it's hard to go past a bloke who, like Crowe, says his last heartbreak was brought on by the death of a really good cow. Do they come any tougher than that?
--By Belinda Luscombe