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Best actor for 'Gladiator'

Crowe flies to new heights in Hollywood

Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe, who just won a best actor Oscar for "Gladiator," has been acting since he was 6 years old  

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Son, grandson of the movies

Too much limelight

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(CNN) -- A little more than a decade ago, Russell Crowe was a struggling actor, trying to land movie roles in Australia. Today, he is Hollywood's newly anointed king, named best actor on Sunday for his turn as Maximus in "Gladiator."

But Crowe hasn't forgotten the hard times -- nor the mettle it took him to reach the top. "When you grow up in the suburbs of anywhere, a dream like this seems unattainable. But for anyone on the downside of advantage, and relying purely on courage, it's possible," he said in his Academy Award acceptance speech.

CNN's Sherri Sylvester profiles the career and life of Academy Award winning actor Russell Crowe

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"People sort of look at me now and think I must have had such an easy go of things," Crowe, 36, told CNN in an interview prior to the awards. "(But) I was 26 before I even made a movie, and I'd been working in the business since I was 6 years old."

Son, grandson of the movies

Crowe was born in Wellington, New Zealand, the son of movie set caterers and the grandson of cinematographer Stan Wymess. He was a child star on Australian TV, but that proved no guarantee of later success. When Crowe announced he would pursue acting as a career, his father encouraged him to learn a trade first.

"My dad said, 'You know, I'd really like you to do something at a technical college or do some kind of apprenticeship for you to fall back on," Crowe recalled. "I said, 'Mate, I'm really certain in my life that I'm gonna fall on my face, but it's highly unlikely that I'm ever gonna fall back."

At 21, he lined up a bit part in an Australian TV series, but it took five more years before he started working in movies. He finally attracted American notice with his role as a violent skinhead in "Romper Stomper" (1992), but it wasn't until "L.A. Confidential" (1997) that he started popping up on Hollywood's A-list.

For his role as Maximus in "Gladiator," Crowe shed the flab he'd accumulated for "The Insider" and turned it into muscle. The movie won best picture and was one of the biggest box-office successes of 2000  

Crowe earned an Oscar nomination for playing tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand in "The Insider" (1999), a role for which he gained 35 pounds. For "Gladiator," he not only dropped the weight but sculpted his body to portray the muscular, sword-swinging Maximus. The film was one of 2000's top grossers, making Crowe a box-office draw as well as a highly regarded actor.

Too much limelight

Stardom, like a sword, can have another edge -- unwanted attention. He and Meg Ryan allegedly had an affair while making 2000's "Proof of Life," damaging Ryan's relationship with husband Dennis Quaid. (Ryan and Quaid are separated.)

Then, just before the Oscars, the FBI announced it had information about a plot to kidnap the star. Crowe has followed the agency's security advice and jokes about the possibility of getting snatched.

"You know, quite frankly, if somebody wants to kidnap me and sort of keep me in a room, just me and them, they obviously don't know me very well," he said. "After a couple of days, mate, they'll be on the phone: 'Now look, we've got 50 grand, please take him back, we'll give you the airfare, come and get him.'"

But now he's getting a different kind of attention, the sort lavished on Oscar winners. He's also staying busy.

He's next scheduled to be seen playing Nobel Prize-winning paranoid-schizophrenic mathematician John Forbes Nash in Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind."

New life dawns for Oscar winners
March 26, 2001
'Gladiator,' Crowe, Roberts win top Oscars
March 26, 2001
Landslides, political unrest: All in a day's film work
December 5, 2000
Russell Crowe: Glad to be a gladiator
May 4, 2000

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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