HOLLYWOOD - Russell Crowe, who should have beaten Denzel Washington like a rented mule in the 2002 Oscar race, was the target of a plot hatched not by al-Qaida, as the besotted Crowe is now telling people, but by Denzel Washington and co-conspirator Julia Roberts. This stunning information was uncovered by the Department of Homeland Security in a routine tap of Robert Downey Jr.'s phone.
Crowe was the 2002 preseason Oscar favorite even before he began filming A Beautiful Mind in early spring of 2001.
"The buzz around Hollywood was that Russell was a shoo in," said Ron Howard, who directed Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, the story of John Nash, a Princeton mathematician, who was a few variables short of an equation. "All Russell had to do was make the film and keep from going mental at any awards ceremonies leading up to the Oscars, but we all know that didn't happen."
The animosity between Crowe and Washington began on the set of the 1995 turkey Virtuosity in which Crowe played SID 6.7, a robot with anger management issues, and Washington played an African American ex-cop consumed by simmering rage over his mistreatment by a treacherous dominant culture.
"The two seldom spoke on the set," recalls Traci Lords, who had a bit part in the film. "Denzel is basically an uptight, middle class, Kenny G. type while Russell is a Saturday night special with a Tupac trigger."
While Crowe was filming A Beautiful Mind, Washington was starring in Training Day, a B film in which he played an African American cop consumed by simmering rage over his mistreatment by a treacherous dominant culture. Washington realized he had about as much chance of winning an Oscar for that effort as Al Sharpton had of being elected president. In desperation Washington turned to his friend Julia Roberts, with whom he starred in The Pelican Brief. Roberts had her own reasons for wanting to take down Crowe, reasons that included being referred to as a "pathetic no-talent sow."
Roberts and Washington paid a French operative to sit at a table in a Left Bank café loudly talking to someone on a cell phone about an al-Qaida plot to kidnap Crowe as part of an effort to destabilize American culture. The ruse worked, and before you could say "Russell's been in another bar fight," FBI agents began shadowing Crowe while he was promoting his film Proof of Life and his affair with Meg Ryan in February 2001.
As Washington and Roberts knew, the constant presence of the FBI suits was an irritant to the notoriously unstable Crowe. After A Beautiful Mind had been completed that year and Crowe was picking up one best actor award after another for his performance, he finally snapped. He roughed up a producer at the Bafta awards ceremony in London because the producer had cut a minute off Crowe's acceptance speech for the best actor award. Crowe's tirade-in which he used the M-F word, the C-word, and C-S word-made headlines and created a backlash among the nannies and other scolds who pick the Oscar winners.
In the meantime, Roberts was pimping her good friend Denzel to anyone who would listen. "I wouldn't want to live in a world in which Denzel Washington didn't have a best-actor award," she told Newsweek.
Roberts, who happened to be the presenter of the best actor award at the 2002 Oscar ceremony, got her wish. No Russell Crowe fan will ever forget the expression on her face as she opened the envelope and saw that the winner was Denzel Washington.
"I love my life," she exclaimed as Washington made his way to the podium. Later she gave Washington such a lavish embrace backstage that a producer had to throw a bucket of cold water on them to pry her off the embarrassed actor.
In related news, having exhausted the publicity she attracted by giving her twins weird names, Julia Roberts is now complaining that motherhood has made her breasts too large.