From Rent to Russell

Anthony Rapp talks about costarring with Russell Crowe–and the bisexual subtext–in the Oscar hopeful A Beautiful Mind

BY Dennis Hensley

January 08 2002 1:00 AM ET

According to
Anthony Rapp, one of the perks of acting in a movie with
Russell Crowe is that he actually lets you touch
it—his Oscar, that is. “It’s
incredibly impressive,” gushes the 30-year-old Rapp
over lunch in a café in Berkeley, Calif., where
he’s just starred in Nocturne, a play written
by his brother Adam Rapp. “It’s
gigantic, and it gleams like a star plucked down from
heaven.”

Crowe plucked his
best-actor statuette from the Hollywood heavens for
Gladiator late last March, just as he and Rapp
were starting work on A Beautiful Mind,
director Ron Howard’s fact-based drama about Nobel
Prize–winning mathematician John Forbes Nash
Jr. and his battle with schizophrenia. In the film
(drawn partly from Sylvia Nasar’s eponymous book),
Rapp plays an aspiring physicist who meets
Crowe’s character in grad school. “I’m
a guy who thinks Russell’s character is a
little bizarre, though I still respect him,”
says Rapp. “There’s a collegial atmosphere to
our scenes, with rivalries and teasing and guys
hanging out.”

In reality, the
hanging out was more than platonic. Nash was known for
forming intense, sexual male-male friendships; in 1954 he
was arrested for indecent exposure in a public
men’s room. But the filmmakers opted not to
depict that part of his life. “I talked to Russell
and Ron about that,” says Rapp. “They
didn’t want anybody in Middle America to be able
to say, ‘He’s bisexual because he’s
crazy.’ Russell, though, did bring some
subtextual bisexual stuff to different moments, particularly
with Paul Bettany, who plays his friend.”

So there are no
dorm-room make-outs between Rapp and Crowe?
“No,” Rapp says with a laugh,
“but apparently these mathematician guys are really
queer. [Nasar] said that if you go to, like, MIT,
there’s all kinds of boys jumping into bed with
each other.”

Crowe may have a
mercurial reputation, but Rapp has great respect for his
superstar colleague. “I was very impressed with his
work ethic,” says Rapp, who appeared in such
films as Dazed and Confused and Six Degrees
of Separation
before originating the role of
Mark Cohen in the Broadway smash Rent.
“He’s an intense mixture of bravado and
intelligence, a little bit guarded, but he also tries to be
open.”

The fact that
both actors are also musicians (Crowe fronts the band
30-Odd Foot of Grunts; Rapp just released his debut disc,
Look Around) helped cement their bond. “We
swapped CDs, and I talked to him about The Rocky
Horror Show
; he played Frank ’N’
Furter in his early days,” recalls Rapp.
“We played chess, because our characters play. One
day Russell surprised the four guys who play his
friends with beautiful chess sets.”

Rapp,
who’s been openly gay for years, says he
doesn’t worry about being out in his career:
“There are always factors that might give people
pause—that I’m blond, I have blue eyes,
I’m the guy from Rent. Whatever it is, I
can’t do anything about it.”

Rapp works hard
as a role model, answering fan E-mails and speaking to
gay-straight alliances in schools. “Quite a few kids
have written to me and said I’ve given them
inspiration,” says Rapp. “It never ceases to
be wonderful to hear that.”

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