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From Rent
to Russell

From Rent
to Russell


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

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 cafe 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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