By Erin Free

What Happened? “Our casting director, Greg Apps, was hugely helpful and thoughtful in bringing together an amazing ensemble cast,” Romper Stomper producer, Daniel Scharf, told FilmInk in 2013. “Russell Crowe showed great passion and determination to do the role. His enormous talent, his deep commitment to playing the character of Hando, and Geoffrey Wright’s direction resulted in an outstanding performance.” With his head shaved, and harsh, dark tattoos snaking up his muscled arms, Russell Crowe was indeed extraordinary in Geoffrey Wright’s pulse-pounding 1992 feature debut, Romper Stomper, as the brutal Hando, the politically driven leader of a loose gang of Neo-Nazi skinheads, who eloquently imparts the crooked wisdom that he’s learned from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and then incites his crew to increasingly heated acts of violence. It remains a seminal role for Crowe, and was pivotal in launching his career in Hollywood, but the New Zealand-born, Aussie-living actor was no sure thing for the part. The biggest decision that Greg Apps had to make was the casting of Hando, and the choice eventually came down to two then-young actors: Crowe, who Apps had cast in a scene-stealing role in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s acclaimed 1991 black comedy, Proof; and Ben Mendelsohn, who had appeared in Geoffrey Wright’s mini-feature, Lover Boy, after bursting onto the scene in the 1987 classic, The Year My Voice Broke. “The choice was between Ben and Russell,” Apps told FilmInk in 2013, “which was exactly the position that we found ourselves in when casting Proof. Ben or Russell. It was line ball. We knew that both of them could do it. Both would create a memorable Hando. But we knew that Russell would create the screen presence of an absolute leader – Hitler-esque in the effect that he had on those around him. And that’s what Geoffrey captured: a community dominated by a central figure.”

Would It Have Worked? Russell Crowe is truly brilliant as Hando, but the mesmerising Ben Mendelsohn – now hitting Hollywood hard himself with roles in The Dark Knight Rises, TV’s Bloodline, and the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – can do just about anything, and he would have been equally commanding as the horrific Hando.

  • Colour
    9 January 2018 at 10:07 pm

    Ben would have been much better in the role – he shits all over Crowe and is a much more talented and wide ranging actor.

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