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Russell Crowe’s unexpected path to starring in ‘The Nice Guys’

Ryan Gosling (left) and Russell Crowe co-star in "The Nice Guys," opening Friday. | Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros. Entertainment

LOS ANGELES — After Russell Crowe read the screenplay for “The Nice Guys,” the Oscar winner felt “it was a terrific script, but it was clear to me that the other male lead was so key. If they didn’t get just the right actor, it wouldn’t work for me.”

That led the Australian star to call his agent and tell him, “Don’t tell [director] Shane [Black] that I’m that interested in being in the film. … We’ll keep looking around for something else for me to do.”

Oops. Too late. Crowe’s agent told him, “Russell, when Shane heard you were interested, he went to the airport. He’s on a flight to Australia right now. … He’s about five hours into the flight!”

The actor chuckled as he related the story at a recent interview in Los Angeles. “I decided that I would have to meet him at the airport in Sydney and then take him to my home.” Certain he wouldn’t do the film, Crowe thought he would soften the blow by serving Black some cocktails and cooking dinner for him — good steaks on the barbie, Aussie style.

“When we got to the house, I asked Shane what he’d like to drink, and he told me he didn’t drink,” since he was a recovering alcoholic. “I told him, ‘Well, that’s a problem, since that was a big part of my plan for today.’ But Shane made light of it, telling me, ‘Offer me a drink, and that likely will end up with me in handcuffs.’ ” said Crowe.

After that back-and-forth, Crowe began to tell Black his reasons for why he didn’t want to make “The Nice Guys,” but Black interrupted him, saying, “Let me go first.”

The writer and director only said two words: “Ryan Gosling.” Understanding that’s who was being cast to star opposite him, Crowe said, “I simply smiled and said, ‘How do you like your steaks cooked?’ ”

In the film, Crowe and Gosling play two very mismatched detectives in Los Angeles in the 1970s, thrown together to investigate the supposed suicide of a fading, once hugely popular female porn star. In the process they stumble into a huge conspiracy that is at the core of the story, directed by Black, who penned the “Lethal Weapon” films and previously directed “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Iron Man 3.”

Not only was Crowe excited to be paired with Gosling in the film, “because I simply knew he would be fantastic with both the dramatic and comedic aspects of his character,” but Gosling was clearly thrilled to be on the bill with Crowe.

“Of course, I knew Russell was a terrific dramatic actor — that goes without saying. But I was simply blown away by his abilities when it came to comedy,” said Gosling. “Plus being part of a Shane Black film, you knew that all the old approaches to an action comedy would be thrown out the window.

“Speaking of ‘out the window,’ that literally happened on this set. There’s a scene when Russell and I are both shooting out the window — kind of like in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’ There’s a point when I throw my gun to Russell and, in other films like this he would catch it and keep on shooting. But here, the gun went right out the window. While I was handing Russell bullets out of a cookie jar, I thought, ‘This is so much fun and so original.’ That’s what makes Shane Black films so unique.”