When Russell Crowe visited St. John's last summer, he was the antithesis of the standoffish Hollywood star, his smiling mug appearing all over Facebook, posing with babies and grandmothers alike.
As for what brought him to town, well, you'll have to watch Wednesday's season opener of Republic of Doyle, the CBC detective drama, to get the full story.
Crowe's got "a really big part, a big, meaty part," says series star Allan Hawco, who isn't giving anything else away – although he does say that Crowe worked on the script with him before shooting.
It's the third season for Hawco's – and co-creator Perry Chafe's – show about a slightly disreputable father-son pair of private detectives in St. John's.
The first season was rife with what Hawco calls a naiveté about what such a big project takes to get to air, while the second, he says, allowed the cast and writers to begin to find their feet and develop their characters.
It's been a learning curve for the actor and writer – but he takes all the information in. "You get the opportunity to take criticism of your own work, boil it down, find where the strong points are, and go from there," says Hawco of the show, which has received plenty of positive press and several Gemini nominations.
Crowe is far from Newfoundland now, preparing for shooting in March for his role as Javert in a movie version of Les Misérables and also finishing the Canadian filming of Man of Steel. It's a long way from the car trunk he's reported to have been stuffed into for Republic of Doyle.
Getting him to appear in the series was a bit of a package deal: Crowe was joined on set by three other actors who were with him in the movie Robin Hood – Alan Doyle from the Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, Scott Grimes and Kevin Durand.
Hawco met Crowe on the Toronto set of Cinderella Man. "I remember thinking, wow, I'll probably never get to see this guy again … and I decided to just truly be myself, and we had a great night, he was a great host, a super gentleman, and over the years, we've stayed in contact," he says. "It's such a great sign of support that he's on the show."
For his part, Crowe said during shooting, "It's been a lot of fun. It doesn't take any kind of encouragement for us to get together and socialize. But because of the type of personalities we are, if we get together and have a creative catalyst for that get-together, that's a perfect world."
Meanwhile, it's Hawco who is constantly interrupted by fans these days. When he recently passed through the St. John's airport, you could see people nudge each other, saying, "That's the fellow from Doyle."
Special to The Globe and Mail
Note to readers This story has been modified to reflect the following correction: In a new movie version of Les Misérables, Hugh Jackman will be playing Jean Valjean. Russell Crowe will play Javert. Incorrect information appeared on Wednesday.