By Susan Horsburgh Michelle Tauber
February 25, 2002 12:00 PM

Call it the Invasion of the Awards Snatchers—curious aliens who look like us, act like us and, when they feel like it, even talk like us. But don’t be fooled! Experts say they’re called “Australians,” and suddenly, in Hollywood, they’re everywhere.

Take the Golden Globes. They did. Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman won film awards. Fellow Aussies Judy Davis and Rachel Griffiths took TV trophies. Moulin Rouge—directed by Baz Luhrmann (yep, another one)—won too.

Australians are believed to have sent their first scout, an agent code-named Mel, to America in the early ’80s. After he gained a beachhead, they began arriving by the Qantas-load. Or maybe it just seemed that way.

Now that it can be told, the Aussie posse—other members include Heath Ledger, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Simon Baker and Anthony LaPaglia—admits to something just this side of conspiracy: They’ve pretty much all known each other for years. And given the welcome, they may stay a while. “Now,” says LaPaglia, “the studios are all looking for the new Russell Crowe.”

That may be a problem: Is there anybody left in Sydney?

Nicole Kidman
Tom’s ex and now an Oscar nominee, she is the reigning Queen of Oz

Introduced to each other via Watts in the early ’90s, they remain close friends

Russell Crowe

Met Spencer in the ’90 film The Crossing

Dating

Danielle Spencer

Singer-actress

Costars in 1997’s L.A. Confidential

Guy Pearce

Best friends who met as teens at a casting call

Naomi Watts

OZ miniseries Brides of Christ on their résumés

Alums of prime-time Aussie soap Home and Away

Heath Ledger

Bonded at a photo shoot of young actresses while in their early 20s

Rebecca Rigg

Met on a soap and married

Simon Baker

Castmates in ’96 Aussie TV miniseries Sweat

Classmates at North Sydney Girls’ High School

Ex-roommates in L.A.

Deborra-lee Furness

After playing the leads in the 1995 TV drama Correlli, they got hitched the next year

Hugh Jackman

He and wife Furness have been pals with LaPaglia and Carides since they met in Los Angeles in 1997. The couples vacationed in Italy last year

Anthony LaPaglia and Gia Carides

Costars in ’94 movie Paperback Romance, they wed in ’98

Mel Gibson

NICOLE KIDMAN
Alone—and at an all-time high

Vying for the same gig in a bikini ad as teens, Kidman and Naomi Watts bonded rather than bickered. “We had to sit and wait, both in swimsuits, feeling incredibly embarrassed,” Watts recalls. “And neither of us got the job!”

After two decades Kidman, 34, and Watts remain best pals. “We’ve shared boyfriends, breakups, bottles of wine when we thought our lives were over,” Kidman told Newsweek. Their friendship also withstood Kidman’s rise from struggling actress in Australian B-movies like 1986’s Windrider to star of more acclaimed films such as 1989’s Dead Calm, and finally to Hollywood royalty as Tom Cruise‘s wife. When Cruise, 39, moved out last year, Watts moved in. Kidman—who shares custody of kids Connor, 7, and Isabella, 9, with her ex and splits time between L.A. and Sydney—”has that Aussie-girl attitude,” says Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann, “that the-show-must-go-on spirit.” And so it did—culminating in an Oscar nod for Moulin Rouge. “If you don’t experience the lows,” Kidman says, “you can’t experience the highs.”

Naomi Watts
Nic’s best friend breaks out

While her pal Nicole Kidman‘s star soared, Watts toiled on the Aussie soap Home and Away and in little-seen indie flicks. Then she took a ride on Mulholland Drive and won enthusiastic critical praise. After splitting from her boyfriend, Lost in Space director Stephen Hopkins, last year, Watts, 33, marvels at the “symmetry” between her life and Kidman’s. “We were just saying on the phone, ‘Can you believe it, we’re both single at the same time!’ ” she says. “Thank God we have each other.”

Russell Crowe

Talent, testosterone and tenacity

It may not feature prominently on his résumé, but Crowe was once Russ Le Roq, a teen Elvis lookalike trying to crack the music scene with a strangely prescient single called “I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando.” Be careful what you wish for, Russ. The brooding 37-year-old has collected kudos (one Oscar and counting, and a Golden Globe for A Beautiful Mind) and a famous girlfriend (Meg Ryan), but he hasn’t lost touch with his past. “If you see him in the street,” says former Sydney schoolmate John McGrath, 38, “he would still have a beer with you.” He also spends time at his 560-acre ranch near Coffs Harbour, north of Sydney. “I can’t sustain myself,” he told the Melbourne Herald-Sun, “without filling up on home.”

New Zealand-born but Australia-raised, Crowe nabbed his first film lead in 1990’s The Crossing, where he met on-again, off-again girlfriend and awards show date, Aussie singer-actress Danielle Spencer. He won raves as a neo-Nazi in ’92’s Romper Stomper but didn’t reach the U.S. until Sharon Stone made him her costar in ’95’s The Quick and the Dead. His intensity has led to accusations of arrogance—and the odd bar-room brawl—but it has also made him a star. When Naomi Watts met him while making the 1991 TV miniseries Brides of Christ, she recalls telling Kidman, “This is the guy to watch. He’s extraordinary.”

  • Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness
  • X marks the spot for the former costars taking on new roles as first-time parents

While their moms and dads toasted the Aussie ascension at the Jan. 20 Golden Globes, a celebration of a different sort—think milk, not champagne—erupted at Nicole Kidman‘s Los Angeles home. There, Kidman’s two children played with two of Simon Baker’s kids and 20-month-old Oscar, the son of Jackman, 33, and Furness. “We’re all close,” says Jackman, “so it was great that [the kids] were all partying together.”

A singer-dancer who won rave reviews in 1998’s Oklahoma! revivai in London, Jackman met Furness, an actress and former Kidman roommate, in 1995 on the set of the Australian TV drama Correlli. “Deb’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Jackman said in 2000. Wed in 1996, they adopted Oscar four years later. With his star on the rise Stateside—he snagged the role of Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men and was Meg Ryan’s leading man in Kate & Leopold—Jackman settled with Furness in London, New York City and Melbourne. Recalling the extravagant X-Men premiere held near the Statue of Liberty, Jackman said, “My wife leaned over and said, ‘America’s been pretty good to us!’ ”

Heath Ledger

Mel’s heir apparent

Growing up in remote Perth, says Ledger, 22, “I wanted out.” So he quit high school at 16 and headed to Sydney, where he won his first movie parts, and then to Hollywood, where he got his big break in 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You. The following year he played the son of the original wizard of Oz, Mel Gibson, in The Patriot. Single since splitting with actress Heather Graham, 32, last summer, the L.A.-based Ledger has one secret weapon onscreen and off, says 10 Things director Gil Junger: “His accent adds to the mystique and allure of him.”

Simon Baker

An Aussie soap stint led to love for the star of TV’s The Guardian

Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce weren’t the only Aussies keeping their accents on the q.t. in L.A. Confidential: Baker, 32, made his film debut playing a gay actor in the 1997 noir thriller. While Crowe and Pearce stuck to the big screen, Baker scored on CBS’s hit series The Guardian, nabbing a 2002 Golden Globe nod for his role as a child advocate. “He’s the kind of guy that all the girls want to date,” says executive producer Michael Pressman, “and that all the guys want to have a beer with.”

An avid surfer as a Sydney teen, Baker made girls swoon on sudsers like E Street, where he met actress Rebecca Rigg, 34. Wed since 1998, the couple are the parents of Stella, 8, Claude, 3, and 5-month-old Harry (Nicole Kidman‘s godson). Now living in L.A., Baker credits his roots for his success: “You can hit an Australian and he’ll get up and just keep coming straight back at you.”

Guy Pearce

Former teen hunk builds a Hollywood résumé

Long before he decorated himself with memory-jogging tattoos in last year’s art-house flick Memento, Guy Pearce, 34, sported a late-’80s mullet in that breeding ground for Aussie exports, the frothy soap Neighbours. The show made him a teen idol, and only later would he display his acting range (and a more adventurous fashion sense) as a bitter drag queen in 1994’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and as an uptight detective alongside Russell Crowe in 1997’s L.A. Confidential.

While Crowe went on to Gladiator-size fame, English-born Pearce—who moved to Australia at age 3 and started acting at 8—seemed content to make big impressions in small films. That could change this year, with his star turns in The Count of Monte Cristo and The Time Machine. Says Time director Simon Wells: “He combines being a serious actor with being a sexy star.” Still, Pearce “has no interest in the glitz and the glamor,” says Count costar Dagmara Dominczyk. Wed to his childhood sweetheart Kate Mestitz, who studies natural medicines, since ’97, he lives quietly in Melbourne, where he’s currently acting in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth. Unlike in his Neighbours days, he mock-complained to GQ, “No one chases me, ripping off my clothes, anymore!”

Susan Horsburgh and Michelle Tauber

Reported by Elizabeth Leonard, Michael Fleeman, Jenny Cooney Carrillo, Julie Jordan, Darren Lovell and Kevin Airs

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