Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe's Director Called Their Relationship "Destructive"
#TBT: Check in every Thursday as we throw it back to some of our favorite celebrity couples of all time.
Who: Three-time Golden Globe-nominated actress Meg Ryan, 57, and Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe, 55.
How They Met: Sparks flew between the actors on the set of critically panned thriller Proof of Life in 2000.
Why We Loved Them: Ryan’s public involvement with Crowe was pretty much made known in the same breath as news of her separation from then-husband Dennis Quaid. As Ryan herself told W Magazine, she was branded “the Scarlet Woman” overnight. The squeaky-clean persona she’d cultivated from a decade of rom-com success was overwritten by her perceived indiscretions. In a lot of ways, that sucks — but it also allowed Ryan to have a badass sort of Sandy in Grease moment of reckoning. For that, and perhaps that alone, we loved this pairing.
In fact, the Sleepless in Seattle star says the ordeal taught her a valuable lesson.
“It was in One Aldwych Hotel,” she told The Guardian in 2003. "This thing happened [her affair with Crowe] and I was all over the tabloids and I walked through the lobby and the place stopped. People stopped talking and stared at me. And then I got to the elevator and instead of falling apart and going, ‘Ooh,’ I just started laughing. This thing that people are so afraid of all the time — public censure or disapproval — has no power if you know yourself.”
She expanded upon the impact of this moment in 2019, telling the New York Times, “It’s a real gift when you know you can’t ever really manage an image or a story and you stop caring. I felt the effect, like I was the bad guy or whatever the story was. But I remember letting go of needing to correct anybody."
When They Peaked: Perhaps testament to the unrealistic stakes of a celebrity relationship, Ryan and Crowe had one of their awkward early dates crashed by none other than David Bowie. And there is highly uncomfortable photo evidence:
Though Ryan and Crowe both refused to discuss the relationship (until much later, that is), even opting out of press conferences for their film to avoid personal questions (much to director Taylor Hackford’s dismay), other sources were more forthcoming. Ryan’s When Harry Met Sally co-star and friend Carrie Fisher jokingly told People that Crowe was “a tough thing to resist,” adding, “I was just glad I had a friend that got him. If I can’t have him, I want to hear what he’s like — at some point, when she’s willing to talk.”
The Breakup: Like most celebrity relationships at the heels of a high-profile divorce, Crowe and Ryan’s started strong but burned out fast. The flame sparked on set in the summer of 2000 had reportedly dimmed by Christmas of that same year.
By the time Proof of Life premiered in the U.K., Hackford had already chocked up its domestic box office failure to Ryan and Crowe’s tryst. He told reporters, "It had an indelible and very destructive effect on the release of the film in the US, because the real life story overpowered the film.” When this message was relayed to a newly single Crowe, he was less than pleased, telling journalists, “He's a f—king idiot. No seriously, what a knob."
In 2008, Ryan admitted to InStyle that Crowe had been unfairly implicated in her marital struggles. “I think he took a big hit,” she said, “But Russell didn’t break up the marriage. He was definitely there at the end, but it wasn’t his fault. I was a mess. I hurt him, too, at the end. I couldn’t be in another long relationship, it wasn’t the time for that. So I got out.”
Crowe had similarly considerate things to say about his ex, telling Melbourne’s Herald Sun, “Meg is a beautiful and courageous woman. I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I haven’t lost her friendship.”
Where They Are Now: Ryan is currently engaged to longtime boyfriend John Mellencamp. Adding to a family that consisted of her and Quaid’s actor son, Jack, 27, the actress adopted daughter Daisy, 15, in 2006.
Though she’s taken a step back from the spotlight in recent years, Ryan remains a household name and romantic comedy icon.
In 2003, Crowe wed Australian actress Danielle Spencer, with whom he shares two sons — Charles, 15, and Tennyson, 12. After 15 years of marriage, the pair finalized their divorce in 2018 (culminating with the actor’s now infamous “divorce auction”).
Next up, Crowe stars as former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes in limited series The Loudest Voice, premiering on Showtime June 30.