A TOUCH of Hollywood glamour landed in Durham as Oscar winner Russell Crowe led a masterclass for drama students.
The actor fulfilled a promise to friend Bill Bryson – made over a tipsy Chinese meal at the Dorchester Hotel six years ago – that he would visit the city where the author is chancellor of its university.
Yesterday, members of Durham Student Theatre (DST) and a few lucky ticket winners spent more than an hour with Mr Crowe, who taught them breathing exercises and put their skills to the test with a script to act out.
Along with Mr Bryson, he happily chatted to the media and posed for pictures as students cheered and hung out the windows of St Chad’s College waving “I Love Russell” and “Russ Rules” signs.
In the evening, Mr Crowe, star of LA Confidential and A Beautiful Mind, screened a film he made around the time he starred in Gladiator.
He also took part in a question-and-answer session with Mr Bryson and welcomed his friend’s Size2shoes, an Irish band, who performed a set at the Assembly Rooms Theatre.
Speaking from a chapel in the grounds of the college, Mr Crowe revealed how he had been stunned by picturesque Durham.
He said: “I went for a walk last night and it’s beautiful. Every part of the description Bill said and other people have said was true.
“The cathedral is really impressive. What a place to learn.”
He explained how he assumed Mr Bryson would stay in his role “until he was 105” and joked he thought he would never have to follow through with his offer to visit.
But when he read Mr Bryson would be stepping down this summer he got in touch to make arrangements.
Despite his fame, he confessed to being nervous about the class.
He said: “It was nerve-wracking.
“I had a great morning and there are some really talented kids in the group, they’re enthusiastic and I had a lot of fun with them.”
Mr Bryson said: “I’m personally very honoured that Russell Crowe has taken time out of his busy life to do this great thing for Durham.
“He is a truly special human being.”
He added the students “walked out like they were walking on air” as the class came to a close.
Lucy Cornell, 22, who is studying French, hopes to take up a place at Oxford School of Drama and wants to forge a career in the theatre.
She said: “It’s really exciting. I’m in my final year and just the opportunity to do this before I leave is really special.
“He was just very normal, just no pretensions.
“He said if you love acting, go for it and challenge yourself.”
Alex Tweddell, 21, president of DST, has just finished a law degree and hopes to take up a place on a stage management course at the Bristol Old Vic.
He said: “They’ve just loved it. I think they’re all in awe of him.
“We’ll have to see if Bill has any more names in is Rollerdex and it would be fantastic if this was the first and we could do it every year.”