Oscar-winner Russell Crowe flew thousands of miles to give his first acting class to a group of students in England today.
He fulfilled a long-standing promise to his friend Bill Bryson, the author and chancellor of England's Durham University.
When Crowe heard Bryson was leaving his post this year, he decided if he was to carry out his vow to teach Durham students, it had to be soon.
The 47-year-old flew from Los Angeles to the UK to take the session which had been agreed over a Chinese meal in London’s Dorchester hotel around five years ago.
Crowe led a session with members of Durham Student Theatre at St Chad’s College, in the shadow of the city’s majestic Norman cathedral.
Afterwards, Crowe, who won an Oscar in 2001 for the film 'Gladiator', admitted he had been “really nervous”.
He said: “I’ve never done this before, I called back on the things people said to me as a young actor. We started off with a few games and went into a long session of interpretation. It was enjoyable, really nice.”
Invited members of the group revealed Crowe asked them to perform for him in front of their peers, and some ended up singing opera or trying out Australian and Chinese accents and making up a scene about an apple.
But the main message they received was to fall in love with acting, and face up to the fact that “99.9% of actors will be unemployed at any given time”.
Afterwards, Crowe said Anthony Hopkins had inspired him as a young man.
“The things that he said to me when I was 25 or 26 really drove me forward. Hopefully some of the kids today got some adrenaline out of that. He said things that gave me confidence to keep pursuing what I was doing.”
Crowe thought the most important lesson for the students was: "It's not about dollars or fame or success it's about pursuing the things that you love."
He said Durham – with its World Heritage status cathedral and castle – was “gorgeous”.
Bryson said: “It’s incredible and I still can’t believe he’s here and has come to Durham. It’s the most generous thing anyone has done for me. He’s come all the way from Los Angeles to give a workshop which is quite an honour for us and I’m so pleased people are receiving this with such enthusiasm and excitement.
“The guy is a superstar but he’s also an incredibly nice human being.”
The American author said they first met five years ago in London because the actor liked his books, and they had dinner.
“In the course of the evening I told him about my role here as Chancellor and he asked if we did drama,” he recalled.
“I said the drama society is one of the best things we did, in terms of student activities. He said ’One day maybe I’ll come up and do a workshop’. I didn’t really expect it to go any further than that.
“I thought it was one of those idle offers people make but a few weeks ago, out of the blue, he got in touch and said he’d heard I was stepping down as chancellor and so we’d better get going.”
The visit was a highlight of his period as chancellor.
“My time at Durham has been the best period of my life. It’s obviously the biggest privilege and honour that has been paid me and to be able to finish on such a high note is just fantastic.”
Alex Tweddell, president of the theatre group, said: "He's a really nice guy. We went for a meal last night and he’s so laid back, he was willing to chat to anyone.”
The 21-year-old law student said: “We told the students that were doing the masterclass and they were over the moon.
“I had a fantastic day of ringing them up and asking ’Are you free to do a workshop with Russell Crowe?’ They dropped everything to be here this morning.”
Liz Smith, 23, who took part in the masterclass, said: “He was surreal, great and really inspiring. He’s an amazing teacher. It really felt like he was interested in us.”
Aspiring actress Rebecca Collingwood, 22, from Norfolk, said: “It was incredible. He took time to make sure everyone was comfortable and he was himself so we could be ourselves.
“He was just lovely and we took so much from it. It’s an inspiration. He started with nothing in the acting world and worked really hard to get where he is.
“It made you realise if you want it you can get it but you just need to be prepared to work really hard.”
Crowe said he will visit friends in Scotland over the weekend.