By Benjamin Svetkey
Photos: By Nigel Parry
Entertainment Weekly (Jan. 4, 2002)
Brooding bad boy and brilliant actor. Hell-raiser and heartthrob. Player and poet. The many-sided star of a beautiful mind gives us a piece of his own.
In "A Beautiful Mind," Russell Crowe plays a mathematical genius who finds covert messages hidden in the text of otherwise innocuous magazine and newspaper clippings. If he were looking at this article, for instance, he'd be convinced it was riddled with secret codes, that its words were encrypted with a cache of classified information.
Actually, in this case, he wouldn't be entirely wrong. Classified information of a sort is divulged in this story, although none of it is hidden, much less encrypted. The following pages contain, for instance, secret documentation on how Crowe prepared for his performance as John Forbes Nash Jr.--a role based on the stranger-than-fiction tale of the real-life Princeton mathematician who, despite a decades-long battle with delusional schizophrenia, ultimately won a Nobel prize in economics.
It's a role, apparently, that Crowe was born to play. "He's not entirely unlike Nash," suggests director Ron Howard, who spent three months shooting the film with the famously meticulous actor. "He's highly intelligent and he has this self-confidence that you could define as arrogance--all qualities which Nash was supposed to embody." Little wonder, then, that Crowe's latest turn is already generating the sort of Oscar buzz not heard since, well, since he won for Gladiator last year and was nominated for The Insider the year before. But other secrets are also revealed in the interview below (conducted in early December at Crowe's Bel-Air hotel suite), with the scruffily handsome 37-year-old star allowing a rare glimpse into a mind that's sometimes beautiful, often boisterous, but never in the least bit boring.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY Ron Howard says that you could be "mercurial" on the set but otherwise your behavior was "exemplary." He says you ask a lot of "good, hard questions." High praise considering what other directors have said about you. You have a reputation for being a little difficult...
Russell Crowe: A reputation built mainly by people who are not confident, who find my questions threatening.
EW: Howard didn't?
Crowe: There wasn't anything we couldn't discuss. The lines of communication were totally open. That doesn't happen on every movie. In fact, this was a first.
EW: You must be pretty happy with your performance, then.
Crowe: I always say I've given 24 insufficient performances and I'm looking forward to the time in my life when I'll do something that I think is good.
EW: You're unhappy with your performances in all of your films? Even your last three or four?
Crowe: There's always stuff you can do better, stuff that maybe you didn't uncover enough. But if you do something that you truly believe is perfect, then that's got to be the last movie you do. If it's not a search, if you don't think of yourself as a student of the art form, then you should stop doing it.
EW: So, as a student of the art form, how did you approach the role of John Nash? Did you visit mental hospitals for research?
Crowe: No. I don't like the idea of prodding people. There are lots of other ways to get that sort of information without invading people's privacy. Especially for somebody like me, who spends so much time telling people to f--- off and get out of my life. Research is about observation, not about, you know, sticking your fingers in people's navels.
EW: But you did meet with the real Nash?
Crowe: Not at first. I had him answer specific questions on videotape. I didn't want to pressure Nash by sitting directly in front of him--not because of any reputation I have, but just because I'm the guy playing him. But eventually he came on the set and we met. I asked him one simple question, which he took 15 minutes to answer.
EW: What was the question?
Crowe: Whether he wanted a cup of coffee or a cup of tea. We ended up using part of his answer in the film. There's a scene where someone asks me if I want a cup of tea and I start muttering about how I don't know what kind of tea they serve, whether or not it would be suitable for my palate, if it had the density of flavor that appeals to me.
EW: I heard you wore false fingernails to make your hands look longer.
Crowe: They were fake only for the first three or four days. I ended up growing my nails throughout the rehearsal process. Ron Howard had this video of Nash giving a lecture and I saw the way he used the chalk on a blackboard. His fingers were long and tapered and mine are not, so I grew my nails. It's not a visual thing--you can't see it in the film. It was to make me feel more like Nash in the performance. Because the thing about long nails is you have to be more careful how you pick things up, how you touch things. It forces you to be a little more graceful with your hands.
EW: A Beautiful Mind is based on Sylvia Nasar's biography of Nash, but there's a lot of material in the book that didn't make it into the film. Anything you regret losing?
Crowe: A certain adventurousness in his sexuality.
EW: You mean the speculation in the book that he may have had homosexual tendencies?
Crowe: Exactly. And that was a big question for us, how far to go into that. It was relevant to his character, but we didn't want to imply that there was any possibility that schizophrenia and homosexuality are related. That would be ridiculous.
EW: So you decided not to put it in the movie?
Crowe: Oh, it's in there. It depends on how you watch it. There's a scene where Nash is walking down a corridor at Princeton and he fixes a young man walking towards him with a gaze. The extra turns around and goes, Wow, what was that about? You don't need a whole scene for everything--there are grace notes that you can do.
EW: Jennifer Connelly, who plays Nash's wife, Alicia, says she "crashed for a month" after the movie. She says it took a lot more out of her than she realized when she was filming. Did you have the same experience?
Crowe: There was a certain intensity, the long hours, the subject matter. But you don't labor every day to the same extreme. The romantic idea that you take [the role] home with you--to me that's bollocks.
EW: But Ron Howard says you had nightmares while making the film.
Crowe: It kind of annoys me that Ron made that a public thing, but he did it from a very innocent point of view. During shooting I couldn't sleep very well. But it wasn't a big deal. It didn't freak me out.
EW: Okay, maybe this will. I have some quotes here about you from some of the other, perhaps less confident directors you've worked with.
EW: Sam Raimi, who directed you in The Quick and the Dead, has been quoted as saying "The problem with working with Russell is that he always has a good idea. And he has no tact."
Crowe: Well, we're talking about Raimi five or six years before he understood the importance of narrative. Raimi is going to be one of the great directors of this century, I truly believe that. But he's only just got to the point where the blood and gore and exploding heads are less important than the story he's telling.
EW: Here's another one: "Russell is the rudest actor I've ever met. He's also the most committed. So if he wants to abuse me and then give me the most sensational take of all time, I don't care." That's from Geoffrey Wright...
Crowe: He's an idiot...
EW: But he made a terrific film--the one where you play a neo-Nazi skinhead in Australia. Wasn't that a big breakout performance for you?
Crowe: Yeah, but he's been giving quotes based on that movie for 10 years. I mean, I made a movie with him called Romper Stomper, the shoot of which was 28 days long. I've known Wright for eight weeks of my life, in 1991, okay? So he's got no right to be giving quotes based on that experience.
EW: Okay, last one: Taylor Hackford publicly complained that Proof of Life never had a chance at the box office because it couldn't compete with your real-life romance with your costar, Meg Ryan.
Crowe: He can say that, but I think he's being fundamentally weak as a man. I mean, it's just morally insipid for him to say that, because every single day I did as much as I possibly could for him. If he doesn't have the capacity to hear what I'm saying or hear what other people are saying, if he wants to take the position that he's above all suggestions, then I don't know what to say. You know, my preference would be that I never have to make another comment about Mr. Hackford again in my career.
EW: Deal. How do you feel about talking about Meg Ryan?
Crowe: On the relationship?
EW: Yeah. It's the classic movie-star dilemma, isn't it? How do you live your private lives when you're two of the most watched people on the planet?
Crowe: Carefully. But the thing is, how can you deny yourself something that was absolute and passionate and gigantic? We fell in love. It happens--thank God. It was an incredibly intense period of my life and obviously of her life. She's a magnificent person. If anything, I owe her an apology for not being as flexible as I might have been. I don't think I'll ever make that mistake again.
EW: You mean about not leaving your farm in Australia to be with her in Los Angeles?
Crowe: You know, I'm putting myself in a bad spot here. What I've just told you is more than I've ever said publicly, but it isn't enough. In black and white on the page, it won't be big enough to convey how huge and important that relationship was to me. How important she still is to me. But I don't want to say any more because it's really nobody's business.
EW: All this prying into your personal life--isn't that part of the Faustian deal you make when you become a movie star? You give up your privacy?
Crowe: The deal is in constant renegotiation. I think there is a point where I can still work at the highest level without having all this other stuff. The only movie that made me tabloid fodder is Gladiator. The other films got a high level of critical response, but it wouldn't have happened without Gladiator. And I'd be surprised if I have a second movie that becomes as much a part of the zeitgeist. So sooner or later the attention will die down.
EW: But there have been some obvious personal issues that have made you tabloid fodder as well.
Crowe: But it wouldn't have mattered without Gladiator. Nobody would have cared. Gladiator was in a whole different category. And nobody predicted it. The day before the release, people were still patting me on the back and patronizing me: "It's okay. You might get another job."
EW: And you ended up winning an Oscar for it. Incidentally, you seemed a little tense up on the podium that night. Were you nervous?
Crowe: Probably the most adrenalized I've ever been in my life.
EW: The next one will be easier.
Crowe: If. If there is a next one.
EW: Basically what you're saying, though, is that you're not entirely comfortable being a movie star, or at least being famous.
Crowe: All that stuff, this public persona of me--let's call him the wild man--that is not helpful. It doesn't make me more of a box office draw. It's the quality of my work that makes people want to go to my films. All the other stuff is superfluous. All the National Enquirer stuff, the jabs in the gossip columns, trying to belittle me by associating me with people sexually or whatever--all of that is bulls---. It's all a negative and it's actually really bad for what I do. Because when I walk into a room now, all this other stuff comes with me. All this baggage that has nothing to do with reality. I mean, look at the newspapers the last couple of weeks. Apparently there was a stampede on my farm.
EW: There was?
Crowe: No, it's not true, mate, but it's in the newspapers. There was a whole bunch of s--- about me buying a villa in Tuscany, too. I've never been to Tuscany, as much as I'd like to go. And my Italian real estate portfolio is nonexistent.
EW: So all the stories in the gossip columns are untrue?
Crowe: Even when they know the truth about a story, they make it up--if the truth doesn't suit them. This whole Courtney Love thing, for instance. There was no sexual relationship.
EW: She was quoted recently as saying that all you two did that night after the Golden Globes was come back to your suite...
Crowe: This very room, actually ...
EW: ... and write poetry and cry.
Crowe: Shes a f---ing -- well, okay. That's not necessarily 100 percent on the ball, either. She was going through kind of a hard time. I'm a gentle soul, so we sat down and found a way for her to express what she was feeling, which was writing it down. And she got to the point where what she was writing was really upsetting. But it was brilliant. She's a poetess. She has a lot of great stuff inside her, if she would just concentrate on the work. I always had a lot of time for her until earlier this year when she kind of verbally attacked a really good friend of mine, so now I see her in a different light.
EW: You're referring to the Oscars, when you took your ex-girlfriend Danielle Spencer and Love made a scene banging on your limo window?
Crowe: Yeah. And also the fact that she didn't come out and say, "No, it wasn't a sexual relationship" until 10 or 11 months later. That bothered me. She got pregnant and had a miscarriage or something, so it was printed that it must be my child, right? She didn't come out and say it wasn't possible since there was no sexual relationship. And the thing is, I don't believe it's the gentleman's prerogative to ring up the media to deny a sexual liaison. It's ungallant, for a start. Anyway, every single one of those publications that ran the story [about my being the father] knew it wasn't true. And they ran it anyway.
EW: There was a lot in the papers back then about a kidnapping plot. You had FBI agents following you around the Golden Globes. Did they ever catch the guys?
Crowe: I can't really talk about it. All I can say is that it's been partially put to rest. There were two streams of threat, one of which has been tied up and the other is still floating out in the ether. The weirdest thing about that was having to attend the awards with 12 identically dressed guys with earpieces and not being able to talk about why. People were like, "Who does he think he is--Elvis?"
EW: Not to get too personal, but I wanted to ask you a few questions about growing up...
Crowe: I'm planning on it soon.
EW: You were born in New Zealand, moved to Australia when you were 4, and then got your first acting gig at 5?
Crowe: I was 6, in 1970. It was an Australian TV show called Spy Force. My parents were caterers on the set and my mother basically volunteered me. I was one of about 20 or 30 orphans who were about to be slaughtered during World War II and covert Australian agents come in and save the day. Funnily enough, I wasn't in the last scene because I got so bored I took one of the fake guns and ran into the bushes by myself for three hours.
EW: Giving directors a hard time even then.
Crowe: Yeah, but that's when I knew I wanted to be a performer.
EW: But you wanted to be a musician, no? You still do. You still perform with your band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.
Crowe: That's kind of a difficult thing, because I don't need it. I'd be fine committing my songs to paper or tape by myself, without it being a public thing. But I have a group of people who've been involved in this band for 17 years. And the only thing that gives them a platform for their work is also the only thing that prevents them from being taken seriously: me.
EW: You had an earlier musical incarnation in Australia as Russ Le Roq.
Crowe Le Roq, right. I played rockabilly in '50s nightclubs. I could write songs quite easily as a young fellow, but I wasn't giving anything of myself to them. It was like writing advertising jingles. It was all crap, but it allowed me to explore myself without being me, if you know what I mean.
EW: You released a single back then called "I Just Wanna Be Like Marlon Brando." Do you remember the lyrics?
Crowe: Yeah, sure.
EW: Let's hear some.
Crowe: F--- off.
EW: I'm wondering if you wrote the song because as a kid you really wanted to be like Brando. After all, there's an obvious irony here...
Crowe: I'd never even seen a Marlon Brando movie when I wrote that song. I was 16. I wrote the song as a gag about this guy I knew at the time. But Brando was a gigantic actor. Still is. The first time I saw On the Waterfront I went straight out and got A Streetcar Named Desire. That's when I started to realize what he was all about. He committed to things on a level that was way outside the norm. And then you've got De Niro after him. The mark is always changing. I mean, after what De Niro did with Raging Bull, an absolute commitment to your cinematic performance is the starting point. It's a given.
EW: What about Laurence Olivier's famous suggestion to Dustin Hoffman: "Dear boy, why don't you try acting?"
Crowe: You know, f--- him. I mean, I know what he's talking about. You can't sit around all day in character. You've got to have objectivity to what you're doing. But Olivier is from a school before Method acting, so he never really put his toe in the water. He kept a distance from his performance, which is why to me his stuff doesn't stand up. It might have been arresting and fantastic at the time--I mean, he's a bloke whose intellect is a mountain and I absolutely respect him--but that line to Hoffman always bothered me. All Hoffman was trying to do was commit, you know? He should have been applauded for that.
EW: Some roles must be easier to commit to than others.
Crowe: They all require commitment. Somebody the other day was saying to me that they liked my performance in The Insider and in this new movie better than the one I gave in Gladiator. I was like, "Hold on a second, mate. Gladiator was a fully emotionally realized performance. Every now and then we'd fight some tigers, all right, but the emotional journey this guy was on is why people loved it."
EW: But when every role requires a De Niro-esque commitment, how do you choose your pictures? Every choice becomes extremely important.
Crowe: It's about goose bumps, man. I read the damn script. If I start digging it, I literally get goose bumps on my skin. I get a physical reaction to it and that's the movie I make. That's why it's so unpredictable what I'm going to do next. It's not like I go searching for a type of movie. I don't say, "Okay, now I want to be in a movie wearing a toga."
EW: Perhaps now's the time to mention another of those nasty rumors: that you're going to star in a big-screen version of Hogan's Heroes.
Crowe: I had a conversation about that with [A Beautiful Mind producer] Brian Grazer, who was pursuing the rights. I'm not attached to it. I haven't read a script. But we were talking about making it more like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape. A serious movie about prisoners of war.
EW: You got Hogan's Heroes on Australian TV?
Crowe: Yeah, of course we did. The guy who played Newkirk [Richard Dawson] was amazing. His accents were spot-on.
EW: Have you ever had goose bumps over a script and not gotten the part?
Crowe: Many times. But f--- them--that's their bad luck.
EW: Name one.
Crowe: I really loved the script for Shakespeare in Love. It was one of seven scripts [Miramax chief] Harvey Weinstein sent me. At the time, I had a very aggressive relationship with Harvey, mainly coming from him. He wanted me to sign a four-film deal, which wouldn't give me control of the characters I was going to play. For some reason he couldn't understand why I didn't think that was a good idea. So he sent me these scripts to illustrate that he was the man in town with the best material. I gave him my critique of each and he went, "Who the f--- do you think you are?!" He was shaking his head, saying "You'll never get anywhere in this business." I think the thing that p---ed him off was that I had actually read all seven. But the Shakespeare screenplay was fantastic, so I met with thi+s English bloke who was involved at the time--a great filmmaker, actually, but f--- him, too--and he said his instincts told him I wasn't right for the character. I told him his instincts were f---ing s--- a--. Obviously we didn't get on very well.
EW: Can't imagine why.
Crowe: Yeah...hey, what just fell out of your pocket, mate?
EW: A Tic Tac. Want one?
Crowe: I thought it was drugs.
EW: Right--like I got hopped up to do this interview.
Crowe: Well, you'd have to. You know, the guy you're interviewing is supposed to be one crazy motherf---er.
Copyright 2002 Time Inc.
Photos: By Nigel Parry in New York City, December 11, 2001
(Transcription thanks to Angie. Scans thanks to mad maxine)
by Clarissa Cruz
Photos by Yariv Milchan
Entertainment Weekly, December 22 - 29, 2000
Much like his brooding alter ego in the summer blockbuster Gladiator, Russell Crowe, 36, just wants to go home. "I'm sitting here [in] a hotel room in Los Angeles on what, the fifth day of December? I've slept 21 nights on the farm [in his native Australia] this year since January 1st," he sighs. "It's just been very busy, and I'm hoping that things, once I get home, settle down a bit."
Don't count on it, mate. Since he unleashed hell on moviegoers with his muscular, sword brandishing star turn as Maximus in the $187 million-grossing epic, Crowe has found himself at the center of a swirling maelstrom of public fascination. Gladiator was only one vehicle in the star's multi-chariot pop-culture ride during year 2000: Whether his was waddling his way to an Oscar Nomination as a pudgy, morally conflicted whistle-blower in The Insider, barking out rock lyrics in Austin as the swaggering frontman for 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, or turning in a skillfully controlled performance as a gruff kidnapping expert in Proof of Life (not to mention dodging paparazzi around the globe once l'affaire Ryan broke), the strapping, gravel-voiced actor thrilled a Colosseum full of onlookers.
The secret? "I don't know, mate. Luck?" says Crowe, who also drew stellar reviews for 1993's Romper Stomper and 1997's L. A. Confidential. "I don't have any rules. Every single job is completely different, every single character is completely different -- the only thing I've probably learned over the years is that I'm not objective when it comes to my own work." Then let's give Proof director Taylor Hackford a shot at it. "He possesses this fantastic physical ability and at the same time, intense, intelligent acting ability. I think the world is open to him - there's no limit." Adds Proof costar David Caruso: "Once in a generation an actor will come along and set a benchmark for excellence that everybody else aspires to. He's the real thing."
He's even got the tabloid battle scars to prove it. At first, Crowe and Proof love interest Meg Ryan had managed to keep their romance under wraps. "There's a certain process that takes place on the set, when scenes were being shot, but to me that was just process," says Caruso. "And I didn't see anything personal going on." But when Ryan and husband Dennis Quaid announced their separation after nine years of marriage, the stage was set for a gossip-page siege that hasn't abated. Still, Crowe isn't one to get his toga in a bunch over the ruckus - - or get caught up in Hollywood star machinations. "I don't know if I was ever looking for this kind of success -- it came along as a by-product of concentration on what I was doing," says the actor, who'll next play a schizophrenic mathematician in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind. "I have a thing that goes through my head, that if I do the best I can possible do on the day, any given day, on whatever job it is, then that's all I can actually do."
And as Maximus once bellowed, were we not entertained?
(Cover thanks to mad maxine, article and photos thanks to Marjean)
"Chairman of the Sword," by Chris Nashawaty
Russell Crowe conquers the spectacular arena of GLADIATOR - but shooting this big-budget epic was anything but a Roman holiday.
Sometimes even the most inspired ideas sound ridiculous at first. At least that's the way Ridley Scott saw it one June day in 1998, when DreamWorks' production head Walter Parkes and producer Douglas Wick paid a visit to his West Hollywood office and pitched him on directing a Roman gladiator epic set in A.D. 180.
A gladiator movie! Had his career come to this? Hadn't gladiator movies been used as a Peter Graves punchline in Airplane!? Scott was well within his rights to laugh the pair out the door. After all, it had been 35 years since the decline and fall of those old-fashioned sandal-and-toga Roman spectaculars. And for good reason. For every Spartacus Hollywood had cranked out a dozen fiscal sinkholes like Cleopatra or embarrassments like Barabbas. Horrifying images of a loincloth-clad Victor Mature sucking in his gut must have flashed through Scott's head.
Then Parkes pulled out the one thing he knew might sway the visually minded director behind Blade Runner and Alien. "It was a reproduction of a 19th-century painting [Pollice Verso, by Jean-Lon Grme]," says Scott. "It depicted a gladiator standing over another gladiator who he was about to kill. And he was looking up to a crowd that was giving him the full thumbs-down." At that moment, the ridiculous was transformed into the inspired.
"They really had me," laughs Scott. "I hadn't even read the script and I was sitting there begging and thinking 'S---, why hadn't I thought of it?'"
Now, nearly two years after Scott and DreamWorks tap-danced on the fine line between clever and stupid, the advance buzz on Gladiator - and especially on Russell Crowe as its badass warrior-hero Maximus - is so overwhelming that the only question seems to be how big a blockbuster it's going to be.
But getting to this point has been one of the bumpiest chariot races since Ben-Hur. For starters, at $103 million, Gladiator is the six-year-old studio's most expensive movie ever - and it wasn't even directed by in-house sure thing Steven Spielberg. Also, there was Scott's track record: It's been a rocky decade for the 62-year-old British auteur, who followed his last critical hit, 1991's Thelma & Louise, with potholes like White Squall and G.I. Jane. Then there was the script... or lack of one. Scott began shooting without a finished screenplay to meet a summer deadline, while last-minute writers were brought in to hash out a completely new second act. There was the shock when one of the film's stars, British actor Oliver Reed, died suddenly on location in Malta last spring. And finally, there was the movie's star: With brilliant performances in L.A. Confidential and The Insider, Crowe was definitely an actor on the rise. But whether he was ready to carry a summer action movie on his shoulders was another question entirely.
It's two weeks before Oscar night, and Russell Crowe seems the exact opposite of the tuxedoed sourpuss that the TV cameras caught in the audience of the Shrine. That night, Crowe looked like a guy weaned on a pickle. And in reality, on the set and off, the 36-year-old actor is a notorious bad boy - combative, hard-living, but most importantly, he insists, dead serious about his work. Today, though, over a couple of beers at a dude-ranch-themed bar on L.A.'s Sunset Strip, Crowe seems more laid-back and funny than brooding and hard-boiled.
Sipping on a Red Stripe, Crowe nods towards a mechanical bull in the center of the room. He drags on one of an endless carcinogenic daisy chain of Marlboro Lights (The Insider smokes? "I'm a great fan of irony," he says). Then he riffs in his molasses-thick Down-Under accent: "You know what the saying is, mate? If you want to be a bull rider, you get a handful of marbles - glass ones, preferably - and put 'em in your mouth. Then you get a hammer and smack yourself on the back of the head. And every time to smack yourself you spit out one of the marbles. And when all your marbles are gone you get on the f---ing bull."
What the hell does that mean?
"When you've lost your marbles, man. You know that saying?" Crowe is flush with these kinds of colorful, byzantinely Aussie epigrams. At one point a starstruck waiter virtually begs Crowe if he can get him anything, to which Crowe replies, "If I could get another Red Stripe, I'd be sweet as a biscuit."
Sweet as a biscuit.
The fact that Crowe's hotel is right across the street from this joint with the mechanical bull is also "sweet as a biscuit." And whenever you happen to say something Crowe likes, he'll smile, nod thanks, and say, "Rock and roll." It's not even humanely possible to keep track of how often he says "mate." Crowe was always Scott's first choice to play Maximus - the Roman general who's betrayed by the emperor Marcus Aurelius' son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) and exiled, only to fight his way to Rome as a vengeful gladiator. "I noticed him way back in Romper Stomper," says Scott of Crowe's 1993 turn as a menacingly realistic neo-Nazi skinhead. Asked what he saw in Crowe in that film, Scott utters one word: "Animal."
Crowe, however, had to be talked into accepting Maximus; for one thing, he thought the script needed a serious overhaul. On the Mississippi set of The Insider, Crowe wasn't sure he liked Gladiator's "semi-cynical take on life in ancient times" at the expense of a fleshed-out hero's journey. "The concept was really interesting, but I was deeply into [The Insider]." Then one morning Insider director Michael Mann "comes in while I was getting my makeup put on and says, 'I know you're focused on this role, and I appreciate it because it's my movie. But I just wanted to stick something in your head - and that is that Ridley Scott is one of the top 2 percent shooters in the history of cinema.'" Crowe laughs. "So after that I was like 'S---, I better get on the phone and move this monkey along.'"
Crowe soon had weightier matters to worry about. To play The Insider's Big Tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, Crowe packed on 38 pounds of Method flab thanks to a strictly unstrict diet of cheeseburgers and whiskey; he now faced the challenge of shaping his doughy physique into the body of a Roman warrior. "I didn't think it would take that long," he laughs. "But after 5 weeks of working out I'd dropped only five pounds...My blood pressure and cholesterol were at dangerously high levels and it occurred to me that what I was doing was probably quite silly because my body was taking the weight gain seriously. My body didn't say, 'Oh, it's just a role.'"
Fortunately for Scott, Crowe was already pretty experienced riding horses - he lives on a 560-acre ranch seven hours by car from Sydney, and considers it a sacred haven from the pressures of Hollywood. Still, even after he'd lost the weight and had spent a chunk of the five-and-a-half months between the two films working with a sword master in Australia, Crowe wanted to make one more change. In the film, Maximus comes from the Spanish part of the Roman Empire - so Crowe told Scott he wanted to adopt a Spanish accent. Scott, wasn't having it. "So we went from our first conversation where I said I'd like to play this character with Antonio Banderas' voice, but with better elocution, to Royal Shakespeare Company two pints after lunch," Crowe says of the British growl he ultimately adopted.
Crowe's desire to go the Banderas route is exactly the kind of chameleonic extreme he gets off on. "It's quite amazing when you see the physical transformations he goes through from film to film," says Connie Nielsen, who plays Lucilla, his duplicitous love interest. "He has a whole change even in the way he walks. I saw The Insider after we finished shooting and I was shocked."
It's this kind of commitment that just might make Crowe a new and improved breed of action star - the antithesis of the old-school, red-meat-and-steroids he-men of the '80s. "I think our idea of what an action hero is has changed," says Joaquin Phoenix, who matched Crowe snarl for deliciously hammy snarl as Maximus' nemesis. "Now we care about heroes with flaws and humanity. I think that's what's so key about Russell's performance. He's a wonderful physical force, but there is such depth to his character - I was so f---ing impressed."
Still, the last thing Crowe seems to want is to become the next American action hero. Consider the unpredictability of his two upcoming roles: First he'll play a hostage negotiator oppostie Meg Ryan in Taylor Hackford's South American drama Proof of Life. And then he'll segue into playing a hair-covered circus freak in Jodie Foster's Flora Plum. In other words, Crowe could care less about stardom. When it's brought to his attention that one agent who recently saw Gladiator predicted Crowe would jump into the $15-20 million payday club right under Cruise, Carrey and Gibson, Crowe scoffs. "It depends if you're just going to take anything that comes along, doesn't it, mate? I don't really care about all that. That's somebody else's idea of cool."
While Gladiator's $103 million budget sounds decadent enough for Caligula, it was stretched to the last Roman sesterce thanks to Scott's desire to "throw a gauntlet on the ground." After working on a derailed big-budget Arnold Schwarzenegger project called Iron Legends following G.I. Jane, Scott was itching to breathe new life into epic storytelling with the help of high-tech F/X. "I thought we could set a new standard," he says. "Battle scenes used to just be wide shots like a ballet. But now one fight scene can have 400 shots. You can take audiences inside the battle like in Private Ryan." Realizing he's comparing himself with his DreamWorks sugar daddy Spielberg, Scott laughs: "Actually, I get on pretty well with Steven. He'd pop into the editing room, make some suggestions, and have a cigar."
Then again, maybe the boss was just keeping an eye on his investment. In fact, DreamWorks was so concerned about Gladiator's budget that as with most of its costlier ventures, it ended up taking on a coproducing partner, Universal. "We went in hoping that we would make it less expensively," says Parkes. "But as soon as we went into preproduction we realized that just the size of the movie had certain requirements."
Those requirements included a third, unexpected location. The first two drafts of Gladiator's screenplay by David Franzoni had only two "acts": one in which Maximus starts off as a general kicking Teutonic butt in Germania (shot in the English countryside), and one in ancient Rome (re-created in Malta). But when a middle act, chronicling Maximus' slavery and gladiator training in the Middle East, was added, Scott chose to shoot in Morocco, sending the budget soaring. "As scary as it was to go forward, we knew that it was unique," says Parkes. "Yes, it was risky, but I'll tell you what's riskier ö spending $80 or $90 million on yet another generic action movie."
After shooting in remote Ouarzazate, Morocco, Scott headed to Malta, the film's most ambitious and physically challenging locale. Besides a still-intact 17th-century fort, Scott's main set was a breathtaking replica of the Colosseum ö a set he says took two and a half months and over $1 million to build. "The original Colosseum held 50,000 people, and it's four tiers, like a giant wedding cake. But I could build two tiers and about 40 percent of the Colosseum full scale and add the rest with CGI."
According to Jonathan Mostow, the director of U-571, who was shooting his submarine thriller on Malta at the same time as Gladiator, the non-CGI results were pretty mind-boggling too. "Driving to our set every morning, you'd pass by these tigers in cages, so I was real anxious to take a peek. And as amazing as our sets were, when I went over to see the Gladiator sets, I ö well, let's just say I couldn't wait to see the movie."
Despite its sheer size and cost, the Malta location also turned out to be the most seat-of-the-pants part of the shoot. Scott says he tapped screenwriter William Nicholson (Shadowlands) to become the film's third screenwriter (after Franzoni and John Logan) and flew him in to serve as the resident Mr. Fix-It, reworking the script as they shot. "He came in and came out," says the director (who insists, incidentally, that the film he's now shooting ö the Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal ö has had a finished script for months). "Sometimes there would be a block that didn't work and he'd come in and do it, but the unusual thing is, I started to enjoy it."
Crowe apparently didn't. In a recent TIME piece, an unnamed DreamWorks exec branded him "not well behaved" and "unreasonable" on the set. Parkes disputes this assessment: "Russell is a perfectionaist and very outspoken·a very involved, collaborative kind of actor. People who characterize him as intimidating or difficult probably don't seek input from actor. Ridley likes that kind of actors."
"It was very difficult, writing things on the same day or right before the scene," says the actor. "But we didn't stop production. Ridley made his schedule. He made it for exactly the amount of money he said he would make it for in the beginning."
Well, not quite. Due to an unforeseen tragedy, Gladiator's budget crept up yet again. On May 2, 1999, Oliver Reed, the British veteran (Women in Love) whom Scott had cast as Proximo, Maximus' gladiatorial instructor, died of apparent heart failure at 61. With three weeks left to work, the hard-boozing Reed keeled over while drinking in a Maltese pub. "I got quite a shock when I heard it," says Richard Harris, who plays the emperor Marcus Aurelius. "This movie would have revived his career ö because his career was in the dumps. It's a shame, really."
Adds Crowe: "Oliver went out the way he lived his life, mate, you know? I've known a lot of pissheads in my time, and maybe that sounds lacking in eloquence to some people, but quite frankly, that's what he was· a lot of great actors have been· I'm just glad he'd done enough of his part that they didn't have to get another actor ö so this can be a memorial to him. I think it's one of his best performances in the past 10 years."
With only a few of Reed's scenes left to shoot, Scott was forced to work some sleight of hand in postproduction. He spent a reported $3 million to digitally scan Reed's face on a stocky body double, and rewrote Reed's final scene. "It was like a CGI jigsaw puzzle," says Scott. "We reorganized three shots of his close-ups from three different scenes." Then, he says, "I had the double walk up [to the camera], stand, and talk, and then I put Oliver's CGI head on the body." In the end credits, Scott added a postscript: "To Our Friend Oliver Reed."
Meanwhile, back at the ranch -- or at least that L.A. bar with the mechanical bull that wants so desperately to be a ranch -- Crowe nurses another beer and reminisces about the scent of jasmine of the real ranch he calls home. His reverie of homesickness sounds almost identical to a particularly sentimental scene in Gladiator where Maximus tells Marcus Aurelius about the home he misses and hasn't seen for more than two years because he's had to lead the Roman legions. When the similarities are pointed out, Crowe laughs: "I actually wrote that speech. That's the way I feel about missing my home
After the bruised and battered Crowe finished his last day of shooting, he flew home to Australia and set off on a 6,500-kilometer motorcycle ride to unwind from the shoot. Not that he's complaining. In fact, the general is thrilled with the way his campaign came out. "All the hard work and late nights and heavy weeks and no rest between fight sequences ö when I saw the film, all of that meant nothing. I've never had that much fun watching a movie I'm in."
In other words, sweet as a biscuit, mate· rock and roll.
(Thanks to Mary for the transcription)
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