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(Cover: Thanks to Cecile)
Russell Crowe, it's anyone's bet
Thanks to his role in Gladiator, he is going to achieve stardom.
Do you know why Ridley Scott chose you to play Maximus?
RC : He said he noticed me in one of my very first films I did, Romper Stomper (1992) and he also liked my acting in L.A Confidential. He was looking for someone who was physically strong but, at the same time, someone capable of a kind of... interiority. And, above all, I think he wanted a new face (that's why he chose Connie Nelson and Joaquin Phoenix too) and... a salary which was more than reasonable! (laughs)
What strikes you in Ridley Scott?
RC : His visionary approach, his mastery of visuals. I like his artistic vision, his ability to create worlds and to give them uncommon authenticity. I was talking about him to Michael Mann on the shooting of The Insider, and he also thinks that Ridley is, in cinema history, one of the 2% directors who are masters of this art. The trouble, with Ridley, is that he tends to give greater importance to the image of the film to the detriment of the script, and it's on that point that we had the most bitter discussions...
Some even say that you had big arguements with one another...
RC : "Arguements", that's saying a lot. We talked a lot, but each time, it was enriching... (laughs). We agreed about the broad outlines of the film, but I considered that some of my character's reactions had to continue subsequently or to be justified earlier. At first, Gladiator was more like "Ridley Scott--Russell Crowe--185 BC"! We only had some sort of script, which, according to me, was too cynical, too modern and with too many jokes. Ridley and I worked a lot on it to improve it.
Do you regard Maximus as a hero?
RC : No. I think he's a man guided by love. The love he feels for his Emperor Marcus Aurelius, for the Roman Empire, for his wife and his son. Each time he comes to a decision, it's consistent. He's a straight man, but he's also a warrior, a fiery and rough man who is able to split in two his enemy with a blow of his sword, because, at that time, soldiers bodily fought and that's the way Maximus leads his life.
No comparison with "Willis-Stallone-Scharzenegger" action heroes then?
RC : This kind of action heroes leaves me cold and it really gives me a pain in the arse. As far as they're concerned, the big mistake is their monolithism. A good soldier is a man who can control his fear a little bit longer than the others. Those heroes are never scared of anything. The approach to my character is different, more subtle. Maximus is a General. To help me playing the character, I gave him a past. The past of a 9 year-old kid who who would have joined the Roman army, would have climbed one grade after another, would have been noticed during battles and would have become -- and the film starts here -- a General who is faithful to Marcus Aurelius. He's a man who truly built his life, who has a wife and a son, vineyards and olive groves, who doesn't give a damn about the fact that his armour is shining or not. He knows what is important and what is not, and his life is even more precious because of that. It can't be more different to the action heroes you're talking about. They're crude characters with a gun in their hands!
Ridley Scott said that the dream sequence, in which you're stroking some wheat, would not exist without you...
RC : I wanted Maximus' past of farmer in Spain to be known and his deep-rooted attachment to the soil to be shown. I had this idea when Ridley and I were in a pub in London. He was drinking some champagne and me, some Jack Daniel's, and after a while, he said (he imitates the voice of someone drunk) : "Do you realize we've drunk two bottles of champagne?ä I replied, "Sorry, mate, but I'm not drinking champagne." He said, "Do you realize I've drunk two bottles of champagne?" I said, "Yeah, I do!" Actually, we had the idea of the dream sequence between the end of the first bottle and the beginning of the second one... (laughs). It's an example and I've got more...
Scott said that you insisted on doing research to be ready for the role...
RC : Yeah, it was really exciting to do some research even if I play a fictional character. I even wrote my lines and used some extracts from The Meditations (by Marcus Aurelius) in my dialogues -- when I describe the country where I come from for example. But, there was an intensive physical training too -- the shooting lasted six months! But, the different kinds of swords were not so difficult to handle. You know, I come from Australia and I've been to a lot of barbecues! (laughs). A two-hedged sword is not really bigger than a pike for steaks! Actually, the most difficult was my struggle against cholesterol. It was really hard to lose the 30 kgs I gained for The Insider. But I don't want to make a great fuss about it, I'm an actor who works between the words "Action" and "Cut". It's not like me to be called Maximus when I'm not on screen. When I hear "Action", I'm ready, I go and the first shot is often the best one. When I hear "Cut", I am my old self again.
There are a lot of great classical actors with you in the film...
RC : I got on well with Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi, and David Hemmings and I became really good friends. For me, with Oliver Reed, they are "The four Riders of the Apocalypse". When Oliver Reed died, during the shooting, we were all in a state of shock. I had a few drinks with him - - even if I drink occasionally, but he used to fill his veins with alcohol...
At the moment, you're doing Proof of Life with Meg Ryan and directed by Taylor Hackford. What is your next film?
RC: Flora Plum, with Claire Danes. I'm going to be a beast in a freak show. The film is directed by the great, very smart and very friendly Jodie Foster. With her, I have the most fluid "cinema" relationship since Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire's. Honestly, as an actor, I've got all I could wish for.
(Article and translation thanks to Frederique)
Photo by: Cynthia Levine /Sygma Agency
(Thanks to Christine, Celine and Heleneren)
BIRTH OF A HERO
Le Nouveau Cinema
by Olivier Bonnard
He has cast a shadow over Al Pacino in "The Insider". Biting, changing, the Australian Russell Crowe stars in "Gladiator", an epic signed by Ridley Scott.
Rome, April 27. Russell Crowe arrives on time for his meeting, with an easy step and an affable look. But don't be mistaken. Crowe has fangs. And the eye of the tiger. This bright flame in his drooping blue eyes. If he hadn't been an actor, Russell Crowe would have been a boxer. And not the type that dances around his opponent either. The Australian is creating a massive and solid filmography for himself and a place in the sun of Hollywood. Just remember: the fighting preacher of "The Quick and the Dead", the quarrelsome cop of "L.A. Confidential", he was all that.
Nominated for an Oscar for his flabbergasting performance in "The Insider", playing a man caught in a terrible dilemma (to sum it up: ratting on my ex-employer, does it make me a hero or a traitor?) and overshadowing the faultless Al Pacino, the actor is starring these days in "Gladiator", an epic directed by Ridley Scott, where he plays a Roman general seeking vengeance since the Emperor has ordered his wife and son slain.
"Jeffrey Wigand, the character I play in 'The Insider', and Maximus, the hero of 'Gladiator', are men of valor and honor who embrace a heroic fate", explains the actor. "The first goes up against the tobacco industry; the latter against a maleficent emperor. In both cases, it is a bit the story of David vs. Goliath. But that's as far as the comparison gets, because Wigand is a brilliant chemist and endocrinologist, a very cerebral man. Maximus on the other hand is a fierce fighter, a pack of sheer brutal force."
So much to say that between Wigand's white shirt and Maximus' armor, the actor had to do the splits and proved that he could play anything. "I took 20 kg (= about 40 pounds) for the character of Jeffrey Wigand", explains Russell Crowe. I filled myself with cheeseburgers and bourbon. Most of all, I stopped all physical activity, which was a real change in lifestyle for me since I live on a farm and out in the fresh air. In short, I was bloated, unrecognisable. It took me six weeks to get to that result. Naively, I thought it would take me six weeks to get back to my normal weight and be able to shoot 'Gladiator'. Big mistake! Impossible to lose weight. I went to see a doctor who told me that I had the cholesterol level and blood pressure of a 55-year old man with a dubious lifestyle. So I started a very strict diet - no fat, no alcohol - and I attended an intensive fitness program. I finally reached my original weight and I started the shoot of 'Gladiator'".
As if a genuine disciple of Robert De Niro, Russell Crowe is ready to do anything that a part demands. What gave him this taste for always surpassing himself? The memory of a dull childhood, spent in a flat in an Eastern suburb of Sydney."My imagination was all I had to escape the daily routine", remembers the actor. "I dreamt of Robin Hood. Like my friends. The point is, they gave up on their dreams and became bankers. I couldn't resign myself. I was sitting in front of the Opera in Sydney. I was smoking a cigarette, looking at the harbour. We just gave a show, the curtain hasn't even been down for more than half an hour. I had given the best of myself and I knew that people were already thinking about the garbage bins they had forgotten to take out or about the problems they had at work. All this energy that I had deployed that evening was already evaporated because the audience is fickle. In the movies, this frustration doesn't happen since your performance is recorded on film. Of course, it also has its inconveniences. The other day, I was telling to Joaquin (Phoenix, who plays the villain in the movie): 'You know, I saw 'Gladiator' again the other day... ". And he was looking at me with shiny eyes: 'Yes?'... And I said: 'Well... You were much better the first time!'".
On the set, the actor fades away behind his character. "In "Gladiator", there is a scene where snow is falling on the battlefield.... There are two thousand guys there with mud up to their knees. Ridley says 'Action!' and nobody moves, everybody is waiting, the horses are blocking the way. All I can see are bodies in movement, snow... In those moments, you really feel you are there. You're in Rome, in the second century."
The poster of "Gladiator", which was standing over Sunset Boulevard just before the American premiere of the film and was stating that "a hero will rise", wasn't lying. When you mention his newly established status as a star, Russell Crowe laughs: "It doesn't mean anything to me. Really. I don't see myself as a star, but as an actor. What happens today to me is the result of a natural progression." A lashing rise, rather. Russell Crowe is currently completing 'Flora Plum', the new film directed by Jodie Foster. "I play a circus freak, next to Claire Danes", explains the actor while lighting a cigarette. Obviously, his involvement in 'The Insider', by Michael Mann, didn't refrain him from smoking. Hearing that remark, Russell Crowe can't help smiling: "Isn't life full of irony?".
(Thanks to Christine for the article and the translation!)
Cinelive / March 2000
(Thanks to Frederique)
From the newpaper Liberation regarding Russell in Gladiator:
All of the filmmaker's know-how would have been be useless if Scott had not found in Russell Crowe such a believable soldier-harvester: short, stocky, Crowe makes us accept his superiority over men twice his size. He is the perfect general-farmer who knows what to do to anihilate the enemy, but prefers to think of his crops. Crowe and Scott also know how to be really touching: faced with a typical Hollywood massacre (his wife and son raped, crucified AND burned alive) Maximus' grief is illustrated by a close-up of his face in front of two charred feet.
(Thanks to Monique for the translation)
To see Russell's cover and article in French Premiere, click here.
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