Gladiator : Interview with Russell Crowe

It's been quite a year for actor Russell Crowe. Twelve months ago he was Oscar nominated for his performance in Insider, The (1999), alongside Al Pacino, and then, just a couple of months later, Gladiator (2000) was released and rapidly won critical and mass acclaim as a blockbuster with brains turning Crowe into a genuine box office star in the process.

For the New Zealand born Australian raised 35 year old it has also meant a second Best Actor nomination. His portrayal as a 52 year old former tobacco executive who blows the whistle on the industry was a transformation which many believed deserved the Academy Award last year (he lost out to Kevin Spacey in American Beauty (1999)). We'll have to wait until late March to see if he wins this year for the highly fancied Roman epic.

In the meantime, Crowe - who has also starred in a host of Australian movies including Proof (1991), Romper Stomper (1992) and the Sum of Us, The (1994), as well as the critically praised L.A. Confidential (1997) - is back with the thriller Proof of Life (2000) with Meg Ryan. It was widely reported that the two stars were romantically linked off screen as well as on but have now gone their separate ways.

Crowe plays Terry Thorne, a former SAS kidnap and ransom expert who is called into negotiate the release of Peter Bowman, an American engineer who is kidnapped for a $3 million ransom. During the tense negotiations he becomes 'emotionally involved' with Bowman's beautiful wife Alice (Ryan). And although Thorne's first priority is for a negotiated release it becomes increasingly clear that he will have to undertake a dangerous mission to get him out alive.

Filmed on location in England, Poland and Ecuador, the shoot was long and gruelling and once again - as with Gladiator (2000) - was physically demanding of Crowe, a challenge he seems to particularly relish.

Filmed on location in England, Poland and Ecuador, the shoot was long and gruelling and once again - as with Gladiator (2000) - was physically demanding of Crowe, a challenge he seems to particularly relish.

Crowe was born in Auckland, New Zealand, the youngest of two boys. When he was a toddler his parents, Jocelyn and Alex, moved the family to Australia where they ran a location catering business. "I grew up around film sets and it stayed with me, I guess. My grandfather was a cinematographer so I'm the third generation to be involved in this business."

He first acted as a six year old in Australian television series called Spyforce and again, at 12, in another TV drama, The Young Doctors.. But soon afterwards his family returned to New Zealand and Crowe immersed himself in what was then a vibrant music scene in Auckland.

"I've been in bands for as long as I can remember. And I still am now. Some people say to me 'oh you're another actor who's trying to make music.' That's bullshit, I've been involved with music since I was a kid."

He returned to Australia in his early twenties and began acting again, mostly in the theatre, notably touring with a production of The Rocky Horror Show, and made his first movie, The Crossing, in 1990 which won him the Australian Film Institute's Best Actor award (he also won the AFI's best supporting actor the following year, for Proof, and made it three in a row in 1992 when he was Best Actor again, for the controversial Romper Stomper playing the leader of a gang of Melbourne skinheads.) And despite his denials that he can leave a role behind at the end of the day, he does admit that with Romper Stomper -and indeed others - he became completely immersed in the job.

"I've played some extreme characters and that's probably one of the reasons I haven't been able to sustain a relationship over a long period of time. I'd been going out with a girl for a couple of years when I did Romper Stomper (1992) and that movie dramatically affected our relationship. She just couldn't sleep in the same bed as a skinhead. I mean, I wasn't wearing the boots all the time but during the course of the shoot I had the tattoos and obviously the shaved head and she just didn't want to know about it."

He's still single and home is still very much his farm in New South Wales. "Although I don't see as much of it as I would like. I've been away working a lot in the last few years. One day I'd like to think I'd be lucky enough to settle down and have kids, definitely. But it's a bit hectic at the moment."

You must be pleased with a second Oscar nomination?

"I'm very pleased for Gladiator (2000) because I do feel it deserves that kind of recognition. I feel it was a significant movie in terms of a marriage of cutting edge contemporary film techniques and old fashioned film making. And Ridley Scott after an incredible career of three decades of being at the forefront of the new movement of cinema, to reach a point where not only was he critically acclaimed, he also got big box office and followed that with Hannibal (2001). So I think that's great, I think it's something he really deserves and it was a big adventure that film, with a lot of different things that everybody had to deal with, the different locations and all of that stuff, so I was very pleased for the film makers and all of the people that were nominated. As for myself, I was quite surprised, I got a nomination last year and that would have done me OK for the rest of my life that would have been fine. But two time Academy Award nominee does have a nice ring to it... "

How much of you is there in the character you play in Proof of Life (2000)?

"I think the only real connection between me and the character was the accent. When I first read the script he was written as an Englishman and I was able to show the director many different examples of how Australians and New Zealanders had moved on from being in the army in their home countries and gone to Britain to try out for the SAS (Special Air Service) because in the English speaking world the SAS is the best of the best."

You filmed on location in Poland and Ecuador. What was that like?

"Ecuador is a very surprising country it's physically very beautiful but quite unpredictable. The weather changes dramatically during the course of a day and we had some situations where shooting with the helicopters got very dangerous because the mists come in and we were 11000 feet above sea level so that was tricky. We had a lot of landslides, you'd drive to work and then you'd go home the same way and a couple of miles of the freeway would be blocked off because half a mountain had fallen across it. Also the roads themselves leave a lot to be desired, it was an hour and a half drive into the jungle and an hour an a half back. So I ended up staying most of the time in my trailer while we did that sequence because even though there were wild cats and all these different sort of animals in the jungle they were a lot less dangerous than Ecuadorian drivers. "

"We filmed in Poland, based in Poznan for Chechnya and it was great. I really liked it. But I would have liked to have seen a lot more of the place. And it was still winter so it was very cold. But very nice people, very friendly. And the beer was good too."

A lot of people have mentioned a similarity between Proof of Life (2000) and Casablanca (1942). Is that fair?

"I don't actually see the connection just because my character happens to be at a heliport (in one scene in the movie) and Bogart was at an airport I don't wear a trench coat and I'm about five foot taller than Humphrey Bogart and the character's Australian so you know I don't see the connection myself at all. Maybe I'm just stupid. "

Do you think all the headlines and stories about your off screen relationship with Meg Ryan damaged the film?

"I think it helps the movie itself but that doesn't necessarily mean it's required. I think Meg is a beautiful and courageous woman and I really enjoyed working with her and I grieve the loss of her companionship. But I've never lost her friendship so I'm pleased about that. "

How would you describe your character in Proof of Life (2000)?

"He is by and large an insurance salesman and he has to have a bedside manner and be very calm and reassuring in situations where families are exactly the opposite of that. However, it's his military past which fullfills the other aspect of the job but as he says during the course of the movie, it's not just about rescues it's about controlling negotiations and simply finding a number to get that person back to his or her family. But given a certain set of circumstances and a certain hopelessness in the negotiations that military background comes into play so there definitely is a duality to the character. And in this situation he finds himself in a place that he's never been before and that's being completely emotionally connected to the person he is trying to help."

Does it feel like the last year, with two Oscar nominations, and all the box office success of Gladiator (2000) has changed your career?

Author : FeatsPress