Interview with Rusell Crowe for Israeli website Walla! - This artcicle was first published in Hebrew on Friday, April 24. click here to read the Hebrew article
Interviewing Russell Crowe is not something to be taken lightly. After all, it’s hard to ignore his recent PR history which describes the Australian actor as someone who journalists shouldn’t make angry. A couple of years ago he left in the middle of a BBC interview during the promotion of his movie 'Robin Hood', only because the interviewer dared to ask if the accent he adopted in the movie was Irish; Giuliana Rancic from E! recently named him as her worst red carpet interview. So with this in mind, I was just hoping to catch him on a good day.
My fears were immediately dismissed when he entered the hotel room smiling and handing out South Sydney Rabbitohs hats to each of the four journalists in the room. This is the rugby team he was a fan of when he was a kid, and a few years ago he became one of the main investors in the team.”The hat represents the fact that South Sydney Rabbitohs won the NRL for the first time in 43 years," he says with excitement. " We're champions not only in Australia, but in Europe, so now we hold every single trophy that we can get in a rugby league.”
Unlike the success of his team, the past few years have not been an easy time for Crowe. He was separated from his wife (singer Danielle Spencer) after 9 years of marriage, tried to quit smoking (“for the kids”) unsuccessfully, and shot five movies within sixteen months.”Somehow five groups of producers managed to inform each other exactly which weeks they required,” he says, “and in the middle of that, I had personal complications like kids and separation and a whole bunch of stuff."
While this was going on, he was handed the script of “The Water Diviner,” his directorial debut.”I didn’t really choose this piece; it kind of crept up and chose me,” he says. “I've had an intellectual concept of wanting to be a director for a long time, but it took something that grabbed me, such as this role, to actually make me take it on. When I read this script for the first time I immediately began making notes, which is something I do as an actor, but this time it was different. I wasn’t just making notes about my character, I was visualizing the whole film. I wanted to take responsibility for the whole project. It wasn’t only what I saw on the page, but more importantly what I imagined in the shadows. I could see every part of it.”
“The Water Diviner” is a kind of history lesson. With the background of the First World War, which brought down the Ottoman empire, Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Crowe) goes to a divided and destroyed Istanbul in order to locate his three sons, who went missing during the battle of Gallipoli. “Every time people have made films about Turks in the past, there have always been problems,” says Crowe. “I mean, people in Turkey still talk about 'Midnight Express' on a daily basis; they hated the way they were portrayed in that film. It was an eight-nine months process until we could meet the Mayor of Istanbul and the Minister of Culture, because we were asking for official permission to shoot in the Blue Mosque. The challenge there was that permission had never been granted in history.”
During the conversation Crowe exposed the deep connection he developed with the script, not only on a national level, but also personally.”There’s a cultural connection in that the battle of Gallipoli and Australia-New Zealand involvement in the first world war,” he explains. “it was the first time that Australians and New Zealanders fought under their own flag. Prior to that they were an extension of the British empire, so there’s that connection. There’s the story about the man with three sons who go off to war and never come back, and I’m a father of two boys, so that kinda hit me on an essential level. There’s also an opportunity that I saw in the script to redefine the perspective that we have on this conflict and to rebalance it, and to show very clearly that in any armed conflict you’re going to have bravery and courage, but war, essentially, is about grief.”
The Ottoman empire had spread around what we nowadays call the Middle East. While making this movie, did you learn something about today, following the things that happened there 100 years ago?
“You know, it’s a very interesting thing that requires a little examination and a lot of discussion: that a hundred years later we're still engaged in a conflict in the same geography. All the countries that we know today as Iran,Iraq, Syria – they were all a part of the Ottoman Empire. So I do occasionally wonder if you were to bring back to life one of those young men who sacrificed themmselves and believed what was advertised to them as the Great War, the war to end all wars, and show them that we’re still engaged in a conflict in the same area, I’m not sure that they would be pleased at what their sacrifice amounted to.”
Like many of the actors (and singers) from Australia, Crowe kick-started his professional career in the famous soap opera 'Neighbors', and from there went on to the big screen in Australia. His road to Hollywood went through Canada, where he starred in the movie ‘For The Moment’ that received a mediocre response. His tremendous success in America started (ironically) only after the failing movie “No Way Back,” when he then co-starred in 1995 with Denzel Washington in 'Virtuosity', then with Sharon Stone in 'The Quick and the Dead', and of course, in 'LA Confidential' with Kim Basinger. He went on to become a three-time Oscar nominee in three consecutive years, winning the Academy Award as Best Actor in 2000 for 'Gladiator'.
Crowe understands very well that part of his job is to look good. In ‘The Water Diviner’ it’s hard to ignore his physique; it's not quite as amazing as it is in 'Gladiator', but definitely more fit than the more rounded shape that he is in the interview. It seems that in between shooting his great movies he doesn’t mind going wild with the cheeseburgers.
What allows you to become so versatile in choosing the characters you play?
“I just don’t think I have the need to define myself the way other people are trying to define me. That's not me. I do my job from a simple honest perspective. I wait until something touches my heart. You know, I can read thirty, forty, fifty scripts. There was one period where I actually ready fifty before I found one that I wanted to do, and I can never predict what it’s going to be. Sometimes they’ll say to me okay, it’s this this and this, and it sounds interesting, but I read it and I don’t get goose bumps. If I don’t immediately start making notes on behalf of the character I simply don’t do it, and I don’t care what the category is and I don’t care what the check is. So if I’m waiting for that response that’s probably why I'm so wildly diverse in my choices. Obviously, some place I’ve never been is going to be more attractive to me than something that feels repetitive.”
And after this movie, do we have to start to get used to saying Russell Crowe, director?
“I used to think I had the greatest job in the world and then I did this. And I realized how much more it suits me. The composition of shots, colors, textures, camera movements, you know, all the many other things that I was responsible for, the music, the choice to be solid at some point. It's such an intimate experience being a director, artistically. It’s deep and it’s satisfying and wonderful on so many levels but also really scary. Because I’m responsible for all of it and I've got nowhere to hide. And so now that people are finally seeing it- it’s an interesting experience. You know, it’s far more important to me in a starnge way, because it’s part of me, it’s born off me, I’m not just a part of the story in somebody else’s vision.”