Russell Crowe is set to capture America's heart all over again when Robin Hood hits theaters in two weeks. But let us not forget: Russell Crowe is crazy. Some exclusive excerpts from a new book remind us just how crazy.
The following excerpts are taken from The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company called DreamWorks by Nicole LaPorte, which will be released May 4. Her chapter on the making of Gladiator contains these tidbits about what it's like to work with Russell Crowe. First, his negotiation style:
"You motherfucker. I will kill you with my bare hands."
"Hello?" Branko Lustig said, confused and barely awake; it was, after all, 3 a.m. in England.
"You motherfucker," the speaker repeated.
"Who's on the phone? Who is this?" Lustig demanded.
When Russell Crowe identified himself, the genuinely terrified Lustig, one of the producers of the about-to-be-filmed Gladiator, hung up and called Steven Spielberg in Los Angeles.
"Steven," he said. "I'm leaving. Russell wants to kill me. I'm leaving."
Having survived a concentration camp, Lustig was not taking any chances.
Crowe, not yet Russell Crowe, but still just another verkakte Australian coming off a sleeper (L.A. Confidential), was sour because he believed DreamWorks was low-balling his assistants on their per diems. Rather than raise this grievance at a mundane daylight hour, Crowe opted for a more dramatic statement, a tactic not unknown in these parts. The actor's recent behavior had been erratic, just like everything else on the project.
Next, a surly and apparently hung over Russell comes to a script meeting at Ridley Scott's production facility one morning. He insults the recent script changes and walks out. Ridley Scott finally tracks Crowe down and gently ushers him back to the meeting:
Finally, Crowe materialized—unrepentant and sans affability. If Scott's pep talk had any effect, it seemed to have lodged deep in the actor's subconscious. Crowe played along, but refused to summon a scintilla of good humor. He didn't so much recite his lines as growl them in a deranged accent that flitted between indeterminate continents of origin. More absurd was Oliver Reed's delivery. Even though his lines were as long as haiku, he filled them with dramatic flourishes. Having recently renounced drinking, he said that the only thing he was chugging was lemonade, but the question was just what he was mixing in the stuff.
"My oold frrriend," he read, puckering his lips and rolling his r's with all the pomp of a 17th century thespian.
Crowe, in turn, chewed up monologues, spitting out each and every poisonous syllable.
Screenwriter John Logan, who has lovingly crafted many of these lines, watched in horror. He scrawled four words on a piece of paper: "Kill me! Kill me!"
A month later, after filming in England, the shoot moved to Ouarzazate, Morocco – a town near the Sahara Desert, where Hollywood has traditionally gone for its sword and sandal needs (Lawrence of Arabia was filmed in the area). Crowe's mood did not improve. Twice, he had walked off the set. Even when he was supposedly having "fun," Crowe was a puffy pain. After challenging members of the crew to a foot race, and losing, he would mutter for days, "I would have won, but I can't run in the sand in sandals."
Heh! And finally, an inside look at the ferocious working style of the world's greatest actor (Russell Crowe):
Never were Crowe's spirits more in flux than when he was to read the climactic, "And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next" scene, in which his character, Maximus, removes his helmet and reveals his identity. It was only the most seminal line in the entire movie, and yet Crowe was convinced that it was ridiculous – overwrought, puffery that no man would ever be caught dead saying, least of all a brawny, sword-carrying killer standing under the unrelenting African sun. Scott was one of the few people who seemed to understand Crowe, that underneath all that volatility was a very scared actor who needed to feel safe. Rather than blow up at him, Scott waited until the tantrum subsided. Then he agreed to shoot the scene the way Crowe preferred.
After doing the take, Crowe still looked dissatisfied. "Let me see the other script again," he said to Scott, referring to the loathed revision. After studying the page stonily, he shrugged. "Well, we might as well try it."
And so, the scene was reshot. Everyone agreed it was brilliant. Everyone, that is, but Crowe. "Russell, what's the problem?" Scott asked, finally showing a hint of exasperation. "It worked."
"It was shit," Crowe repeated, "but I'm the greatest actor in the world and I can make even shit sound good." And with that he marched off.