Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Great Scott: `Gladiator' worth Crowe-ing about "Russell Crowe, Academy Award winner for the 2000 blockbuster ``Gladiator,'' is ready to strap on a sword again for a sequel - or maybe 10 more - if he can convince director Ridley Scott. Crowe is quite proud of the film that made him a worldwide star, and, interestingly, is keenly aware of how fans on the Internet have responded. Among the dirt he and Scott share here - Crowe performed most of his stunts, despite Scott's attempts to stop him; Joaquin Phoenix was horribly nervous about filming and tried to quit the first day; and co-star Connie Nielsen knew more about the historical period than just about anyone involved with the production."

Like many other Gladiator fans, I rushed down to Circuit City last night to get my copy of the new Extended Edition. After dinner I settled down for an insightful discussion of the filmmaker's craft between my favorite director and my favorite actor. I was surprised by the apparent spontaneity of the creative process that hallmarked this production. I was always under the impression that you began production with a relatively completed script and that storyboards were used not only during production but to initially sell the concept to the production studio. So I found it quite eye-opening to learn that quite a bit of filming had already taken place before various character's fates were even determined. In fact at one point Scott and Crowe discussed how Maximus' page, played by Tommy Flanagan, was not scheduled for a reappearance in the film until much later when it was decided he would become the messenger between Maximus and his supporters. They mentioned how it was lucky Flanagan was available later on to resume his role and still had the haircut.

There was a similar indecision about the fates of Proximo and the African gladiator played by Djimon Hounsou. Apparently at one point the Hounsou character, Juba, was going to be killed and Proximo would bury his wooden sword in the arena. Of course that had to be changed when Oliver Reed suffered his fatal heart attack.

I was a bit disappointed that neither Scott nor Crowe apparently got along with Oliver Reed that well. I think, at least with Crowe, it may have been a case of two alpha males trying to coexist in the same environment. They commented that Reed apparently got on quite well with Connie Nielsen and Joaquin Phoenix. Crowe said that Reed was much more gentle with them than he was with him. Scott and Crowe did not express an opinion about Reed's performance. I thought Oliver Reed's last performance was excellent and a real tribute to his career, despite his off camera difficulties.

I was pleased that both men thought quite highly of Connie Nielsen's talents. Scott said she should have been cast as Helen of Troy. In fact, he said, there were quite a few roles that have come up since Gladiator that would have been perfect for her but Crowe added that Hollywood seems to be intimidated by a highly intelligent woman that can speak something like seven or nine languages. (She sounds a lot like the real historical Cleopatra!)

They were also both very complimentary about Joaquin Phoenix. I would hope so since I think his scene with Richard Harris, where Commodus bemoans the fact that he never measured up to his father's hopes, was one of the most outstanding scenes in the film. They relate how nervous Phoenix was about playing such an imperious role. He seemed to calm down quite a bit after having a long talk with epic veteran Richard Harris.

Russell Crowe and Richard Harris apparently became pretty close. Crowe related how he received the news of Richard Harris' death just thirty minutes before Crowe was to perform the burial at sea scene where he read the Lord's Prayer in Master and Commander.

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