'Don't be an absolute idiot': Russell Crowe reveals crucial lesson he learned playing John Nash in 'A Beautiful Mind'

Russell Crowe didn’t want to meet John Nash, the seminal mathematician he would play in Ron Howard’s eventual Best Picture-winning biopic A Beautiful Mind, released in theaters 20 years ago today.

As the New Zealand-born, Australia-raised actor explained around the time of release, he didn’t want to spend too much with Nash — then in his 70s — because he felt the 35 years Nash spent on meds for the paranoid schizophrenia he suffered from had made him a different person than the younger version Crowe was portraying.

Years later, though, Crowe admits that was a mistake. One that corrected itself.

“We were shooting in Princeton. And that’s where John lives, and that’s where he works,” Crowe said of Nash in a Role Recall interview with Yahoo Entertainment filmed just one month before Nash’s death in 2015 (watch above, with A Beautiful Mind beginning at 3:46). “So he just walked up to the set. And I realized it was him, and I was sort of dumfounded. Because there he is, the guy that I’m playing, and I’m staring at him.”

(FILE PHOTO) In this composite image a comparison has been made between John Forbes Nash, Jr. and actor Russell Crowe. Oscar hype continues this week with the announcement of the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards. Luise Rainer became the first actress to receive an Academy Award for her role in the 1936 biopic 'The Great Ziegfeld,' playing stage performer Anna Held. Over half of the last ten Oscars for best actor or actress have been for performances in a biopic. ***LEFT IMAGE***1994: John Forbes Nash, Jr., the schizophrenic mathematician who won a Nobel Prize for economics and whose life story was made into the Academy Award-nominated film
L: John Forbes Nash, Jr. in a 1994 photo in Princeton, NJ. (Photo: Robert P. Matthews/Princeton University/Getty Images) R: Russell Crowe at an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nominees Luncheon on March 13, 2000 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo: David Mcnew/Getty Images)

While Crowe didn’t get into details, his then-unavoidable interactions with Nash clearly had a profound effect.

“I learnt a very strong lesson through that,” Crowe said. “If you’re playing somebody, and you have the opportunity to meet them, don’t be an absolute idiot. Meet them! Because they will inform you of stuff that you can’t imagine. Or, they will actually show you that your imagination may have gone too far, or hasn’t gone far enough.”

A Beautiful Mind landed Crowe his third consecutive Oscar nomination for Best Actor after The Insider and Gladiator (for which he won). Inspired by the 1997 book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, it follows Nash from his days as a graduate student at Princeton into his celebrated career and marriage to wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) as he struggles more and more with delusional episodes.

“People might have edges and boundaries,” Crowe said of Nash. “And when you’ve got a mind as broad and expansive as John Nash’s, he doesn’t have those boundaries.”