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Role Recall: Russell Crowe Reminisces About 'Gladiator,' 'L.A. Confidential' and More

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·4 min read
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Are you not entertained? New Zealand-born, Australia-raised star Russell Crowe has been giving spectators hard-hitting films performances since the early ’90s, and he’s had more than a few moments of glory along the way. Crowe’s turn-of-the-century big-screen run is astonishing: Between 1997 and 2001, he starred in four Best Picture-nominated films (including two winners: 2000’s Gladiator and 2001’s A Beautiful Mind). Crowe himself, meanwhile, was nominated for Best Actor three times, winning for Gladiator.

After working with such high-profile directors as Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, Michael Mann, and Darren Aronofsky, the 51-year-old Crowe makes his directorial debut with The Water Diviner, in which he also stars. He plays an Australian farmer determined to bring home the remains of his three sons presumed dead after the infamous bloodbath between the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and Ottoman forces during the Battle of Gallipoli near the end of World War I.

In our latest episode of Role Recall, which you can watch above, Crowe looks back at his cinematic career — starting with the early ‘90s Aussie indie that rompered him onto the global radar — and shares memories from many of the acclaimed hits to follow, including L.A. Confidential and The Insider. Check out the video to hear all the behind-the-scenes stories — including his awkwardly intimate on-set moment with one of his Oscar-winning leading ladies.

Romper Stomper (1992)
In the early ‘90s, Crowe landed small roles in such Australians imports as The Crossing (1990) and Proof (1991), but it was his role as the merciless neo-Nazi Hando in this controversial drama that demanded Hollywood’s attention. To get into character, he remembers internalizing three different sounds simultaneously in his head: German composer Richard Wagner, soccer crowds, and plain white noise. “I look back at it now and I go, 'What the hell was I trying to achieve with that?’” he says. “But I had to fight through all that noise, so it kind of gave [him] a strange edge.”

Role Recall: Nicole Kidman Talks ‘Batman Forever,’ ‘Moulin Rouge!’ and More

L.A. Confidential (1997)
Among those in Hollywood paying attention: writer-director Curtis Hanson, who insisted on the unknown Crowe for the role of lumbering LAPD officer Bud White in this neo-noir hit. The film paired Crowe with bombshell Kim Basinger, who would win an Oscar for her career-best performance as Veronica Lake-lookalike Lynn Bracken. The actor remembers playing coy in one scene that required him to run his hand down her leg. “It’s Kim Basinger, ya know?” he says. So she grabbed his and firmly guided it for him. “So that was a good moment,” he adds, laughing.

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The Insider (1999)
After seeing him in Confidential, a producer suggested that director Michael Mann (Heat) consider Crowe for the part of real-life tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. The role, which earned Crowe his first Oscar nomination, required him to age up 20 years and add 35 pounds. And, of course, it placed him opposite fellow method man (and big-screen great) Al Pacino. Crowe says he loved working with Pacino, but didn’t agree with his acting approach, noting that Pacino would deliver nearly every take differently, with the intention of giving Mann “a smorgasbord of choices” while editing.

“I could kind of understand what he was saying, but I disagreed with it,” Crowe says. “Because to me, it meant that he was fundamentally giving up his own perspective and giving it all to the director… I think you’re in a much stronger position if you know what you’re aiming at.”

Related: Role Recall: Al Pacino Looks Back at the 'Godfather’ Films, 'Scent of a Woman,’ and More

Gladiator (2000)
Given the fact that Ridley Scott’s riveting swords-and-sandals epic ultimately dominated not only the box office but also award show podiums, you’d assume that every minute detail of the film had been meticulously prepped far in advance. You’d be wrong. Crowe says the film was being rewritten as they went along (he himself contributed much of the dialogue for his general-turned-slave Maximus, a role that won him the Best Actor Oscar). “We went into that film without a completed script,” he says. “We were kind of hand-to-mouth, deciding things the day before we shot them. It was a real by-the-seat-of-the-pants thing.”

A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Crowe earned his third Academy Award nomination in as many years for playing the brilliant but troubled mathematician John Nash in this Ron Howard-directed biopic. The actor initially balked at the opportunity to meet the real-life Nash, but remembers what happened the day Nash turned up on the film’s Princeton, NJ set. “I learnt a very strong lesson through that. 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 has gone too far — or [that it] hasn’t gone far enough.”