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A Good Year - Russell Crowe interview

Russell Crowe in A Good Year

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RUSSELL Crowe talks about reuniting with Ridley Scott for A Good Year, tackling comedy and tasting dreadful wine…

Q. This is the second time you’ve worked with Ridley Scott and you have just completed a third film – American Gangster – as well. What was it like this time?
A. He gave a quote to a magazine a couple of months ago where he said that he believes that we’re both marginally grumpy men. But our mood significantly lightens in each other’s company. It’s an incredible privilege for me to be on a Ridley Scott film. He’s one of the greatest filmmakers ever to exist and for some reason he likes the way I do my part of the gig and he keeps wanting me to be on a film set with him. So, if he keeps asking, I’m going to keep saying ‘yes’.

Q. Do you think audiences will be surprised to see you in a comedy role like this?
A. I don’t know. It depends. If somebody is really familiar with all the films that I’ve done, then they know there’s a gay football playing plumber in The Sum of Us back there, there’s the ice-skating sheriff in Mystery Alaska. Comedy is not a place that I haven’t been to, it’s probably a full third of all the films that I’ve done.

Q. There’s a lot of physical comedy in A Good Year. Was it as taxing to do as the physical stuff you were asked to do in films like Gladiator?
A. Just because it’s for laughs, is it easier to do the physical comedy? If you get it wrong, whether you’re wrestling a tiger or whether you’re trying to get out of a foot of cow shit, you’re still going to bleed – it’s the same thing. It’s the same type of problems that you’re solving every day.

The thing that I’ve learned is that it’s much more enjoyable to solve those problems with your mates, with people who you really respect and regard. Yeah, there’s a certain level of excitement with working with someone new but just as your cuddles and kisses get deeper the longer your marriage goes on, the depth of communication with Ridley increases because we know each other and there’s a shorthand. I can tell from 50 yards away if he’s cranky about something and I can probably work out what I need to do about that as I’m walking towards him. I completely accept the role of side-kick or lieutenant working for Ridley because he’s a great leader.

Q. I believe the tennis match was Ridley’s version of a battle scene in the film and that you suggested it? Can you elaborate?
A. Yeah, we were sitting on the set musing that we didn’t have any battles and there was a sequence in the film that I wasn’t really that enamid with – it was an argument that took place among the vines and the scene was very standard. We already had the tennis set up with the lesson between Henry and the young Max, so based on the Fred Penny/René Lacoste idea, I took Ridley back and said: “What if two unfit middle-aged men started sweating and bleeding on the tennis court? Would that be enough of a battle for you?”

It took him a lot longer to grab on to it that I thought it would, probably because he thought he was just going to be indulging his own passion if he shot it. But what he does is thinks about something for a while and then when he claims an idea, it’s a complete thing. It’s absolutely a part of now how he sees everything and he can’t even remember what things were like without it anymore.

Q. You’re well-known for your method acting to get into roles, so what did you do for A Good Year?
A. The thing that you’ve got to understand is that I don’t do things just for the sake of doing them. In order to do something like A Beautiful Mind there’s a whole bunch of information that I need to take in about what happens in a schizophrenic’s life? What is the physicality and how does it come to the surface? If I’m playing a boxer and I don’t spend six months to a year actually creating that body, then you’re not fulfilling the character.

There’s a lot of stuff about Max that I already knew and had already experienced. In life’s big curve ball I’ve met guys like him. Funnily enough, when researching other films like The Insider when I had to go and find a bunch of corporate sharks, I met a lot of people that reminded me of Max. It’s only about fulfilling the character; it’s not about going off and having a whatever… I could have gone and spent x amount of time at Bloomberg’s but I didn’t do that because it just wasn’t required.

Q. Can you remember having a terrible glass of wine, either through ignorance or not being able to afford a good bottle?
A. I’m the son of a publican. So while my dad spent a lot of extra time with my brother in the cellar teaching him about kegs and beer pipes, what temperature he should be serving the beer at and just how much soap he should put in the dish-washing machine, which were lessons that I got as well, with me he focused on creating his own little wine waiter I think. So definitely from a young age we were talking about things but we’ve never had similar taste in wine.

But I was actually here in London once at The Mirabelle. We were shooting Gladiator and Connie Nielsen and I went out to dinner and decided that we should do something super special because we were having such a fun time. So we bought this hugely expensive bottle of wine that just happened to have been laid down the year that we were both born. Now, this particular wine was an Australian wine and I’ve had a lot of experience with it. When it was opened and brought to the table, you could smell from two foot away that it was corked and it was gone. But that conversation went on with our server for about 45 minutes while he was trying to convince me that it was the chestnut undertone and the waft of blackberry that I could smell. Mate, she’s off. It took a couple of opinions from tables nearby before he actually acquiesced to just going and getting another bottle.

Q. In the film there’s a scene where you become a waiter to impress the girl that you love. Have you ever done anything like that in real life?
A. I’ve known my wife for a very long time. We met in 1989, got married in 2003 and I did so much shit over that time to try and impress her [laughs]. I couldn’t begin to tell you… eventually it must have just been the untold weight of effort that helped her to decide I was worthwhile.

But I once hired a boat in Sydney Harbour. I looked up all the places for boat hire but nothing that was a reasonable size was available. The only boat that I could get to take her out for a private night on the harbour sat 150 people in the main salon. But I wanted a kitchen because I wanted to cook for her. So this thing arrived at the hotel and I was like, “oh my God” because it was just massive, empty and smelt like there were definitely a lot of 21st birthday parties held on it. I had all this fresh scampi and I was in the kitchen but it was almost a three minute walk to get from the galley to where she was sitting on the deck! It could be a comedy in itself. She thought it was way over the top because she must have thought I’d intended to get a boat that size. But like I said, there’s very little I wouldn’t do to try and impress my wife.

Q. Do you have a similar mentor in your life to Henry in the film?
A. What I did with the costuming and stuff in the movie is an homage to an uncle of mine, David William Crowe. David was the only person in my family with any acting experience. He played Uncle Vanya in 1969 and with every year that went by the reviews got better and better in the memory. So he was the only one that I could go to directly to ask: “What do you think of this?”

But the cricket vest, the pipe in one scene, the cigars, the layered clothing and blazer idea, that all for me was my uncle. He was very much like a Henry sort of character. Those little things that he said to me, or those opinions that he gave to me over time, which absolutely shaped the way I view life and the way I get on with my job and stuff like that. One clear example is that I started to work quite a bit in the theatre and there seemed to be this attitude in the theatre that you should never give 100% in your performance. This was because if you do that and an audience has seen 100%, why would they ever buy another ticket. It struck me as being really stupid but as a lot of sensible theatre people with a lot of credits had been saying it to me I wanted to find out what my uncle thought.

So I asked him what he thought and he replied: “Look, the only sort of person that would tell you that is the sort of person who knows that you can give more than 100%, who knows that you’re capable of grinding out 110% on a daily basis and it’s never going to bother you because you love doing it. So my advice to you, he said, is ignore them and do it your kind of way. When you’re a young actor there’s not a lot of people you can rely on to talk to you straight and possibly cut through the paranoia that comes with being a young actor.

Q. You have an impressive list of films on the way – A Good Year, American Gangster, 3.10 To Yuma and Tenderness – so how do you manage to juggle all the work with coping with fatherhood again?
A. Well, the thing is with the jobs that I’m choosing at the moment, they don’t come with a 26-30 week schedule like the films that I’ve done in the last few years. So, it may seem like I’m doing a lot more work but those films that you just mentioned wouldn’t even add up to the weeks I spent on set for Cinderella Man.

Every decision that I make now goes through what’s right for my wife and my kids. Life is balanced out but daddy’s still got to go out and earn the milk mate!

Read our review of A Good Year

Read our interview with Ridley Scott