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CROWE, RUSSELL – MAN OF STEEL

Who knows what they have for breakfast on Krypton – but we know how fathers feel, Russell Crowe tells Andrew L. Urban. 

Russell Crowe, well known for his meticulous research and preparation, lists not getting to Krypton as the one thing he couldn’t do to create the role of Jor-El, father of Kal-El, aka Superman.

“I couldn’t get there, so I couldn’t see what Kryptonians have for breakfast,” he quips as we talk about his first role in a superhero movie – Man of Steel. It’s typical of Crowe’s characteristic ability to flip from serious to humorous in an instant.

Speaking of director Zack Snyder, he says “Zack is as hard a task master as I’ve ever had … but we also had a good laugh.” Both are important for Crowe, the first actor since a white haired Marlon Brando in 1978 to play Jor-El.

Wearing an open neck shirt and steel blue suit, Crowe sits in the middle of a Sydney hotel room surrounded by cameras, crews, lights and publicists for the press junket on the day after the film’s Sydney premiere. It’s not much different to a movie set and Crowe is relaxed, smiling as we reflect that it is almost our 25th anniversary. (I first visited a set with Crowe in the cast in mid-1989 – Blood Oath. And soon after that, the set of The Crossing, his first lead role.) “You better get me a bloody gold watch,” he says with a laugh.

"enthusiasm and energy"

The timespan also underlines the fact that it is only in the last few years that Crowe has worked with directors who were younger (and thus less experienced around a set) than he. “When I realised that, it sort of clicked with me … I loved working with Zack, his enthusiasm and energy … And after seeing the film again last night for only the second time, I can say that it is exactly the film he told me he wanted to make.”

Crowe is hoping that he’ll finally get to direct his first movie – in which he will also star (so no age difference there) – The Water Diviner, a father's search for missing sons in wake of the ill-fated battle of Gallipoli, shooting later this year. The film is produced by Troy Lum and Andrew Mason for Hopscotch Features and Keith Rodger of Crowe’s Fear Of God Films. The original screenplay is by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios. “This is third time a project of mine has been announced by someone other than me … and the other two fell apart. So third time lucky, I hope. It’s a beautiful story…”

The story of Man of Steel is a fresh look at the genesis of the character, his roots on Krypton, his dramatic arrival on Earth in a capsule which his father Jor-El managed to launch just prior to the destruction of Krypton. Once grown up, the son is meant to deliver hope and goodness to the people of Earth, and his powers are meant to help, heal, protect …


The S-shield, perhaps the most instantly recognized family crest in history, originally stood for Superman, but in Man of Steel, the “S” has become the heraldic symbol of the house of El, and stands for hope.

"father-son pact"

Although embellished with great detail, that underlying simple storyline is instantly recognisable as a metaphor for another father-son pact, one which has been the guiding story for Christianity for 2000 years.

The metaphor is summoned especially strongly in one scene, when his parents are struggling with the notion of sending the baby off in a rocket pod: 
LARA LOR-VAN (Kal-El’s mother): He’ll be an outcast. They’ll kill him.
JOR-EL (Kal-El’s father): How? He’ll be a god to them.

“Oh yes, that’s always been recognised over the past 75 years,” says Crowe. “But you have to put that to one side … all I could do was to understand what a terrible choice Jor-El had to make to save his son, and to perhaps ensure a future for their race, by sending him away … “ So he wasn’t channelling God the Father, after all. Besides, he is a father himself, he can locate those feelings.

"a special quality he has – a vocal quality"

Watching Crowe in Man of Steel, one is reminded of a special quality he has – a vocal quality – which enables him to utter challenging dialogue and lend them gravitas, save them from melodramatic deflation. In Gladiator, one such line is: “On my command, unleash hell.” In Man of Steel there are several, some as he argues with the elders and with his nemesis General Zod (Michael Shannon). And there are some he utters to his son, such as: “You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”

But somehow Crowe gives the lines a ferocious sincerity. That’s probably why he gets so many jobs ... 


FOOTNOTE: 
The Superman character was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, first appearing in the comic book Action Comics #1, published on April 18, 1938. His father Jor-El appeared in the comic a year later – and for the first time on screen in 1952, played by Robert Rockwell in Adventures of Superman TV series.

Published June 27, 2013

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