For Crowe, Gladiator presented the prospect of helping to re-establish a film genre,
while collaborating with a director he had long admired. "It's been a long time since
a film has been made on this subject matter. It's an incredible period. The achievements
of the Roman Empire were remarkable, but they were underscored by absolute brutality,
which fascinates people to this day. The film was also an extraordinary opportunity to
work with Ridley Scott, one of the great visual artists of our time, and to play a
character who undergoes such a remarkable journey," he says.
"I never really consider the physical hardships"
"He's a general in the army, who, when we meet him, has been away from his family
for three years, but he's done his duty and he's had enough. He wants nothing more than to
go home, but the story changes for him when the emperor he loves and serves dies. Maximus
goes from being a great general to being shackled and sold into slavery as a gladiator - a
slight change in lifestyle," he grins wryly. "He was a military man who fought
for honor and the glory of Rome, but now he has to bring himself to kill on a much more
base level. For a while, he lives only to stand in front of the new emperor and exact his
revenge, but he is again caught up in the political turmoil of the day, and can't help but
become involved. For want of a better expression, he's a good man."
Good, yes - and active. "You know, I never really consider the physical hardships
I'm going to put myself through when I take a role, so in the middle of this, I started
thinking, 'Maybe I should have taken the one where I was a bus conductor,"' he adds
"aching in every muscle and bone"
Director Ridley Scott recognised the demands on Crowe: "I would try to give
Russell a few days in a row of just walking and talking, so to speak, but it didn't always
work out that way. There were some days with battle scenes end on end, so he was aching in
every muscle and bone. "
But Crowe still found the energy to play soccer - which caused the producers some
concern. "They sent me a memo asking me not to play soccer because I might get hurt.
At that point, I'd been doing one massive fight scene after another, so I sent a memo back
saying, 'I can wrestle with four tigers, but I can't play a game of soccer? Get over it.
In contrast to modern war epics, the battle sequences in Gladiator involved close sword
fighting, requiring intricate staging and long rehearsals to ensure everyone's safety.
Fight master Nicholas Powell, who had previously worked on Braveheart, was responsible for
choreographing the film's myriad sword fights. He also had to train all the actors and
stuntmen, as well as the 1,000 extras who took part in the opening battle. His first
priority was Russell Crowe, so weeks ahead of principal photography, Powell spent endless
days in Australia working with Crowe.
"All the actors had a lot to learn in terms of this kind of fighting. There was a
tremendous amount of swordplay, which required everyone to remember exact movement and
placement to avoid anyone getting something broken . . . or their head taken off,"
"The gladiatorial games were such a distraction"
Entertainment, as Scott points out, has frequently been "a tool of leaders as a
means to distract an abused citizenry. The most tyrannical ruler must still beguile his
people even as he brutalises them. The gladiatorial games were such a distraction. Our
story suggests that, should a hero arise out of the carnage of the arena, his popularity
would give him tremendous power; and were he to be a genuine champion of the people, he
might threaten even the most absolute tyrant."