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''Gladiator'' stars battle off-screen turmoil

Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott say the set was plagued by problems

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Russell Crowe, Gladiator
Jaap Buitendijk

Sure, Russell Crowe fights bloodthirsty tigers and sweaty Germanic hordes in ”Gladiator,” but the real struggle was behind the scenes. The jumbo-size epic — which called for 2,500 specially designed weapons, 500 gladiator tunics, 30,000 mud bricks, and the burning of an entire English forest — also had jumbo-size troubles. ”C’mon, this was a $103 million dollar film being shot in four countries,” says the 36-year-old Crowe. ”So of course there were very, very many complicated problems. And we just had to deal with them as they came up.”

Most of the trouble arose as soon as the production touched down in Malta. Though additional scenes were shot in Morocco, Italy, and London, director Ridley Scott and production designer Arthur Max felt Malta’s 6,000 year old ruins were the best backdrop for the film’s re-creation of ancient Rome. Bad idea. ”We couldn’t control the weather, and we couldn’t control the politics,” says Max. ”We came in the midst of an election during which everyone who we’d been dealing with was voted out of office, and our permits went with them.” Though Max was able to lobby for new permits, there was nothing he could do to stop Malta from suffering through its worst winter in 30 years. ”Parts of the set were destroyed by storms, and a lot of materials we were having shipped in couldn’t reach us because the ships couldn’t enter the port,” says Max.

Delays didn’t loosen studio purse strings, either. ”Everyone had agreed on a certain cap of money,” says producer Doug Wick. ”Luckily Ridley didn’t say, ‘Okay you assholes, if you want it, I’ll do it, but it’ll cost you five more million.”’ Last minute tweaking of the script and a new ending helped the production to stay on track. ”Literally until the last two or three weeks of shooting, we were making adjustments,” says Wick.

Most of the changes were made to accommodate the death of actor Oliver Reed, who had completed roughly 90 percent of his scenes before suffering a heart attack last May. ”When it came to insuring actors, the only person over whom there was a little question was Oliver Reed, and unfortunately that turned out to be prescient,” says Wick. Scott, who also helmed the effects-heavy ”Bladerunner,” used CGI, a body double, and clever editing to make up for Reed’s absence. ”We had another ending in mind, in which his character Proximo would have gone on to Morocco and had a jolly good time being the bastard he always was, but it wasn’t possible,” says Scott. ”So I revised the jigsaw puzzle. I used three shots of Ollie from different scenes, and his dialogue from different scenes, then grafted it all together with CGI.”

At least one potential problem had an easy solution. Fearing Crowe might injure himself and slow down production, the producers sent the actor a memo asking that he not play soccer until the film was over. ”That was funny,” says Crowe. ”I mean, they’d let me run in front of chariots, wrestle tigers, and do battle with 5,000 men in the snow and mud. The memo I sent back was, ‘I can wrestle four tigers, but I can’t play soccer? Get over it. Love, Russell.”’

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