The swords-and-sandals smash Gladiator was just their opening act. Now Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott are reuniting with A Good Year (Nov. 10), a surprisingly gentle comedy about a British businessman (Crowe) who takes over his uncle’s vineyard in Provence. But that’s not all! Next month, the duo will start production on the crime drama American Gangster, with Crowe starring opposite Denzel Washington as a cop trying to take down a notorious Harlem drug lord. EW called the frank filmmaking duo for a three-way chat.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: A Good Year seems like an unlikely project for you guys to take on.
RUSSELL CROWE That’s one of the reasons we did it. I mean, it would be very easy for the two of us to make something grand and epic, but then people would say, ”Oh, they’re repeating themselves.” It just seemed more fun to go into this smaller place, where the problems weren’t as vast.
RIDLEY SCOTT The key is to keep challenging yourself. I haven’t done much in the way of comedy, and I’ve been living in Provence for 15 years, so this is something I’ve had on my mind for a while.
Making this film must have been a more pleasant experience than Gladiator.
CROWE Oddly enough, regardless of the problems that were to be solved on Gladiator, we always had fun every day — and that’s the whole point. But going into an area that Ridley had such a deep connection with, I knew that he would know how to approach Provence as a subject matter, as a character. But you’re dead right. I mean, it just went through my mind a little while ago, while I was on the set of a film [the indie drama Tenderness] out in some unkempt part of New York State: If you could go to Provence once a year to make a film, it would be a damn fine life.
SCOTT The thing also about doing Gladiator is, despite all the running problems which occurred on a daily basis, I think we both figured we were onto something that was going to be certainly very interesting. When something good is happening on a movie, you get a sense of it when you’re making it. It doesn’t happen often.
What’s the secret to your collaboration?
CROWE It’s about trust. If Ridley says, ”Jump off a cliff,” I go, ”Right-o, mate.” Our friendship was forged in fire. We’ve been in the situation [on Gladiator] of standing in Morocco, with thousands of people standing around, going, ”What do we do now?”
SCOTT Sometimes you’ve got to be able to say, ”I’m not sure,” in which case the other person can kick in and you can solve the problem. I think that’s sometimes the best way things can be worked out, rather than one dominant factor saying, ”This is the way to go.”
Ridley, has Russell mellowed at all since Gladiator?
SCOTT Not really. He’s still feisty —
CROWE [Cutting in] When the situation demands it.
SCOTT Russell expects people to be ready, and I expect people to be ready, and if they’re not, they sometimes get an ear-bashing.
CROWE The other half of that story is that I have to work out the moods and needs of the guy I’m working for as well. In any creative relationship, that’s valid. And if you’re a creative person, most of the time it’s effortless. We both have on certain days a take-no-prisoners approach when we really believe in something. But that’s f—ing valid, and I respond to Ridley’s passion, and Ridley responds to mine. We’re really lucky.
Any truth to the rumors of a Gladiator prequel?
CROWE Ridley and I talk about that quite regularly. It’s probably not something we want to discuss right now. But I hope that in the future we’ve got some gigantic stories to tell together.
In the meantime, you’re taking another 180-degree turn with American Gangster, about the real-life 1970s drug kingpin Frank Lucas.
CROWE Yeah, now we’re going to get the sledgehammers out and bang some doors down. The Frank Lucas story is pretty well known. Frank took over from a fellow who was a big gangster in Harlem and basically found his own source for drugs, and he cut out the Italian Mob and thereby increased his financial earnings capacity dramatically and also his power base. What we’re coming down to with this script is this battle of wits, really, between this gangster and a police investigator.
SCOTT It’s two very interesting characters who are both paradoxical, really. One [played by Crowe] is a cop who’s obsessive about doing the right thing and being honest, and at the same time has a private life which is totally f—ed up. On the other hand, you’ve got a gangster [played by Denzel Washington] who has the life of a middle-class bank manager and yet is shipping heroin from Cambodia and putting it on the streets of New York. It’s two quite different characters and yet similar in many respects.
CROWE The really intriguing thing is that in real life these guys have become friends. The guy who put him away essentially was the only person who was there to meet Frank Lucas when he came out of prison, and they’re still in touch on a regular basis now.
When do you go into production?
SCOTT We’re shooting in Harlem in August, which is hotter than hell.
CROWE And in between times, hopefully my wife will complete the production in Australia of my second child. Hopefully she sticks to the schedule, because it’s pretty tight this year.