Of all the projects you’d think might reunite Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe six years after their sword-and-sandals Oscar winner Gladiator, a gentle pastoral comedy set in the vineyards of Provence isn’t one of them. No epic battles? No blood and sweat and striking of heroic poses? Could two of current cinema’s hardest of hard chargers be (gulp) mellowing out? Maybe a bit, Scott admits: ”As I go on, I’m very attracted to comedy. At the end of the day, because you’ve been having a good old laugh, you go home laughing — as opposed to dealing with blood all day and you go home and want to cut your wrists.”
Scott himself originally helped cook up the idea behind A Good Year. Having lived in rural France part-time for years, the renowned director became intrigued with the notion of a cross-cultural fish-out-of-water comedy about an Englishman transplanted to Provence. Over dinner, and a good deal of wine, he pitched his idea to his friend, author and fellow Francophile Peter Mayle, who then wrote the 2004 best-seller.
To bring the main character to life, Scott says, ”the person I always had in my mind was Russell.” Crowe was drawn in by the story of Max Skinner, a bullheaded London banker who inherits a ramshackle vineyard from his uncle Henry (Albert Finney) and finds himself beguiled by the region’s irresistible charms (wine, women, and so on).
”Max is an animal in banking,” Crowe says. ”To take him out of that world, where he’s insulated and protected, and have him be seduced by what he considers the antithesis of who he is — that’s a very interesting journey. It’s sort of like reincarnation.” Perhaps as much as anything, though, it was the prospect of another chance to collaborate with Scott that appealed to Crowe. Indeed, the two have just begun work on yet another, very different project together, the crime drama American Gangster. ”We have a kind of shorthand now,” says Crowe. ”It’s just a matter of, like, ‘Right, let’s jump into the pool full of cow s—.”’ Or in this case, the vat of wine.