Movie is one of the first major releases since the coronavirus outbreak began.

By Clark Collis
August 18, 2020 at 08:35 AM EDT

Russell Crowe admits he was unnerved when he first read the script for his road rage thriller Unhinged.

"It scared the s--- out of me," he says.

In director Derrick Borte's film, Crowe plays an extremely angry and dangerous individual who terrorizes Caren Pistorius's character following an altercation at a traffic light.

"I’ve played lots of different bad guys and sometimes you can inject humanity into that bad guy, which makes that bad guy more real," says the Gladiator and Man of Steel actor. "But with this character, I realized going into it, there is no justifying any of this. It doesn’t matter what is happening in his life, how many bad things he’s dealing with at once, none of that justifies his response. That is a very difficult equation, because you've got to drop a whole bunch of parts of you that you could use in your job, no? You've got to bring it down to something which still feels real but you never fully get informed of what drives this bloke. From the moment the movie starts, he’s already ignited, he’s already moving towards this place, and it would take the smallest thing for him to go to the next level of destruction. And he will keep going that way until he’s destroyed himself. So, it definitely came with its challenges.

Crowe talks more about Unhinged, and about how it became one of the first major releases since the outbreak of the pandemic, below.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in Unhinged?

RUSSELL CROWE: I was passing through L.A., and the studio wanted a quick answer on the script. I read it, and I was kind of revolted, to tell you the truth. My first instinct was to just say "No," and I did. But then it just stayed in my mind, and it kept coming back, and I started to divine why the revulsion. I worked out that I was afraid of it. I was afraid of it because it holds so much truth. There’s this edge of society at the moment where we keep having these things pop up, these pivot points in people’s lives, where they just step across the boundary of humanity into this other place. You know, this continuous series of mass shootings and all these other peak points of violence that you hear about. This is that, but it’s not an AR-15, it’s a car.

What was the shoot like?

We were shooting in New Orleans. Derrick, the director, is a guy who’s lived his whole life in the visual arts, he’s a cineaste, so really understands film. It was the most chilled out set, man, just the most relaxing working environment. I was living literally a few minutes ride by bicycle most of the time, and the sun’s out, it’s summer in New Orleans, it was this perfect existence. But then, as we begin to shoot, I find out, coincidentally, the house that I’d rented was owned by a man who lost his life in a road rage incident. So, I've got this sort of thing going on where there’s a lot of strange energy around. There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re doing film characters, and you’re not even necessarily looking, certain things come to your attention because you’re focused in a certain way. So, while it was a chilled set, there was also this other energy that was chasing around.

Solstice Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection

What was it like working with Caren Pistorius? Your characters interact a lot in the film, but often while some distance apart. 

We had a great opportunity open up for us, the director and I, where, he'd gone through a lot of meetings with actresses, and he’d come to like a final three, two of which he’s spent a lot of time with and the third one, he was basically going off a reputational thing. It was old school. We’re already on the set and we’re still auditioning. We got to have some great auditions with these actors, all of them gave fine performances, but then this girl, she just took it on the day. She was so watchable, with elements of a young Nicole Kidman or elements of a young Meryl Streep. There was that stillness and you could read things in her eyes. So, that also became part of the joyful experience — when you’re in a situation and you see someone make a career. And I think that’s what Caren has done with this role. She's built a career.

It’s very very tricky to do a movie like this, because you have a low budget, shooting strong hours, and her and I are both on opposite sides of the city, very seldom in the same place together. It’s just a hard role for the actress to have to elevate themselves to those places of fear and stuff everyday when really they’re by themselves. Now, sometimes I’d be on the phone or sometimes there’s a bit more connection. But I think Caren’s done a superb job in the role.

What do you think about Unhinged being one of the first major releases since the start of the coronavirus outbreak?

Well, I think Mark Gill (president of Solstice Studios, which produced the film) has demonstrated in the past that he's got a pretty good instinct. When he explained it to me, he also accompanied it with a stack of research.The research said that the things people were most missing was cinema. And the second part of that research was, "If you get to go to the cinema, what do you want to see?" The biggest answer was "thriller." I definitely think there is some comfort in going into a room and  having an experience where all the crazy s--- is imagined. While it feels kind of risky, theater owners are working on safety as the absolute priority, so that’s cool. I think, at the very least, Mark’s created an awareness for a genre film like this that he might not have gotten.

What kind of driver are you, Russell?

Decisive. Especially on a tractor.

Unhinged opens in cinemas Friday. If you go see the film then please, please, please observe all relevant safety protocols.

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