Russell Crowe has proved himself - emphatically - in front of the camera, from his breakthrough role in 'LA Confidential', to storming through in 'Gladiator' to his subtle, Oscar-winning performance in 'A Beautiful Mind'.
For 'The Water Diviner', however, he took on the double challenge - of starring once again, AND making his directorial debut. And he's surprisingly honest that he needs this to be a commercial hit, both for professional reasons but also to be happy in his family life.
With today's home release of the film - a family adventure set in the aftermath of the devastating battle of Gallipoli in Turkey during World War One - Russell Crowe tells HuffPostUK about why now, why this project and what he's learned what to do - and what NOT to do - from the great directors he's worked with over the years...
"Well, I think it’s simply the right time. I’ve said for many years that it’s a natural transition for a certain type of actor to step into the director’s shoes and I’ve always been a very narrative based performer. I’ve also been very technically aware what lens we’re using, how are the cameras going to do with this movement and what the director is actually hoping to achieve. Because I’m not the guy that believes in the old cliché, for very good reason, the camera either loves you or doesn’t."
Did anything about directing surprise you? Are you the director you thought you’d be?
"I work with different people all the time so I experience different energies and different ways of solving things and over time you cherry pick and you go this is something that I will learn from and it’s a positive thing. And there are also times where you go this is something I’m learning to never do.
"It’s a visual medium. That’s what we’re there to do, and some sets you’re on it’s the last thought process is what the actor may require or you know the actor could be more comfortable in order to achieve something they’re looking to achieve, so I just based my film set and the focus of the film set on getting performances."
Who inspired you the most from the people that you’ve worked with that you can actually see their fingerprint on your work? Channelled through you, of course. Who do you attribute that to?
"I have no problem in saying that if somebody’s got a good idea I will have stolen that from them completely! But influence when you’re working in a creative environment is a standard thing whether it’s on writing or it’s painting or sculpture or whatever it is. Now even if you’re creating a computer program for the traffic lights of Paris, you might hit a bump in what you’re trying to do and go to the Louvre, see a statue and find your next step. You can’t assume what the influence is going to be or where it’s going to come from."
What did you bring to it as being a dad?
"Well you know once you become a parent every single thing in your life is seen through the prism of parenthood. It’s a simple given.
"So, obviously, if I read a story about a man who has three kids and they go away to war and don’t come back, as a father of two that’s going to hit me at a very central level. But there’s so many things about this script that hit me at that place, you know. The battle of Gallipoli is a cultural touchstone in Australia that’s quite often seen as the moment in time when those young nations were forged. That’s the first time that they’re fighting under their own flag and it was a societal movement to get young men to volunteer to go away.
"Part and part of that was like the adventure of it. You come from a small outback town in Australia, go and see the world young man, and it wasn’t until reports started coming back from the front not only the amount of deaths but the nature in which people were dying that people started to think that perhaps they shouldn’t have been so encouraging."
And also in the idea here of the special power that this character has, Connor? The Water Diviner, as the movie’s called. How did you figure? You know? I mean is it a spiritual?
"I don’t see it. I don’t see it as a special power.
"I think intuition is available to all of us and we use it very naturally on a daily basis whether it be in social encounters or business encounters. We see sportsmen on a very regular basis do things purely from intuitive places and it’s conversation that is often easier had with women because they believe in it a little bit more, and you know have a certain reliance on their feminine intuition, but I think it’s available to everybody. So we all have it available to us, so kind of pushing it out as something sort of magical is just not really, it’s not true.
"A lot of what Joshua does is pure, practical, you know he reads the topography. He can see where water has fallen previously. He can track where the water has run. That next step is actually the special bit. The person that diving rods will interact with is not everybody, it’s a very small percentage of the population if it’s real, and he takes that same focus into the battlefield.
"He has his son’s diary which brings him to a certain point. The place where he’s looking get smaller and smaller and then there’s that point of pure parental intuition where he has been considering this for four years. He’s been reading that diary and thinking through the experience of his children so it’s kind of, to me, that level of intensity and focus when you’re actually dealing with somebody who is used to finding the impossible anyway for a living. That step is not an extreme step at all."
The great moment of this movie is the battle sequence with the three, the three boys and what happens there. Can you just talk about the emotional point of shooting that scene where your actors pretty much can’t move?
"We had a boot camp about three months before we started shooting where I took these fellows and a bunch of other fellows, the process of the audition was very arduous and it came down to a final twelve and I was going to choose my cast out of those twelve so then I took them into an audition that was nine hours long and it tested them on many different levels, intellectually, emotionally but also just looking for who is still contributing. Because when you’re filming the days are long and the guy that gives up after five hours you don’t want that guy.
"You need the guy who is still going to be present in the twelfth hour and still thinking and coming up with an idea, so once we’d gone through that process and these guys had won the roles we went to my farm which is northern New South Wales in Australia and put them through this quite extensive and tortuous experience, where they’re getting up early in morning and they’re dealing with their body. They might do yoga. They might go on a long walk. They might do a weight session. Then they’ll go and ride horses for a number of hours to get that skill set under their belt. Then they might do some lessons with their weaponry to get that skill under their belt. Then you take them on a 50 kilometre bike ride. Or you might put some arrows in their hands and say if you don’t hit the Bullseye you don’t get dinner tonight. You put them in a pressurized situation and then at night time you have lectures about the geopolitics about the history of the Ottoman Empire.
"You fill their hearts and minds with the things that you want them to know about and all you’re asking for then is that they take the knowledge that you crammed into them in ten days, and if they’re just consistent then they’ll bring themselves to the point where their first shooting day and they will have a mile of depth behind their eyes because they know the character that they’re playing. They know the situation that they’re in. They know the history of the times. They know they have the weapons skill on board, the horse riding skill on board. They have everything and they’re comfortable with everything and it shows right here. That’s that reason behind it, so you can see, I’ve taken a group of urbanizes surfie dudes and taken them back a hundred years. Anyway, so you can talk about the experience and don’t forget to talk lovingly about me because I still know where you live."
Will you direct again?
"Here’s the thing, as an actor I used to think that I had the greatest job in the world.
"And then I did this. You know? And at this stage in my life this is, it really suits me to be doing this to you know but this is a gamble. This is the risk in play. It’s a three year process to direct a movie to this point now where it’s finally coming out and what’s on the line is essentially if I get a commercial result I buy my freedom. For 25 years I’ve been a gun for hire actor making lead roles and feature films and if Ridley Scott’s going to, wants to shoot in Morocco, we go to Morocco. If Darren Aronofsky wants to shoot in Iceland well, we’re going to Iceland. You know? I’ve got two boys. I’ve got an eight year old and an eleven year old and I need to be home more. So if I can wrest creative control, then I benefit in two ways. One is suits me now at this stage to actually run the show to make those creative decisions and also it means that my pre-production, post-production, the majority of any given year is going to be spent where my kids are so that’s the gamble but I need a commercial result."
Directing yourself? Was that kind of weird as an actor?
"It’s the occasional schizoid day where you find yourself talking to yourself on the monitor, and you go, oh you idiot I said go left. We’ll do it again. So it’s sort of a, but generally in a way because I’m creating the composition of the shot to then step into the shot it’s easier to be more efficient because I’ve cut out the middle man."
'The Water Diviner' is available to download on digital HD on July 27 and on Blu-ray™, and DVD August 10 2015. Watch the trailer below...