Today: June 22, 2024

Russell Crowe On The Water Diviner

Russell Crowe stars in The Water Diviner; his first feature film as director. The film deals with the World War I battle of Gallipoli and its aftermath. “The battle of Gallipoli is a cultural touchstone in Australia,” says Crowe. Indeed, in terms of the country’s movie history, the acclaimed 1981 Gallipoli, an early hit for Mel Gibson, remains and much-loved favourite.

While Crowe may have a new film to promote, it was during a chance encounter with Scientologist, Tom Cruise, that lingers in the actor/director’s head. Crowe says Cruise tried to recruit him into the cult.

“As a friend of Nicole Kidman, I got to know Tom Cruise quite well,” he recalled. “I was in the video store, and there was a $2.50, on-sale special video on Scientology, so I watched it. It was kind of like out of a friendship thing, really. I brought it up with him and we had a short conversation about it, but it was a moment that I kind of really established in my mind that I thought he was a very cool guy. Because I brought it up with him, I broached the subject, we talked about it for a natural length of conversation, and then his finisher on the conversation was, “If it’s important to you, man, you’ll do something about it.” And we never talked about it again.”

Crowe said he hasn’t seen Going Clear, the explosive HBO documentary about Scientology, nor has he spoken to Cruise recently.

“I haven’t seen him for quite a while. Once they got divorced, I think I got thrown out with [Nicole],” Crowe said.

Despite the Scientology encounter and rumours he might have joined the religion, Crowe put any doubters to rest. Today is all about his new film and the challenges of being a first time Director.
Why did you want to make the move into directing?
Well, I think it’s simply the right time, you know. 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’m focused on the story or where we are in the story, where my character is in the story. 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. The camera is inanimate and it needs to be fed. So if you’re that type of actor in the first place, then the step and the transition to director is not actually as large as some people might think.

How did you approach directing?
I created an energy on the set which was all about contribution and the recognition of that contribution. I created an energy around me where everybody knew that they were allowed to be at their very best, so no. You work with filmmakers and they may have made x amount of films but they’re always doing it. That’s their energy. Their set is one particular way. I work with different people all the time, so I experience different energies and different ways of solving things. There are also times where you go ‘this is something I’m learning to never do’! So over time you cherry pick and you find things you learn from, and it’s a positive thing. But I’m all about setting a platform for performance. Film is a visual medium. That’s what we’re there to do. So I just based my film set and the focus of the film set on getting performances.

The Water Diviner is a beautiful movie. What did being a father yourself bring to the performance?

Well 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 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, you know. Part and part of that was like the adventure of it, you know. 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 way in which people were dying that people started to think that perhaps they shouldn’t have been so encouraging, you know.

The idea in the movie, that Connor has this special ‘power’ … how did you figure it? Is it spiritual?

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 you know. We see sportsmen on a very regular basis do things purely from intuitive places you know and it’s conversation that is often easier had with women because they believe in it a little bit more. You know – feminine intuition -but I think it’s available to everybody. We all have it available to us, so kind of pushing it out as something sort of magical is just not really true.

A lot of what Joshua does is pure, practical. He reads the topography. He can see where water has fallen previously. He can track where the water has run. He goes to the most logical place where that water might have pooled and then looks for signs in the ground that it could have in fact seeped under the surface because as it says in the film he lives in an area where it doesn’t rain for three or four years at a time.

The next step is actually the special bit. He has his son’s diary. He has a hand drawn map which gives him other information. The entire Lone Pine Battlefield is the size of two championship tennis courts. Nine thousand people died in four days in an area the size of two championship tennis courts! And he knows his children, and he knows in which end of the battlefield they were in, so the place he’s looking gets smaller and smaller. After that, there’s that point of pure parental intuition. He’s been reading that diary and thinking through the experiences of his children for years. And for somebody with that level of intensity, who is used to finding the impossible [water where there is none] for a living, it’s not that ‘magical’.

Will you direct again? Are you working on something else?
Okay? Just, 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. And at this stage in my life this is. It really suits me to be doing this but it 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 wants to shoot in Morocco, we go to Morocco. If Darren Aronofsky wants to shoot in Iceland well, we’re going to Iceland. YI’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. It suits me now, at this stage, to actually run the show, to make those creative decisions and it also means that the majority of any given year is going to be spent where my kids. So that’s the gamble, but I need a commercial result.

You just turned 51 and I wondered if you are at the point in your life, where this (directing) is a kind of life midlife bucket list kind of thing?
No. No. It’s nothing really like that. It’s a simple progression. To have learnt x amount over time, to get to the point where the accumulated on-set experience and knowledge of what it takes to make a feature film is simply vast. I started working in front of the camera when I was six years old. I’ve been doing lead roles and feature films for 25 years so now. I’m in that situation where it wasn’t any longer simply an intellectual concept to direct. It was something that I had to do. I was ready for it.

Directing yourself – was that kind of weird as an actor?
There’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 sort of, but generally because I’m creating the composition of the shot and then I step into the shot, it’s easier and 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, courtesy of Entertainment One.

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