When looking back on the career of Russell Crowe (a career of many highlights), one of the first titles that springs to mind is Gladiator. After all, the film was critically acclaimed, a box office hit, and the winner of five Academy Awards – including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Crowe. It has a tremendous legacy... but according to its star, it was almost a total disaster.
Earlier this year (prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike), Russell Crowe participated in a career retrospective with Vanity Fair, and it was while discussing Gladiator that the actor discussed stories from behind the scenes how the project almost went terribly wrong. According to him, the screenplay was a mess and featured elements that modern audiences would have had a hard time buying into. Said Crowe,
What I wasn't confident about with Gladiator was the world surrounding me. At the core of what we were doing was a great concept, but the script, it was rubbish, absolute rubbish. And it had all these sort of strange sequences. One of them was about chariots, you know, and how famous gladiators – and this is all true, right – used certain types of chariots and some famous gladiators had endorsement deals with products for olive oil and things like that, and that’s all true, but it’s just not going to ring right to a modern audience. They’re going to go, ‘What the fuck is all this?’
Apparently Russell Crowe was excited enough by the concept of Gladiator that he signed on to star in the project, but he had some serious buyer's remorse as the film started to make its way toward production. Continuing, the Australian performer admitted that there were times when he considered whether or not his best move would be to completely ditch the film:
The energy around what we were doing was very fractured. You know, I did think maybe a couple of times, 'Maybe my best option is to just get on a plane and get out of here.'
Regardless of how bad things were going with Gladiator, deciding to leave and abandon the movie probably would have been a terrible career decision for the actor, so it's for the best that he stuck around.
But why did he stick around? According to Russell Crowe, it was because of the influence of director Ridley Scott. Evidently the filmmaker recognized that his star had serious issues with the material, and he made efforts to alleviate those concerns. Said Crowe said,
It was my continued conversations with Ridley [Scott] that sort of gave me faith. He said to me at one point in time, 'Mate, we're not committing anything to camera that you don't believe in 100%.' So when we actually started that film, we had 21 pages of script that we actually agreed on.
Russell Crowe goes on to say that those 21 pages were used early on, and suggests that Ridley Scott and the rest of the film continued to develop new ideas for the direction of the story throughout production. That's not always a methodology that yields terrific work, but it's hard to argue with all of the success of Gladiator.
If you're now in the mood to watch the beloved film, you can stream it with an Amazon Prime subscription, or you can watch it for free on Pluto TV (with ad breaks). There is currently a sequel in the works – presently known simply as Gladiator 2 – but Russell Crowe isn't in it, and he's not super happy about that fact.