Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is an undisputed legend of film, and Russell Crowe’s performance continues to earn praise today. However, recent resurfaced reports claim that Crowe’s infamous temper and on-set behavior made creating the movie a nightmare. Here’s what we know.
Calling him a "much-hated Maximus Jerkimus," the National Enquirer says that Russell Crowe single-handedly made filming the legendary movie a nightmare. The “squawking Crowe,” sources tell the magazine, was wrapped up with “feuding with screen legend Oliver Reed, clashing with scriptwriters and producers and nearly getting attacked by a tiger!”
We’re not entirely sure what a close call with a tiger has to do with Crowe’s on-set behavior, but the outlet charges forward regardless. Citing “reports” that “emerged on the 20th anniversary of the Oscar-winning movie,” the article says that “sources” revealed Crowe’s intense words towards producer Branko Lustig that saw the actor calling the producer a mother[expletive] and threatening to kill him with his bare hands.
The outlet quickly moves on to the “reported clash of egos” between Crowe and Oliver, noting that the two actors weren’t friendly on the set and Crowe admitted that the two didn’t get along before the acting veteran’s death. The article closes by again referencing the close call with the tiger and Crowe’s expletive-filled reaction to getting swiped at by a real tiger.
There’s admittedly an element of truth behind this “nightmare” story, but it’s obscured by misleading and out-of-context references. The most obvious thing is the fact that we strongly doubt there were any resurfaced reports or exposes about Gladiator, regardless of its anniversary. None of the information or anecdotes in the story is private or new — it’s all well-reported information disguised as insight from insiders. For example, the tiger anecdote is straight from Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe in an oral history of the film for Variety. The actor obviously wasn't that put off by the tiger's attack, as he immediately complimented the big cat. "It’s so beautiful, it’s so regal, and you’d love to be able to just pet them and cuddle them, but obviously that comes with inherent risk," Crowe shared. The rest of the claims are worth exploring a little more, however.
For one, yes, Crowe did in fact clash with writers and producers. It was not, however, a one-sided situation. When Crowe was being courted for the lead, Gladiator’s producers didn’t even want to send him a script because it was so bad. Crowe recounted what one producer told him when he was in talks to star: “I don't want to send you the document we have because you won't respond to it,” the producer admitted. “But I want to encourage you to have a meeting with Ridley Scott. It's 180 AD. You're a Roman general and you're being directed by Ridley Scott. Just think about that.”
Plus, David Franzoni, the screenwriter for Gladiator, gave some additional context to his relationship with Crowe on the set in an interview with Variety. At one point during filming, Franzoni and Ridley Scott worked on a scene with Crowe that the actor greatly disliked. “Russell was getting very frustrated. I could tell he was getting very pissed off,” Franzoni explained. “At the end of the day when it came time to do that scene, Russell still wasn’t entirely satisfied. But he took that anger, that angst, and put it into that scene. That, to me, is the mark of a complete professional. He did that several times when there were issues. Whatever was going on, he found a way to make it work.”
Likewise, it seems true that Crowe had a particularly bad disagreement with Branko Lustig, but the tabloid stripped away all the details and context of the argument. The spat has been known for more than a decade, first appearing in the book The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies and a Company called DreamWorks. According to that account, Crowe was furious with Lustig for refusing to pay assistants a fair wage, which is a far cry from the random threat of violence that the Enquirer paints it as. Complicating the matter is the fact that Crowe dismissed the book, which included several other allegations of unprofessional behavior towards the actor when it first emerged and was reported on by Gawker.
It’s also worth noting that when Lustig died last November, Crowe mourned the loss on Twitter. The actor quoted the producer in his post, writing that Lustig told Crowe, "You disagree with me a lot, but you’re always my friend on the days I need you.” In a follow-up tweet, he even noted that he was embarrassed at having accidentally flubbed Lustig's name when he meant to specifically thank him in his Oscar acceptance speech.
It isn't surprising in the least to hear about Crowe and Reed's tense relationship. The actors' distaste for one another is nothing short of infamous, and considering Reed's sudden death, it's not exactly like the two ever had a chance to hash it out. Sometimes, co-workers just don't get along, but it didn't seem to severely hinder production or anything. That being said, it doesn't seem to reflect Crowe's relationship with other actors in the film. Joaquin Phoenix and Crowe became close friends, and Crowe even helped the young actor develop his confidence at the start of filming.
"At one point, we were doing some press conference and he just said something along the lines of, 'Look, Russell treated me like a brother' and it just hit me in a really heavy way," Crowe told Variety. "The last time we got together we had just bumped into each other in a corridor and it was then followed by six or seven hours of just throwing away whatever it was we were supposed to do that day and just being in each other’s company."
We wouldn't be surprised if these stories pop back up as possible progress gets made on Gladiator 2,which is actually responsible for a few other recent rumors about Crowe. The bottom line is that although Gladiator was undoubtedly a brutal process in many ways, as most films are, it's a bit disingenuous to say that Russell Crowe singularly terrorized the set or hamstrung the efforts of his collaborators. There's a lot more context to the world than the snippets found in tabloids and gossip, so while Crowe may not be father to a murdered son and husband to a murdered wife seeking his vengeance, he's still a human.
Gossip Cop cannot come to a verdict either way.