About The Production
The filmmakers knew that the actor chosen to portray Maximus—the general
turned gladiator whose popularity threatens the power of the emperor—was key to the success of the project. "Maximus is the very soul of the movie," Wick affirms. "It was crucial to find an actor who you could believe possessed the ferocity of this great warrior, but in whom you could also see a man of strong principle and character. Russell Crowe's name came up pretty fast. His intensity, his dignity and his utter conviction in every role he undertakes made him everyone's first choice."
Starring as Maximus, Russell Crowe takes on a decidedly different role from his Oscar®-nominated turn in "The Insider." "He went from being a paunchy, middle-aged
man to a gladiator—not bad," Scott jokes, adding, "In other words, he's a real actor. Russell has an uncanny way of internalizing a role, and he's naturally very physical, which was a perfect combination for the part."
For Crowe, "Gladiator" presented the prospect of helping to re-establish a film genre, while collaborating with a director he had long admired. "It's been a long time since a film has been made on this subject matter. It's an incredible period. The achievements of the Roman Empire were remarkable, but they were underscored by absolute brutality, which fascinates people to this day The film was also an extraordinary opportunity to work with Ridley Scott, one of the great visual artists of our time, and to play a character who undergoes such a remarkable journey," the actor says.
"He's a general in the army, who, when we meet him, has been away from his family for three years, but he's done his duty and has had enough. He wants nothing more than to go home, but the story changes for him when the emperor he loves and serves dies. Maximus goes from being a great general to being shackled and sold into slavery as a gladiator—a slight change in lifestyle," Crowe smiles. "He was a military man who fought for honor and the glory of Rome, but now he has to bring himself to kill on a much more base level. For a while, he lives only to stand in front of the new emperor and exact his revenge, but he is again caught up in the political turmoil of the day and can't help but become involved. For want of a better expression, he's a good man."
The man upon whom Maximus seeks his revenge is Commodus, who becomes the emperor of Rome upon the death of Marcus Aurelius. It was important to the drama that
Maximus' strength be counterbalanced by an equal measure of power on the part of his adversary— albeit another kind of power. The filmmakers found what they were looking for embodied in the quiet intensity of Joaquin Phoenix.
Ridley Scott had previously worked with Phoenix when he executive produced the film "Clay Pigeons," in which the actor had starred. "When we offered him the part, I think the most surprised person was Joaquin himself," the director says. "He is not the physically imposing type one
might have envisioned in the role, but he conveys the complexities of this corrupt ruler in a very courageous way He exposes the vulnerability that is juxtaposed with the ruthlessness of
The mercurial quality of the part was only one of the incentives for Phoenix. "Between the script and the cast that was being put together, I felt the film had a great deal to offer. Talking to Ridley, I could see this was going to be a movie of great spectacle and scope, but also one that allowed for a character-driven story," he notes.
"Commodus is a character I really enjoyed exploring as an actor," Phoenix reflects. "I think the best way to describe him is as a spoiled child. He's 19 years old, but wields an incredible a
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