With the new film Robin Hood [check out our review], Russell Crowe reteams with director Ridley Scott for their fifth film in just over a decade. The results have been mixed, with duds like A Good Year mixed in with hits like American Gangster, but their greatest collaboration was 2000’s Gladiator, for which the men won Best Actor and Best Director Oscars, respectively.
Now they’ve brilliantly hatched another historical epic, offering a tale that may be set in 12th Century England but has immense resonance today thanks to its depiction of disgruntled citizens trying to figure out how to piece their nation back together and forge a better direction for their country. With rousing battle sequences, stirring speeches, and a surprising spiritual and philosophical depth, this is one summer movie that will make you think as well as cheer.
Between you and Cate Blanchett, the lead roles of Robin and Marian are both played by Oscar winners. How well-drawn is the relationship between Robin and Marian?
Crowe: They don’t get on at all when they first meet, but there’s a latent kindness in both these people. They’ve probably been looking for the same sign of intuitive kindness in people all their lives, and they find it in the most unexpected place. Marian is much more of a strong person, I think in this particular combination, than in other depictions of Robin and Marian. And it was a privilege to work with her on this.
You’ve worked with Ridley Scott five times in the past decade or so. That’s a remarkable run. What’s the key to working with him so well?
Crowe: I’ve always found with an epic story, you look at the individual brushstrokes more than the large canvas if you want it to be great. One stroke at a time, it’s how life works. Ridley works with such incredible depth, and as far as I’m concerned it’s my job to help him paint it. If he wants more blue, I give him more blue.
This is a surprisingly deep cast beyond you and Cate as well.
Crowe: You’ve got these very talented actors relishing the chance to play these iconic characters. Oscar Isaac as King John is a revelation to me; he’s very clever and he’s having a ball. That’s one key thing: every single person in the film has been having a lot of fun and that probably has an effect in how the film comes across. Mark Addy as Friar Tuck, Kevin Durand as Little John, Scott Grimes as Will Stout and Alan Doyle as Allan A’Dayle all were in irrepressibly good humor. No doubt it’ll come across onscreen.
The bow and arrow work in this film was amazing. How did you train yourself to learn it?
Crowe: If you’re gonna fire a bow and arrow, you should do a little work to really fire it. The circumstances won’t be perfect—know who to fire at amid sunsets, in the dark or with smoke. This is where you’ve got to do what we did in Gladiator: make yourself do what your character can do. There was an extended period where I was firing 200 arrows a day, which is roughly equivalent to what an Olympic archer would do.
You’ve done a fine job in modern-era films like American Gangster and The Insider, but you really seem to turn it on in period films like this and Gladiator.
Crowe: Here, I have been in Richard’s Army putting a French castle to siege. It’s a very special thing personally for me, as somebody who thinks the concept of time travel is extremely exciting, to actually get to do it. You know how you play games when you’re a kid and you’ve got the ice cream bucket turned up on your head and a broom in your hand for a gun, and you think you’re a soldier in WWII? This is a case where you get to wear a real costume made by a man who’s dedicated his life to building a sword with just the right inlay. So the results and the experience are magnificent.
Amid a typically overloaded summer movie season, what do you think will stand out about Robin Hood to audiences?
Crowe: It’s a gigantic story. It will take you to a different time period. I think that there is philosophical and spiritual aspects which will touch people deeply. There’s real romance in this film, and true love.