There’s no complicated reason for why Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe decided to make his feature film directorial debut with “The Water Diviner.”
“It was simply the right time,” says Crowe, 51. “I have said for many years it was a natural transition for a certain type of actor to step into the director’s shoes.”
Crowe doesn’t believe in the saying that the camera either loves your or it doesn’t. He sees a camera as a beast that needs to be fed and it’s up to him — whether he’s acting or directing — to feed it the best meal possible.
He gets to do both with “The Water Diviner” by working in front of and behind the camera. Crowe plays a father who years after the horrible Battle of Gallipoli travels to the battlefield to find the remains of the three sons he lost to the war.
As the director, Crowe created an energy on the set that was all about contribution and the recognition of that contribution. The key was making sure everyone knew that they were working in an environment where they were allowed to be at their very best.
That process started long before filming began as Crowe selected actors through a boot camp. Potential actors at the audition were told to take off their shoes and one sock and sit on the floor with their eyes closed.
Crowe then asked them to sing, do a monologue or improvise a scene. Those who passed that initial round went to a ranch where the days were divided between exercise, riding lessons, acting exercises and hard work. Evenings were filled with lectures about the time period of the movie.
This philosophy is based on something Peter O’Toole told Crowe at an Oscar ceremony. O’Toole told him that when it comes to acting, it’s the quiet contemplation that gives you the power. It’s the amount of time given to thinking about the role that helps create details and depth.
Crowe wanted to see by which actors didn’t give up when the going got tough.
“The process of auditioning was arduous and it came down to a final 12,” Crowe says. “When you are filming, the days are long. The guy who gives up after five hours, you don’t want that guy. You need the guy who is still going to be present in the 12th hour.”
Crowe’s used what he learned on sets to create his own style of directing.
“I have no problem saying that if somebody had a good idea, I have no problem stealing that from them,” Crowe says.
The directing experience proved extremely positive.
“I use to think I had the greatest job in the world and then I did this,” Crowe says. “At this stage of my life, it really suits me to be doing this.”