Over the years, Oscar-winner Russell Crowe has earned himself a rep for being "difficult" on movie sets. Backstage whisperers complain that his mood du jour dictates whether a day of shooting will run smoothly or hellishly.
Asked for the real scoop on the star's moody 'tude, Ron Howard who directed Crowe in A Beautiful Mind (opening Dec. 21) hedgingly offers: "I would say more tone than moodiness. It depended entirely on what scene we were doing. If there was a difficult scene..." Here, he pauses carefully, then adds: "There were very challenging moments for both [Crowe and co-star Jennifer Connelly] where they were delving into some pretty strange territory."
Indeed, the actors faced their share of Sturm und Drang while making Mind, a tale inspired by Princeton mathematician John Nash's real-life struggle with schizophrenia. "I noticed," Howard says, "that the tone that surrounded Russell and permeated the set would shift dramatically once it was clear that the scene was working, that we were on track and that he and I agreed. And then, it was about finishing a day's work and carrying on. Then, something had been achieved. Up to that point, I think his attitude is basically that nothing else matters until we get that done and squared away."
So it's fair to say Crowe could be gruff while caught up in the film's heavy subject matter? "Yeah," Howard admits. "He's single-minded and he's a guy who says what's on his mind. I don't like to create tension [on set]. Some people like to work out of tension. I think Russell sort of needs that tension to control himself, so he doesn't start joking around and playing."
Despite any interpersonal dramas with his perfectionist star, Howard came away feeling he'd made the right decision in casting Crowe: "I went into it buoyed by the fact that every director I talked to said, 'Oh, this is so worth it. You're going to be very happy you made this choice, particularly when you get to the editing room.'"