A translation of an article from Süddeutschen thanks to Marianne
“The trick is to melt grace and brutality together.”
Russell Crowe has made a powerful boxing movie. Fitting how he is in this interview: aggressive and resolute.
A rainy summer afternoon in NY, a room in the Essex House Hotel at Central Park. Russell Crowe walks through the door wearing jeans, trainers and sweatshirt, with the text “North Bergen”. It’s a working class town in New Jersey, where Braddock lived, the legendary world champion, who became a hero of the people during the great depression. Crowe plays Braddock in the movie “Cinderella Man (The Comeback), that opens in Germany on September 8. Russell Crowe asks how things are, drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes.
Q: Happy, to be in New York again?
A: I’m not too fond of cities that are so full, that you get the feeling you’re playing Rugby every time you round a corner. And where if you cross the streets it seems as if you are in some video game, constantly avoiding cars. The streets are always jammed.
Q: Ever try a bicycle?
A: Sure, man. When I was shooting “A Beautiful Mind” I took the bike every day, because I soon learned that getting from “The Mercer” to the set in Bronx Community College, was much faster by bike than by car.
Just the fucking potholes – if you get your front wheel in there, you’ll never know if you will make it to the other side.
Q: I saw your new movie (CM) with a couple of friends from Gleasing’s Boxing Gym in Brooklyn. The experts were quite impressed with the fight scenes.
A: Really. Cool. Mind you, that is not exactly thanks to the trainers at Gleason’s. When my co-star Craig Bierko arrived on the set, after three months of training with them, he was definitely not in the form to be able to play a threatening opponent to Braddock. We had to start from scratch and train his right hook all over again, until you had the feeling that that really was the most dangerous jab (punch) you’d ever seen. Because without a threatening bad guy you had no movie.
Q: What went wrong? ( at Gleason’s)
A: Well, you can’t simply stand at the speed ball and bide your time. (He jumps up and gets into fighting position). You have to get your hands to it, make them work together. ( He moves his fists around an imaginary speed ball). With your left you fend off, (he punches two lefts in the air), with your right you hand out pain (he jabs fast with his right). First you have to get the rhythm right, then you can really hurt someone and score some points. The same goes for the sandbag. ( He poses into fighting position again). You must have thrust behind your punches ( left punches with right and left and puts all his body weight behind it). I have used the exercises at the sandbag to train my abdominal muscles, so that they could stop punches at the stomach. ( Russell Crowe leans backwards, tightens his abdomen and punches himself at the navel.)
Q: Could you box before you started this film?
A: Not good. When I was young, I did some karate and Kung-Fu and later streetfighting. But what has really helped me with the fight scenes – and this will make you laugh – was my time in musicals, the dancing in Grease and Rocky Horror. With boxing, the trick is, to melt grace and brutality together.
Q: How many body doubles (stunt doubles) did you have?
A: There’s nothing to double, mate! You’re just wearing shorts. You could find someone, maybe, with the same arms, but then the crotch or the legs are not right. Like in those Schwarzenegger movies, when the guy jumps out of a plane and you realise that he’s suddenly half the size he was before. Today’s audiences are too smart for that. I’m telling you, in the whole fucking movie, not one scene is doubled.
Q: Instead of engaging a double, you have been trained by the legendary Muhammad-Ali trainer Angelo Dundee.
A: Angelo knew Joe Gould and shook Braddock’s hand. He could tell me things about Braddock’s training, that nobody else probably would have known. ( He jumps up again and gives an Italian-American gangster accent)
“Did you know that Braddock chopped a lot of wood? That he build his under arms doing that? And not like this, lad” (he lashes out over his head with an imaginary axe). “This is how he did it, boy.”( he swings the axe like a baseball bat).
Q: Was Dundee satisfied with you?
A: He was, but today I read a review in the New York Daily News and some broad writes that she didn’t think the boxing was convincing! And that while Dundee has stated at a press conference for sports-reporters from all over the world ( he uses the Italian accent again): “If I’d had him as a kid, he could have made world champion”
The girl was probably sleeping during the movie.
Q: This year Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” won the oscar too.
A: Somehow there are suddenly a lot of boxing movies around. Yes, but with that movie (MDB) I had some problems. The boxing was somehow not accurate enough. I thought that Hilary Swank didn’t work the sandbag good enough, her punches were badly placed, and the fight scenes…. Never mind, it was a totally different movie!
Q: You said in an interview, that you wanted to tell a great American story. What’s so American about it? In those days England also had great boxers.
A: Give me a break, mate! I probably said that to an American journalist.
A: Braddock’s story is an universal story, for sure. But his story plays during the great American depression, and within that frame Braddock was quite a meaningful character. You could say, that I wanted to tell that story, to carefully reminds people what it means to be an American.
Q: And that is?
A: In any case it has nothing to do with totalitarianism or imperialism. It has to do with the America that was build on the shoulders of people like Jim Braddock. The people that worked hard and put their children’s needs before their own.
Q: If you look at that way, Jim Braddock also was a symbol for the Age of the New Deal, when the American government saw the well-being of its citizens as its first priority.
A: I don’t want to make a populist speech, but I do believe that once in a while we could remind the American
That the whole superabundance is relatively new. Only two generations ago, the people were poor and starving. And also, we should realise how privileged we are, and remind a few essentials that political giants as Franklin D. Roosevelt have thought us.
Q: Are you an American citizen?
A: No. I live in Australia.
Q: But you work here a lot.
A: No, I work all over the world.
Q: Do you believe that as an actor you should have social or political influence?
A: Well, I don’t go about kissing babies to get elected, and even when I give my opinion, I don’t subscribe to any political point of view. I don’t believe that you should interfere, just because you’ve made a movie.
Q: In Hollywood, costume-movies, seafaring-movies and boxing-movies were marked “bad box-office” for a long time. With your movies “Gladiator, Master and Commander and now Cinderella Man, you’ve certainly proven them wrong.
A: Sure, sword and sandal movies were not done for a long time. You could say that with Gladiator we didn’t have a real story, but we had Ridley Scott! And I had endless discussions with him before I agreed to do it. Important is what comes across.
Q: What should comes across with Cinderella Man?
A: Look at Braddock – as a young fighter he was highly responsible, he’d saved his money, invested it wisely. He was unbeaten in 21 fights until in 1929 he was suddenly beaten by a guy named Tommy Loughran. Shortly after Wall Street crashed and three years later he was broke. Here you have a guy who is not responsible for his downfall, he wasn’t a drinker, he wasn’t on drug or anything. And than he suddenly gets another chance. Now, everybody can get a chance, what’s important is to be prepared for it.
Q: That comes across.
A: Cool. So – try not to put too much weight on politics in your story.
Q: It will be a straight interview. Hmm. One more thing.
Do you wear a helmet when biking?
I’d better Mate – absolutely! They are crazy over here.