Shooting in near 50-degree weather hasn’t dampened Russell Crowe’s sense of humour.
Crowe is in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges making his first film as director, The Water Diviner.
On Thursday, showing off a scene he’d shot days earlier where his character is hit in the head with a log, Crowe quipped those experiencing the whack were in a position “many a journalist would feel privileged” to be in.
As director and leading man, Crowe didn’t cut himself any slack, and made himself film the scene five times.
The Gladiator Oscar winner plays an Australian father who travels to Turkey after WWI to find the bodies of his three sons lost in battle.
“There’s something celebratory about Australia in this movie that I couldn’t turn away from,” he said. “I couldn’t not be part of it. I also couldn’t not be the one who controls it. I smelt it and I wanted to be the person that brought it to life.”
He believes, in a way, that the story picks up where the Australian classic Gallipoli left off – showing the aftermath of war.
“This is what happens to the people who were left back at home. There’s a whole bunch of stuff to do with being a father, grief and loss.
“I don’t think any part of this narrative glorifies war. The exact opposite.”
The past week has been one of the biggest on The Water Diviner production, largely spent shooting a scene where a train carrying fighters is ambushed, replete with gunshots, explosions and men on horseback.
The outskirts of the town of Quorn is standing in for Turkey, with the tracks and carriages supplied by the local Pichi Richi heritage railway.
Crowe hand-picked his crew and co-stars, including young Australians Ryan Corr (who plays one of his sons) and Jai Courtney, old friends Jacqueline McKenzie and Steve Bastoni, Ukrainian-born beauty Olga Kurylenko and Turkish actors Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz.
The acclaimed actor’s transition to director shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“Film is in my DNA,” Crowe said, while keeping an eye on five different camera monitors. “I did my first TV show when I was six. I’ve worked in front of a camera since I was a kid and had access over my career to some of the greatest minds who’ve ever worked in the business.”
Producer Troy Lum marvelled at Crowe’s ability to flick between actor and director mode in same scene, while co-producer Andrew Mason declared the first timer was doing “bloody well”.
The director’s responsibilities have so far included everything from approving characters’ costumes to negotiating with representatives of the Turkish government to receive permission to film in the country.
The production will move to southern Turkey in March.
Crowe laughed that “if I can rely 1000 per cent on the central character, it does make a lot of other things easier”.
All indications are his first time as director won’t be his last: “Being the director of a feature film is a great job, I hadn’t realised how cool a job it was until I started this.”
Crowe was just as enthusiastic at the end of a long, hot working day, asking his team, “When do we get to blow shit up?”
The Water Diviner has already been sold to many international territories on the back of the story and Crowe’s appeal. A release date is yet to be set, but it looks likely to reach cinemas in early 2015.