Russell Crowe divines, conquers in directorial debut

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Russell Crowe plays a man searching for his missing sons after the 1915 battle of Gallipoli in "The Water Diviner."
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Just past 50 and widely considered one of the finest actors of his generation, Oscar winner Russell Crowe has returned to his roots and taken on a new role: director.

His directorial debut “The Water Diviner,” in which he also stars, tells the story of Joshua Connor, a father who travels to Gallipoli four years after the battle of 1915 to find out what happened to his three sons, all presumed dead.

“I've been thinking about directing for a long, long time,” Crowe said during a recent visit to The City. “This came and found me. I responded to it in the same way as the jobs I'm looking for as an actor. I read and read, and then one day you've got goosebumps.”

He adds, “That happened to me, but also this other thing. A voice just came that said, ‘You must take responsibility for this. You can actually read between the lines. You can see into the shadows of it.’”

Crowe, who was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, explains that the battle of Gallipoli was the first time the two countries fought as their own army, under their own flag, rather than as part of the British empire. It's an important part of being Australian, he says. “You get the tales of Gallipoli tattooed on the inside of your eyelids from birth.”

One of his greatest coups on “The Water Diviner” was being the first International film production allowed to shoot inside Istanbul's Blue Mosque.

“I just needed it to be the Blue Mosque,” Crowe says. “I'd seen a lot of other beautiful mosques, but there's something about it that I felt I could illustrate that Joshua is still spiritually available.”

Crowe says the process of getting permission took upwards of eight months. He concocted a plan to film quickly, without interrupting prayer sessions: “I designed the shots that I needed that we could walk in with the equipment, shoot with available light, and walk out in two hours.”

Crowe grew up during a time when a new breed of Australian filmmakers such as Peter Weir and Fred Schepisi were making exciting inroads in film history. Crowe says he knew that, like them, he wanted to “have a life in cinema.”

On “The Water Diviner,” he aimed for a classic movie experience. His sound designer, for example, wanted “big, thick, atmosphere tracks,” but he felt otherwise: “I decided that when it's quiet in this movie, it's deathly quiet. When you're supposed to hear something, you can really hear it,” he says.

Crowe and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie couldn't shoot on 35mm film like their predecessors, but Lesnie invented a way to “corrupt” digital Arri Alexa cameras to achieve spectacular effects with light, such as big sunsets.

He also used trickery to turn two cameras into five, which involved hiring an entire camera crew of trained directors of photography, as well as obtaining an extra camera for spare parts.

“The rule is that you want to do something clever, but you want to do it cheaper than the other bloke's doing it,” Crowe says, smiling. “Independent film, man!”

IF YOU GO

The Water Diviner

Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, Jai Courtney

Written by: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios

Directed by: Russell Crowe

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

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