When Russell Crowe was asked to take over a new feature film – shot in Australia during the pandemic – he agreed on one condition: “I’m going to be doing whatever the f**k I want.”
Speaking to news.com.au ahead of the release of his new film poker face, Crowe explained he took over the then, in his opinion “unshootable” project, as writer, director and star five weeks before his first day of principal photography. Crowe also had a significant role in writing and performing music for the film.
“It was a crazy thing to say yes to but I’m very glad I did,” he said.
“It tested my f***ing patience like you wouldn’t believe but art is never made in a perfect environment. If you’re sitting around waiting for a perfect environment to make your art in, you’re just going to be sitting by yourself for a long, long f***ing time.”
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Not only was Crowe, 58, faced with a script that he said required him to “start from scratch”, but just a few days before he was asked to take the reins in March last year, his father died.
“So I’m making that decision under that cloud,” the Hollywood star explained.
“I’m making that decision as my father’s son who realizes that if I say no, 280 people who I have by in large met with or worked with before, 280 crew people in Australia simply lose their job.
“We’re in a pandemic. The city’s going into a lockdown. The difference between them staying employed and not is why I’m saying yes.”
But saying yes to the film in no way meant Crowe was going to be a yes-man. He went all in when it came to making it an Australian story.
“It was originally supposed to be shot in Sydney and Kiama (on the NSW South Coast) as if we were in Marin County, California. ‘Que? The f***ing sun goes down the wrong place, mate,’” Crowe said, retelling the conversation he had to have to make the film set where it was shot.
“’What the f**k you talking about? You’ve got a house on a hill overlooking the ocean but that’s east brother. The sun’s coming up there. You know, if you’re in Marin County the sun would be going down there.’
“I just sort of explained to the productioners like, ‘You’re asking so much that’s going to be such a waste of money. You’re going to waste money trying to pretend this is somewhere else,’ so I was like, ‘I’m not interested in doing any of that. If we’re going to make this film, we’re going to make it in Australia, we’re going to make it with largely an Australian cast, then let’s just have this be an Australian story.’
“It’s an urban Australian story… I just don’t see there is any valid reason that you can’t tell a contemporary urban Australian story without having to have a kangaroo involved.”
poker face follows a dying tech billionaire (Crowe) who brings his friends together – each with their own problems – for a final game of poker, giving them a chance to win more money than they’ve ever dreamed of. As the night unfolds, they discover they are not alone.
In Crowe’s words, his character Jake Foley is “a man who has everything he could ever need in life but time”.
It is set in NSW with a predominantly Australian cast, including Liam Hemsworth and Daniel MacPherson, and there is an obvious attention to detail.
Jake Foley has a wine cellar stocked with Henschke (the family get a special thanks in the credits) and Penfolds, and he even offers his guests a “small vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz, ‘Velvet Glove’.”
The walls of the house are lined with paintings by famous Australian artists including Clarice Beckett, Arthur Streeton, William Dobell and John Peter Russell (a classmate of Vincent van Gogh).
Crowe actually described his approach to creating the film as like creating a painting, and he refused to be restricted by traditional genre rules.
“This movie I think when they originally set it up to make it, it was supposed to be some kind of genre-driven thriller sort of thing,” Crowe said
“By the time they asked me to take it over, my attitude was, ‘Well OK, I can take it over but I’m going to be doing whatever the f**k I want.’”
One of the things important to Crowe was telling a layered and deep story about legacy.
He said he wanted to “drill down” on the type of person who tries to control the world after their death (Jake Foley) and how people can forgive adultery, deception and disloyalty by someone they love, and accept a person with flaws.
In a monologue at the end of the film, Foley says: “Friendship and love start when you forgive imperfections.”
The Stan Original Film Poker Face premieres 22 November, only on Stan.