The Empire Strikes Back

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GLAD ALL OVER: Maximus (Crowe) leads his fellow slaves in one of the film's big battles

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Russel Crowe in 'Gladiator'

To judge by reports from the set, Crowe could have played Maximus or Commodus: he was all warrior, all tyrant. A hard-drinking perfectionist, he got into brawls with villagers on one location and laid such waste to his rented villa in Morocco that the caretaker protested to Scott, saying "He must leave! He is violating every tenet of the Koran!" Crowe questioned every aspect of the evolving script and strode off the set when he did not get answers. Says a DreamWorks exec: "Russell was not well behaved. He tried to rewrite the entire script on the spot. You know the big line in the trailer, 'In this life or the next, I will have my vengeance'? At first he absolutely refused to say it. He did a lot of posturing and put the fear of God into some people. Thankfully, Ridley never yelled. He was the voice of reason dealing with many unreasonable factors, not the least of which was his lead."

Crowe could be a nicer fellow but hardly a better actor. His Maximus is a cousin to the haunted Wigand, a powerful man troubled by the things he has to do. It is a delicate, indelible portrait. To Gladiator, a film in need of a star and a working-class hero, Crowe brings strength and honor.

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