Russell Crowe steps behind the camera for his first feature as a director, "The Water Diviner," offering a new a sometimes controversial view on the fallout from the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI, with Australian and Turkish families reeling in equal measure from the devastating battle. He also had just the actor in mind for the lead role, some Australian bloke named Russell Crowe. As luck would have it, the two got along just fine.
What was it about this story in particular that made it something you had to direct?
It's a funny thing, I didn't really choose this project. It kind of snuck up and chose me. I was in the middle of an extremely busy year, doing five projects in one 16-month period, and this script arrived, and the trajectory of all the other things I was going to do changed on the basis of reading it. There's a historical connection, a cultural connection with Australians and New Zealanders and the battle of Gallipoli, and there's the simple reality of the narrative, the story of a man who had three sons who go to war and don't come back. As a father of two, that's going to his me at a very essential level. But also, I thought I could see the opportunity to reshape the perspective that we have on Gallipoli. There's a word that we avoid when we discuss the sacrifice of Gallipoli: "invasion." But in reality this is what we were engaged in. We invaded a sovereign nation that we'd never had an angry word with. Though that perspective did upset a few people to begin with, you can't walk away from the truth.
My first real exposure to this story was the Pogues' version of "Waltzing Matilda."
It's funny because that particular version of the song is such a mishmash. They never actually sing the full words. But that song will make an adult cry. When you get to that last verse, "I looked at the place where my legs used to be," it's so incredibly powerful. And oddly enough the man who wrote that song was a South African who went to Australia and New Zealand and had all these experiences around the way people recognized Anzac Day.
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It really was the first war that was advertised to people, wasn't it?
Yeah, it's the beginning of mass communication, right? And that's why the British government was compelled to inter the bodies. People wanted to know what happened to their children. They demanded to know.
So talk about that blow back you got at home for showing the Turkish point of view as well.
Like any country, journalists in Australia know who to go to if they want to get a knee-jerk, right-wing reaction, you know? So that's who they went to, and those people had their say. But, typically, they had their say before they actually saw the film, and as soon as the film opened [in Australia], all of that negativity just dried up. Because this perspective is valid, man. It's a very simple thing. I don't want to be the person that makes a film on a subject matter like this and waters down the truth. I have two boys of my own, and I'm responsible for the way they view a subject like this.
And now that you've directed yourself, as an actor would you say you're easy to work with?
I gave the director everything he asked for. (laughs)
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick