TORONTO (CP) _ No angry phone tossing. No star ego. Just a humble bloke who asked the moderator at a Toronto International Film Festival press conference to skip his introduction and get on with it.
"Are you ready for smiles?" Oz actor Russell Crowe asked the crush of news photographers Saturday as he prepared to discuss "A Good Year," his latest screen venture with director Sir Ridley Scott.
Dressed casually in worn sneakers, baggy sweatpants and a pullover with the words South Sydney on it, Crowe spoke glowingly of his chemistry with Scott and how they decided to make a film as far removed from "Gladiator" as it is possible to get. (His character’s name is Max, though, recalling the aforementioned epic’s Roman general Maximus.)
"A Good Year," based on a novel by escapist writer Peter Mayle, is the sort of frothy romantic comedy that is usually chosen so the annual film festival can close on an upbeat note. It’s already been likened to "Under the Tuscan Sun," only with Provence substituting for Tuscany and Crowe for Diane Lane.
"A simple story with love and sun," is how French actress and Max’s screen love interest Marion Cotillard described it.
Crowe said he chose the project because it explored the French-English dynamic and also it gave him a chance to try some physical comedy for a change. Although, he added drolly, there were a lot of laughs in Gladiator.
"It wasn’t sold that way, but that’s why people went back to see it."
Max is a barracuda in the London bond market, a very successful but ruthless trader who sinks his rivals while operating on the rim of legality. When he hears a dead uncle has left him a chateau and vineyard in the south of France, he quickly decides to sell the property for a tidy profit.
But upon arrival on the bucolic, sun-drenched estate, he is slowly smitten with the place and its people. It’s not difficult to guess that his character is heading along a path toward redemption, the only question being with whom _ there are a couple of comely maidens around.
Scott and Crowe made it clear it was a pleasant two-month romp on location. Mayle lives in Provence and Scott maintains a vacation home and vineyard there, so a film project seemed inevitable.
But Scott, who has made epic adventures set in the distant past or a far-flung future, conceded that comedy is hard.
"If you can make people laugh, that’s fantastic, that’s wonderful. It’s hard to do but I think it’s great. If you can walk out from a movie with a smile, you’ve just done the job."
But that doesn’t mean Scott is through with making pictures about war and brutality along the lines of "Black Hawk Down," revealing he plans to return soon to the Middle East, the subject of his last period epic "Kingdom of Heaven."
He then launched into a treatise on how Hollywood has such great potential to deliver messages about learning from history.
"In wars, no one wins, everyone loses. There are no heroes, there’s only dead people," he said, referring to what he called the chaos and craziness in the Middle East today.
While he conceded Michael Moore has had successes with his message documentaries, he believes they were flukes and that docs are generally difficult to market successfully. But a dramatization, he added, can be so powerful.
"Movies can really change things and . . . it becomes an educational process and I think that’s the healthiest way of attacking anything. That’s what I’m looking for."
Scott and Crowe are now collaborating on a third film, called "American Gangster" with Denzel Washington.
"It’s cool," added Crowe.