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Interview: Russell Crowe and cast talk The Water Diviner

Premiering in Australia on Boxing Day is Russell Crowe’s directorial debut, “The Water Diviner”, an epic adventure set four years after the devastating battle of Gallipoli during World War I. Australian farmer Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe) travels to Turkey in 1919 to discover the fate of his three sons (Ryan Corr, Ben O’Toole and James Fraser) reported missing in action. Initially blocked by military bureaucracy, he is helped first by the beautiful Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) who owns the hotel in which he stays in Istanbul and then by Turkish Officer Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), who had fought against Connor’s sons. Holding on to hope, Connor and Major Hasan travel across the war-torn landscape to find the truth, and for Joshua to find his own peace.

Mandy caught up with Russell Crowe and his cast at the Melbourne premiere to talk about the importance of remembering the horrors of war, jumping into mirrors during the audition process, and the verdict on Russell the director.

On bringing his two young kids to see the film

Russell Crowe: There’s no nudity, no swearing, I mean there’s a couple of ‘bastards’ and an ‘asshole’ [laughs]. It’s a movie that’s really a love story about grief. But there’s no thematics in this film that I don’t want to discuss with my kids. I want to impart to them the senselessness of war and the depth of grief and young boys dying in that situation and I don’t see anything that isn’t positive about having those conversations and I’ve had a number of those conversations already. Our little one was interested in the concept of going into the Army after high school, and then he saw the film and changed his mind [laughs]. I’m still going to encourage him into going into the Army Cadets because it’s a really wonderful adventure and it’s great to get involved with that sort of stuff.

Russell Crowe in "The Water Diviner"
Russell Crowe in “The Water Diviner”

Following in the shadows of Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli”

James Fraser: “Gallipoli” effectively ends where our story picks up. The freeze frame where he gets shot – our story is more about what happens to the people afterwards. And I was amazed to find out that the war in Turkey didn’t end for another six years because the Greeks and the French and everybody started claiming all the land there. And they were at war for so many more years to try and save their country and their borders. Those stories you just don’t hear about.

Steve Bastoni: “This film really is a love story. It’s a sweeping epic of a love story with the backdrop the fall of the Ottoman Empire and really shows Gallipoli from a unique perspective that we haven’t seen before and how it affected lives and families and loved ones. And that’s something that we don’t see from the bigger perspective. We all know someone’s been affected by Gallipoli. We all show our respect and remembrance on Anzac Day. We don’t really understand the Turkish perspective. For me it was a real eye opener in that regard.

Ryan Corr: “The script was wonderful, it was really one of those scripts that on the first read you know you’re on to something special. Of course there was a great part associated with it and the fact that we get to do something about Gallipoli which is such an important part of Australian history. More than 8,000 young Australian men died that day. That’s a hard task to meet. Having any sort of part of that to represent Australian culture is an amazing opportunity and a great experience.

Steve Bastoni: “There’s still wars being waged at the moment for God knows what reasons. You see the casualties and you see the political machinations and motivations that happen behind that and you see the human toll and human cost and you just wonder – is it worth it? For me the answer is always no but if I was a politician or a multi-billionaire I would probably have a different answer to that [laughs]. The beautiful theme in the film for me is that love knows no boundaries and can exist despite political and cultural differences and verbal misunderstandings. Love can speak its own language. And that’s very strong in the movie.

On the tough audition process

Ryan Corr: “I got the call initially just to go to his house just in a ‘Hey Russell Crowe would like to meet with you’ so I went and did that three times, understanding that if he works with you he wants to know you and that a professional relationship also involves a personal one. And then after that we started the audition process. That was one of the longest audition processes I’ve ever been through [laughs]. We had groups of 30 young guys doing all sorts of exercises, periphery exercises and whirly derby groups and falling into mirrors. That was before we got the role. Then we got the role. Then it got hard [laughs]. By the time we came onto set we had a really firm idea of what we were doing and the characters we were portraying and the responsibility of the film and the people that we were representing.

Ryan Corr in "The Water Diviner"
Ryan Corr in “The Water Diviner”

On working with Russell Crowe as a director

Dylan Georgiades (12 years old in his first feature film): “I thought my Dad was playing a prank on me. I didn’t believe it because I never thought or dreamed about getting a movie role like that. It was an amazing experience. Russell and Olga always took me out places, we went to the aquarium and stuff and it was awesome.

Steve Bastoni: “Look, he’s a hard taskmaster [laughs]. He doesn’t ask anything of me that he wouldn’t ask of himself. He’s very meticulous, he’s got a great eye for detail and he can tell when you’re bullshitting because he’s an actor himself [laughs]. So it was great, it was an honour to work with him again in this film. This was a project very close to his heart and I think everybody gave 100 per cent.”

Ryan Corr: “He set the bar, he’s a perfectionist, and he goes into detail, and a big part of this whole process for us was a learning curve. You know Russell Crowe has had this incredible career and worked with some of the greats and he showed us his work ethic. He’s a consummate professional – you’re inspired to get into the role physically, you have to do mountains of research, just seeing that, leading by example was a wonderful lesson.

James Fraser: “You see him living up to the standards that he sets himself it makes it hard not to match it. He really does lead by example.

Ryan Corr: “You kind of want to impress him too. You know he was playing our Dad, you looked up to him and you wanted to get it right [laughs].

James Fraser: “’Dad you weren’t looking!’”

Ryan Corr: “It was like that actually! And also forms a really great comradery, I think doing all the training and exercises, sweating together and sleeping in the same rooms, you definitely form something.

On what drew veteran Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdogan to the film

Yilmaz Erdogan: “Russell Crowe [laughs]. This issue with this movie – it’s not a regular project. I grew up with the story. When I was in the army they gave me the duty to visit the places. It has the point of view of both the sides. It is 100 per cent objective. And the script was amazing.

On working with Australians

Yilmaz Erdogan: “It was wonderful. This was my first time acting in English. It was fantastic, I am part of the family.

On what makes a great film

Russell Crowe: “For me, I like to be engaged with the story, and I like that story to be complex, and the characters within that story to have some complexity as well. I like to be taken out of the life that I lead. I think the indicators we’re getting for this film so far is that’s exactly the experience people are having.

On releasing the film in the US on Anzac Day

Russell Crowe: “It’s a wonderful opportunity and it could have been another situation where the release was rushed and would happen without my presence but Warner Bros – who picked up the film – are very deeply connected to it and we had a couple of conversations, and they came back to me with that date and I said ‘you couldn’t possibly have picked a better date’. It’s the 24th April which is the eve of Anzac Day but Anzac Day already in Australia. And because it’s going to be in April it allows me a number of weeks after I finish my other obligations to go and contextualise the story for them. So I think that’s a cool thing. We like other people to recognise and understand our cultural icons. I think it’s going to be great.

“The Water Diviner” opens in Australia and Turkey on 26 December 2014, and 24 April 2015 in the US.


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