How Russell Crowe Was Convinced To Join Gladiator, Despite Its Terrible Script

Russell Crowe in Gladiator 2000 official poster

While theatrical dates have done a bunch of switcheroos lately, there’s one movie that seems to be sticking with its July release date: Russell Crowe’s Unhinged. Which means the actor has been out and about making video calls to promote the movie and talk about some of his historically famous projects. This includes stories about Gladiator which originally had a script that was just “so bad,” according to Crowe.

During a recent episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the actor spoke about how he got a copy of the Gladiator script before he had even signed on for the role. It sounds like it was just garbage, though. Apparently, the studio hadn’t even wanted him to look at the “so bad” script because they felt like Ridley Scott could pitch him on what the vision for the movie could really be. Crowe recalled a meeting he had with a producer on the movie, wryly recalling:

Gladiator was kind of a unique experience because the script that they had was so bad. It was just so bad you know? It was like OK, umm, but the producer didn’t know I’d actually been able to get a copy. He said, ‘I don’t want to send you the document we have because you won’t respond to it. But I want to encourage you to have a meeting with Ridley Scott. And here’s the thing I want you to think about. It’s 180 AD. You’re a Roman general and you’re being directed by Ridley Scott. Just think about that.’

I mean, I’d imagine badass roles are often easier sells for actors than playing someone simpering or cowardly. It’s also true that Hollywood has had a long history of turning Roman-based projects into cinematic gold. However, if you're a major up-and-coming actor like Russell Crowe was at the time, I'd imagine a bad script is generally a pretty big turnoff. He did ultimately opt to still take the meeting thanks to the pitch from the producer at the end of the day.

At the time, Ridley Scott already had an Academy Award nomination under his belt in the directing category for Thelma and Louise, and he was also a very popular director, having helmed Alien and the cult favorite Blade Runner. But it still took Russell Crowe a little bit more convincing from the famed director before he ultimately decided to play Maximus Decimus Meridius. He told Fallon:

So, I went to see Ridley and he was so prepared and the things that he was showing me, the visual images and the mathematics of how he was going to not have to build an entire Coliseum yet still shoot the Coliseum. We just clicked in the first meeting. There was definitely a risk at the time.

It’s weird to think of Gladiator as a “risk” two decades later. Gladiator was a career-defining movie for Russell Crowe. It won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Costume Design, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects, though Ridley Scott ultimately lost in the director category to Steven Soderbergh, who won for Traffic.

It sort of goes to show you that the history of show business is fraught with bad scripts and risky propositions, but sometimes with the right people involved, a movie can still pull off critical acclaim, or at the very least, box office success. Gladiator turned 20 in May of this year, but interest is still high in the movie and talks of a sequel are still being bandied about. Meanwhile, you can catch Russell Crowe in Unhinged, which is headed into theaters on July 10.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.