Russell Crowe talks new film ‘The Water Diviner’

Published 9:51 am Saturday, April 11, 2015

by Lauren Bradshaw

Last night, we had the amazing opportunity to attend the Washington, D.C., premiere of “The Water Diviner,” which features Russell Crowe in his directorial debut. At the event, Crowe walked the red carpet and spent a lot of time with each journalist, answering as many questions as possible. It’s obvious that he’s passionate about the film, and how can he not be? Not only did it win three awards at the AACTAs (the Australian equivalent of the Oscars), but having seen the film, I can report that it is well worth the hype.

“The Water Diviner” centers on Joshua Connor (Crowe, who also stars in the film), an Australian water diviner that saw his three sons leave to fight in WWI. However, once the fighting ceased, the boys didn’t return home. After Joshua’s distraught wife commits suicide, he promises to bring the boys’ bodies back to Australia to be buried on consecrated ground with their mother. So, he heads to Turkey, the site of his sons’ last stand at the Battle of Gallipoli. However, due to push-back from the British military, which has embarked on a campaign to bury the casualties, Joshua has to rely on help from the very people that his sons fought against in order to bring them home.

Not only is the story both harrowing and moving, but the film looked like it was shot by a seasoned director. It’s hard to believe this is Crowe’s directorial debut. The transition shots between scenes were some of my favorite shots in the film. And not only that, Crowe shot incredible vistas in both Australia and Turkey, making the scenery become a main character in the film. He decided to film a lot of the movie on location, and was reportedly the first international film crew to receive government support to film in the Blue Mosque.

We were lucky enough to get more than five minutes with Crowe, which is typically unheard of in a red carpet setting. He was incredibly kind and generous with his answers. And not only that, he had great things to say about D.C. Having filmed “Body of Lies” in the city, he was very familiar with our landmarks and said he has fun riding his bike around the area. Check out our interview below and go see “The Water Diviner,” opening in theaters April 24!

Lauren Bradshaw (Cloture Club): First, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the movie.

Russell Crowe: Thank you!

LB: I thought the film did a really great job giving a realistic portrayal of a battle scene and its aftermath, for example the injured soldiers moaning. I was wondering if that was hard to leave behind at the end of the day?

Crowe: That’s part of the construct that I put together. My reading of Gallipoli battle stories quite often talked about that noise that rose up out of no-man’s land after a particular engagement. I realized no one had really portrayed that before. There’s no significant TV or film on the particular subject matter that actually shows that, and I thought there’s no better way to put people in a place of realism than to show them that situation. So many people have said to me, “I never thought of that. I thought once [the soldiers] go over the top of the trench, they get hit by a bullet. They’re dead. It’s nice and clean.” But it’s not like that. You see in this movie, of course, men who are bleeding out and people with severed limbs. You understand more about the horrifying experience that it must have been.

LB: So did you have a hard time going home at the end of the day and not taking this with you?

Crowe: What was the most deeply touching with that scenario was how well those young actors did it. That’s actually… that whole sequence in the movie was two takes.

LB: Only two takes?!

Crowe: I was talking earlier in the line about the preparation level you take actors through, or that I took them through on this film. And that’s why you do it, so they can be in the pocket of what they’re doing immediately. They don’t require any time to warm up. They’re just there and willing to give that sort of performance. No, you don’t necessarily take it home. It’s too weighty a thing to carry around and you’ve got a lot of responsibilities when you’re shooting a film like this and a lot of things to do the next day. But, you know, I contemplated that situation and how I would shoot it for a long, long time before we did it and I spoke to the actors involved in it about four months prior to them shooting it. I told them what I wanted to see out of it and they were consistent in their preparation and brought themselves to the set in the place where they were ready to be those characters. Then they gave me performances like that. It was amazing.

LB: So what kind of director are you? Are you a two-take director usually?

Crowe: No, I’m going to shoot as much as I need to. But part of that preparation with the actors is my own preparation and the rest of the crew’s preparation. Take one is valid and usable. I don’t believe in the warm-up stuff. We’ve down our rehearsals and done our preparation and when we say “action,” that could well be in the movie so let’s be on point. But what I try to do is create an energy around me where everybody on that film set knows that they’re allowed to be at their very best, similar to what you do with your kids. I have two boys and they’re both very different people, so the way I can talk to one changes when I talk to the other one. That’s the way you should be on a film set. You should treat that individual who’s there, at your request — and it’s a privilege for you that that person agreed, whether it’s the production designer or the DOP or the costume designer, to be on your set so you need to get the best out of them. You need to utilize everything they can bring to you and that’s done through communication. Detail and collaboration are the two rules of film.

LB: Detail and collaboration. That makes total sense! Last question: I loved how in the ending of your film, you dedicated it to the “lost and nameless soldiers.” I was wondering if you had a chance to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while you’ve been in the D.C. area?

Crowe: I haven’t done that this trip, but I actually worked here in 2007 and 2008 and I’ve ridden all over D.C. and the surrounding areas, so I have been on my bicycle to pretty much every monument. It’s an amazing, amazing place.

LAUREN BRADSHAW grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area and can be reached at