Filmmaking is a collaborative medium, and often the best movies are just so thanks to spontaneity and improv. Sometimes, though, participants are off base, like Russell Crowe, who tried, and failed, to change one of Gladiator‘s most enduring moments.
While filming the historical action movie, Crowe was unhappy with one of his biggest moments. Maximus Decimus Meridius (Crowe) delivers a monologue to Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), where he reveals that he survived attempted execution and promises revenge. “And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next,” caps off the spine-chilling speech, kicking off Maximus’s gradual rise through the ranks of the Colosseum to kill Commodus.
As reported by The Guardian, Crowe didn’t vibe with that line at all, and tried to alter it. Several takes with different improvised versions later, it was decided by all involved, including director Ridley Scott, that the screenplay was the optimal choice. Crowe still claimed responsibility, adding: “It was shit. But I’m the greatest actor in the world and I can make even shit sound good.”
As The Guardian notes, many great moments in Hollywood are the result of actors going off-script. Robin Williams said, “He stole my line” in the drama movie Good Will Hunting, and “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” from the monster movie Jaws; there are countless examples.
But the improvisation must improve what’s on the script. If it doesn’t, then the good of the film takes precedence, and while we may never know what Crowe’s alternate takes were, we do know what made the final cut. Part of being the greatest actor is putting the narrative first.
In any case, a Gladiator sequel is in the works from Scott, but we don’t know a huge amount about it. Maybe Crowe will finally get his moment.