The actor discusses marriage, working with Ridley Scott, and facing Denzel Washington in next year's American Gangster

Russell Crowe gets romantic in director Ridley Scott's A Good Year. Crowe stars as Max Skinner, a workaholic that discovers himself after inheriting a vineyard in Provence, France. The film marks the third time Crowe and Ridley Scott have worked together. He's sort of become the director's muse, and elaborates on his willingness to follow orders completely. Crowe has a full slate for next year. He's just finished American Gangster with Denzel Washington, and is getting ready to film 3:10 to Yuma with James Mangold.

This role is quite different from what we've seen from you. Was this an effort to do something different?

Russell Crowe: That's sort of a bunch of silliness. It was just the next character that I decided to play. A lot of people told me this morning, "It's so different from what you usually do." And I said in reply, "So, let's just take a handful, let's go: "Romper Stomper," "L.A. Confidential," "Insider," "Gladiator," "A Beautiful Mind," "Master and Commander" and "Cinderella Man." Which of these movies are similar?

But this is a romantic comedy...

Russell Crowe: Sure and I've done them before. People talk about the physicality of the comedy. Well, didn't we have a conversation a few years ago when I was doing "Mystery, Alaska", flopping around on the ice like a dead fish? (Laughs)

So what attracted you to this character?

Russell Crowe: I liked the fact that Max was so taken up with his day-to-day life, but underneath there was this wealth of knowledge that had been put inside his head. At some point in time, he'd subjugated a lot of it for the simple end of it, which was competition is what life is about. He's taken it to a point where there's no joy in the competition. I think it's the situation of his uncle dying: a man who, by rights, he should have spent a lot of time with in the last decade, but in actuality he spent no time with at all. That's a very sharp mirror to put yourself in front of and Max realizes just how absolutely shallow he's become. I think any movie that begins with a fourteen-year-old kid drinking red wine, smoking a cigar and cheating at chess, is going to give you a smile.

It must have been great working with Albert Finney?

Russell Crowe: He's wonderful. Unfortunately I didn't get to do any scenes with Albert. We had two-dinner parties... lovable fellow.

Can you talk about working with Ridley Scott again?

Russell Crowe: It's great. We share common ground, a sense of humor, and a work ethic. It's just really easy on a Ridley Scott set. I have complete trust in the fact that whatever I do and whatever I come up with in the moment, he'll capture. He knows from past experience, that if he directs me to jump off a cliff, I'll go out and jump off a cliff.

How has working with him changed over the years?

Russell Crowe: There are only so many words to explain the human emotion. I know what he's looking for. He downloads to me what his desires are, what he sees and believes in, what he sees the movie as, and I listen. I listen and I also retain it and I become a version of his conscience. We'll be in the middle of doing something and I'll say, "Didn't you say you wanted this to be like that and to have the bloke say this to go with that?" and he'll say: "Exactly. And you would interpret that how?"

Could you relate to your character's need to leave the rat race and get back to the simpler things in life?

Russell Crowe: I think for sure. I had a very intense decade where everything about my life came down to what happened between "action" and "cut." Now I can just get on with doing the part I really enjoy, which is being on a film set, working with other actors, inspiring and terrifying a crew, and I say "terrifying" because Ridley would occasionally do seventy-five setups before lunch. This was $30 million below the line, shot extremely efficiently. It's beautiful to look at. It has that thing that all good films should have. That's what Ridley Scott specializes in. You can say that this is a light film for Ridley or less of a challenge for Ridley, but that's an interpretation that's not necessarily correct. He's taken you into that world and in this film, you feel like getting yourself a nice glass of red and a piece of cheese.

Is it more fun to do a smaller, more personal film?

Russell Crowe: I have fun on all my movies. Ridley's the same. Ron Howard's the same. Michael Mann is the same, though Michael Mann's interpretation of fun can be a little strange for some people. (Laughs.) I had fun with him. I think we just wanted to do something. We'd spent so many years getting further and further away from each other with our schedules. We never intended that after "Gladiator." There's so much expectation on our teaming up again from the success of something like "Gladiator," that doing this just neutralizes that expectation and frees us up to do whatever it is that we want to do.

What was it like filming in Provence?

Russell Crowe: It's got a completely different sensibility from any of the big cities. It was a very family friendly environment. My wife and my child spent the whole time there. It's an extremely intensively farmed area, which is opposite to the farm area I live in Australia. We arrived during the summer when everything was green and it was really hot and then experienced it turning into fall, the reds and the oranges and the yellows and the golden sunshine. It was a great place to make a film. If I could set it up so I could just go back to Provence three months a year and make a movie, I'd be a very happy man.

How has married life changed you?

Russell Crowe: My life has changed a lot since I got married and had two little boys. I'm very blessed. On a daily basis, I get to experience a whole type of joy that I never had before. It was the right time for me to become a dad.

What else can you tell us about American Gangster?

Russell Crowe: Denzel [Washington] plays Frank Lucas, who is a heroin dealer who has a very middle-class sort of life with $250 million in the bank. He has this relationship with Miss Puerto Rico and he takes his mom to church every Sunday. On the other half of the coin is the completely dysfunctional life of the police who are trying to pursue him. The thing that my character sees that a lot of other people at the time didn't see, is that it was possible for an African-American man to be running a crime syndicate of this size. Everybody from fellow policemen all the way up to the U.S. Attorney told my character, Richie Roberts, that he was kidding himself if he thought that was real and then low and behold, five years later, everybody understood that he was right.

Is there any truth to you playing Steve Irwin?

Russell Crowe: There is no truth to that whatsoever. That is one of those appalling pieces of shit that came out of the press. While my friend's body is still warm, I'm being accused of doing commerce over his grave. It's absolutely disgusting. Should there be a movie about Steve? Oh sure! What an incredible life. Steve was first and foremost a conservationist, totally the most individually active conservationist in the world. What he stood for was far more than being the funny guy on TV. It's only serious people at serious universities who realize who he really was.

What's next for you?

Russell Crowe:3:10 to Yuma with James Mangold. I get to ride a horse every day for three months. It's a Glenn Ford film. Unfortunately, he just passed away, so I don't get to have a laugh about that, but I'm going to take the character in a completely different direction than Glenn had it. And I get to work with Christian Bale, as well, so that will be interesting.

A Good Year is in theaters this Friday and is rated 'PG-13' for language and some sexual content.

Julian Roman