Russell Crowe: Carmen Valdes / Retna Ltd.
Gary Susman
November 11, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

It’s good to be the captain. If you’re Russell Crowe — Hollywood power player, Oscar winner (for ”Gladiator”), and star of the maritime epic ”Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (opening Nov. 14) — you get some nice perks. Like plush hotel suites, advance copies of much-anticipated hip-hop albums, and figure-flattering tapered black suits that do not make you look like a well-fed sea captain. Speaking with journalists in New York City, Crowe explained that being a captain fit him so well, he couldn’t snap out of it.

During the shoot of ”Master and Commander,” you led your shipmates as if you were really the captain of the HMS Surprise, even when cameras weren’t rolling. What was that about?
Right from the beginning, I said: From the time they get here, it should be very obvious to them that they’ve joined the Navy. They had hours a day of gun training, training with the rigging, how the vessel moves in the wind. This is all about fantasy, and the more knowledge they had, the deeper and more fulfilling the fantasy could be.

So to what extent did you call the shots on the set?
Obviously, it’s a director’s medium, and I’m there to work for the director. That’s why directors hire me, mate. But they also know I’m going to take a certain amount of pressure off their hands and take on certain responsibilities. There are certain things you’d want the captain to tell the men, as opposed to coming from him, because it keeps the fantasy alive. Peter [Weir] is a very capable and confident director. He’s not going to be threatened by me.

Given that the film was shot largely in the same tank in Mexico that was used for ”Titanic,” how were the filmmakers able to make the ocean and storm scenes look so real?
Peter sent a camera crew on a boat called the Endeavor from the north coast of Brazil, down past Argentina, around the Horn, up to the Galapagos. Old sailors, when they’ve seen the movie, have come up to me and said: ”How did you get that water around Cape Horn?” And I say: Well, that IS the water around Cape Horn.

The way you immersed yourself in the role of Capt. Jack Aubrey, researching the period, even learning to play the violin — is it worth all the effort, or do you long to play an ordinary guy who just sits on the couch?
There are plenty of actors who are lazy enough to do that. It’s a privilege to do the research. To me, it’s about knowing that the more work I put into it, the more visceral and real the experience will be for the audience.

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