‘Good evening Roma. Good evening, Romans. I am finally here, in the city that makes my heart beat faster.”
Enthusiastic applause erupted from the swelling crowd of fans on the steps of the Roman Theater at legendary Italian studio Cinecittà on Saturday as the Gladiator himself, New Zealand star Russell Crowe, stepped out to perform.
Crowe, who was recently named the official ambassador for Rome’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo, performed a free concert accompanied by his band the Indoor Garden Party, along with The Gentlemen Barbers and Irish singer Lorraine O’Reilly .
Dressed entirely in black – like the rest of the band – Crowe immediately launched into some blues-flavored tunes, filling the stage as a singer with the same ease and charm as an actor on stage.
From the stands, Gabriele Muccino, Crowe’s close friend, watches him in Fathers and Daughters, as well as the mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri. Crowe’s banter between songs is a mix of English and Italian and his band’s set is a mix of musical genres, a little folk, some rock, a touch of country. He jokes his bandmate Lennie Loftin “has a tendency to write songs where someone dies halfway through” and introduces a performance by his teenage son Charlie, noting that “when I did Gladiator he was not yet alive.”
Crowe launches into a new song and calls on the crowd to get off the stands and they obey. The seats of the Teatro Antico at Cinecittà Studios emptied and a crowd of people gathered against the stage, dancing and holding their mobile phones in the air to capture the moment.
“Let your light shine,” sings Crowe, illuminated by the glow of all those smartphones.
THR Rome had a few moments with Crowe before the sound check, at Cinecittà’s Fellini Hall, together with Fabia Bettini and Gianluca Giannelli, directors of the parallel section of Rome’s Alice in the City film festival and organizers of today’s event, as well as Cinecittà director Nicola Maccanico.
Today may be all about the music for Crowe, but one question about the Hollywood writers’ strike and the Oscar-winning actor is off.
“I think artificial intelligence is a threat to creativity,” says Crowe, highlighting a key topic of the strike. “If we let it take over, the creativity of the human mind will be lost and our lives will all be much poorer…. We are at an extremely important and dangerous turning point. The writers’ and actors’ unions, together with the producers, are trying to find a solution.”
Crowe doesn’t seem particularly optimistic, though: “You’d think that since they’re grown up, maybe they’d have mature considerations. But unfortunately, when so much money is at stake, the situation is not ideal. I hope it gets resolved soon. As for me, I believe that a long strike or long negotiations between the producers and the studios would not lead to a better situation, but to a worse one.”
Throughout his 30-year career in the film industry — as an actor, he’s worked with great directors like Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Peter Weir, and Zack Snyder — as well as, of course, Ridley Scott (on Gladiator, Robin Hood, A good yearetc.), Crowe has gone through a transformation in the film industry.
“It’s something I experienced on the set of Robin Hood in 2010. It was a huge set with a lot of construction and a huge physical presence. They had even rebuilt a castle. There I had my revelation. I realized it would be the last time I would be on a set like that,” he recalls. “Over the years I have acted in Marvel movies. There you find yourself in huge green spaces that are filled with landscapes during post-production. While there is nostalgia for the past, you have to come to terms with change. There is no middle ground anymore: nowadays you go from huge budget movies to low budget movies. The middle piece, a movie-like A beautiful mind, is missing. Those stories are only made as a TV series.”
One thing is clear from Saturday’s performance and the reaction of the local crowd: Crowe loves Rome and Rome Real loves Crowe.
“My relationship with Rome begins with Gladiator, one thousand percent. I’ve done so many other things since that movie. But what I find here is absolutely fantastic,” says Crowe. “The welcome people give me here is one of warmth and familiarity. They almost consider me an uncle. It is something that transcends fame and fame. It’s not just because I’m famous. What I find here in Italy, in terms of affection and recognition of my artistic qualities, I don’t even get in Australia.”
If Rome manages to land the 2030 World Expo – Crowe is doing his best to beat the drum as official ambassador of the Eternal City – will the actor return, perhaps to perform with his band at the Colosseum?
“A concert at the Colosseum in 2030? Do you know how damn old I’ll be? I would come with a wheelchair!” he says, remarking before leaving. “I’d rather do a concert next year!”
But will Crowe return for Ridley Scott’s gladiatorial 2 follow-up? Check out his answer in the THR Rome video below.