It’s been 20 years since Gladiator hit theaters back in May 2000 and we’re still learning new things about the making of the sword-and-sandal epic. In a new interview on the occasion of this milestone anniversary, director Ridley Scott and cast alums Russell Crowe, Connie Nielsen, and Djimon Hounsou opened up about their time spent making the film. What is most jaw-dropping, though, are the comments made about how this movie was written.
Speaking with Variety, Scott recalled how the $103 million movie began production a very bare script. In fact, while shooting the battle of Germania in the first half of Gladiator, Scott revealed he and Crowe, who played titular gladiator and fallen Roman general Maximus, collaborated heavily on the dialogue, with Crowe being encouraged to legit improv his lines. Per Scott:
“In the first act, the battle of Germania, Russell’s saying, ‘What the bloody hell am I gonna say?’ And I said, ‘Well, there’s going to be a bird on a twig and you’re going to look at this robin and how ironic this robin is in this field of battle where we’re going to see a bloodbath.’ So he went, ‘OK,’ and he looks at this twig and imagines a robin. Then he said, ‘But what the f— am I gonna say?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, why don’t you just say ‘Hmm, morning! it looks like snow.'”
To this, Crowe revealed, “I’ve often said to Ridley since, ‘One of these days we should actually do a film where we know what we’re going to do before we start.'” Crowe wasn’t the only one making major contributions to the Gladiator script. For her part of the Gladiator anniversary interview, Nielsen, who played Lucilla, love interest to Crowe’s General Maximum, also revealed how Scott solicited help with script rewrites. As she told Variety,
“Ridley calls me from Shepperton, [England] and says, ‘Connie, would you let me know what you think about the rewrite?’ and I pointed out to him that there were some serious inaccuracies in the structure. For example, I had a line where it just said ‘the police state’ and it’s like ‘Um, police state? Do you want me to actually use that phrase?’ or the phrase ‘put it in a museum.’ I don’t think at the time that people considered the word museum the same way we consider a museum today.'”
And if you thought the buck stopped at Nielsen, think again. While speaking about his time on Gladiator, Hounsou, who played a slave named Juba who fights alongside Maximus in the gladiatorial games, also revealed he made a key script rewrite. He shared, “The initial script had me being the head of slaves during that time and I said, ‘I shouldn’t be the definition of slavery.’ Slavery didn’t exist back then, so, what are we talking about, really? We’re talking about using humans to do that sort of fighting entertainment and all those people were considered slaves.”
So, if the cast leads of Gladiator were contributing notable rewrites before and during filming, where exactly was screenwriter David Franzoni in all of this? Well, Franzoni also opened up to Variety, revealing just how free-wheeling and chillaxed the scripting process was.
“We’d all drink whiskey and smoke cigars. We’d exchange notes and ideas. Then I’d go back and write at 3 or 4 in the morning and I’d hand the pages to Ridley. During the shoot, I went off and met with Russell. We would meet almost daily before he would go shoot and talk about the scenes. I remember once we were sitting on the ground, drawing things in the sand. It was a very ‘60s way to make a film.”
See? It’s truly a miracle this movie came together in the way that it did. Thankfully, Scott and his team managed to pull off something great because, if you remember, Gladiator also won five Oscars including a Best Actor statue for Crowe. So, while I definitely don’t advocate for procrastinating until the last possible minute to do your work, in the case of Gladiator, it sounds like it kinda worked.