• Golden Globe Awards

Russell Crowe, 2001 on Mental Illness – Out of the Archives

Russell Crowe won a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a drama in 2002 for his portrayal of mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind directed by Ron Howard. During exclusive 2000 and 2001 interviews with the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press, he talked about schizophrenia and mental illness. Crowe plays a war photographer in Vietnam in The Greatest Beer Run Ever directed by Peter Farrelly, with Zac Efron and Bill Murray, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.
When interviewed in 2000 about Proof of Life, Crowe said that he had started to prepare to play Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, but he had the wrong notion about the nature of schizophrenia: “I haven’t really started to approach the disease at this point in time, I’m just learning about the history of John Forbes Nash, Jr. and the time period. He was a mathematician in the 40s and 50s at Princeton whose work was recognized forty years later when he received the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994; so I do an age arc from twenty-five to seventy-two.  But he went through absolute personal hell, his intellect coincided with the disease of schizophrenia, and he could no longer rationally tell what was real and what wasn’t.  I’m really at the beginning stage of understanding schizophrenia, the split in realities and the differences in the planes of realities as well. I was one of those people that actually thought that schizophrenia was about having two distinct personalities, but it’s actually not that at all, that’s a complete misrepresentation of what the disease it. It’s about having different planes of reality that somebody else outside of you doesn’t understand. You can be having a completely full and fruitful relationship with somebody who doesn’t exist. So it’s going to be interesting.”
This is what the actor thought about the treatments for mental illness that Nash was subjected to in his time, as opposed to the drug therapies of modern medicine: “Nash was subject to insulin shock therapy, which is pretty heavy; it’s basically getting you to physically shut down like you’d turn off a computer and hopefully when you re-start that computer, it has reorganized itself somehow. And prior to insulin shock, they had electric shock. So, although I believe that statistics show a greater response from the modern medications, we seem to have got to a point in the greater medical community where there’s too much of a reliance on the drugs when it comes to psychiatric illnesses. That gives the people who are in charge of spending their medical tax dollars the excuse of not hospitalizing people who at different times would have been hospitalized. The reality in this country – and most western civilizations – with the advent of psychic drugs, is that the percentage of people who are kept in a hospital facility because of mental illness has dropped. So if you’re wondering about that person you see having a conversation with themselves at a crosswalk, you are more than likely seeing some level of schizophrenic or psychotic episode. In fact, there were certain homeless street people in Manhattan that I would go and visit regularly for my research. A particular favorite was a bloke up on East 92nd Street who would have a conversation with half-a-dozen imaginary friends, and whenever he was packing his bed up in the morning, he complained about how nobody ever helped him with the chores. So I was actually basing my performance on the reality of the situation at the moment.”
Crowe confessed that playing a schizophrenic out of touch with reality affected his ability to get a good night’s sleep: “It’s funny because I was a real insomniac during the course of this movie. I could sleep on Friday and Saturday nights, but Sunday afternoon would come around and I just knew I wouldn’t be sleeping that night. I don’t know why, I really can’t explain it, but that led basically to having sleep deprivation for the course of the film, which led to nightmares and strange dreams.  When you start examining the psychology of this fellow and also just the facts of the disease, turning it over in your own head, scanning through your life and examining which plane of reason you may or may not be on at any given time, these sorts of things start worrying you.  And ever since I started doing interviews for this film, the same damn thing is happening; I was awake last night, I didn’t sleep at all. I don’t really know what that’s about, it could just be jet lag…”
He admitted that, despite the fact that he played a mathematician who was a genius, he was not good at math in school: “Math and I are not good companions, mathematics and I parted company when I was about 14. I had a Hungarian math teacher in the third year of high school who couldn’t speak any English, so I did other things, like my English or History homework, during the course of mathematics classes and I never got back to it to learn it, but I don’t regret it.  Apparently, he was a brilliant man, and if he could speak the language maybe he could explain what he meant, he was probably a very nice chap, extremely talented in his field; but that was one of those things where this fellow had become available and he wanted to emigrate from Hungary to New Zealand, so the school said, ‘Yeah, absolutely,’ because of his qualifications. Basically, they sacrificed our understanding of algebra and other associated equations for him to learn the language for that year, because he hadn’t yet learned to speak English, which made the process of education even more difficult than it may have been otherwise. So I am not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination, but I did a lot of reading of Nash’s earlier work, and even if all you get out of it is far beyond your understanding, it’s still a helpful thing to do.  I understand the rudiments of it, but the brilliance of Nash is the simplicity of what he comes up with at the end.  The bane of his existence has always been having to establish proof of what he intuitively knows to be right, so his intellect is far more associated with an artist than a mathematician.”
Crowe praised the director, Ron Howard, and the rest of the cast, particularly Jennifer Connelly who played Nash’s wife: “Ron Howard has got the world fooled into thinking that he is some simple, easygoing chap. Now, he may be easygoing in a film context, but that’s only because he’s done his work, his preparation, and he absolutely knows what he wants to do. He’s probably one of the most intense film directors I’ve ever met in terms of how well he understands his subject matter, and I had a great relationship with him. He sets a platform for his performers which is all about the work and about focus, and I had many discussions with Ron every single day about every single point, but I never once had an argument with him, which is a tribute to his openness as a collaborator and to his intellect. There wasn’t anything that I brought up to him that he was afraid of or that he hadn’t at some point in time examined, so he wasn’t prepared for.  This is a Ron Howard’s movie, I am just a member of the cast, and if he set a platform for me, he also set a platform for Jennifer Connelly, who I believe gives the best performance of her career to date. She’s given other performances which have been good, like in Requiem for a Dream, the subject matter was shocking, and the performance was extremely brave, but this is fully realized and detailed and it’s a magnificent piece of work. Right across the board with the cast, from Paul Bettany to Ed Harris, everybody in this film uniformly has the same kind of ease of performance, because of the mood and the energy that Ron Howard sets.”