'Gladiator'

Russell Crowe cuts a swath, so to speak, in “Gladiator” in a role that calls for someone who looks at ease settling scores the old-fashioned way.

DreamWorks’ sword-and-sandals pic, which reportedly cost about $103 million to make, required Crowe to play a heroic Spanish general in the service of Rome who falls from grace and loses his family and freedom in the process. Thrown into slavery, Maximus takes his revenge in the gladiator arena.

Choosing Crowe, who was becoming well known for his Oscar nominated performance in 1999’s “The Insider” but was not yet a major star, was a calculated move, according to producer Douglas Wick.

“You really want to believe that Maximus is a real person and not a movie star in a toga,” says Wick, who also cites Crowe’s “extraordinary screen presence.”

“Russell has real authority, an inner engine that makes him pop off the screen,” Wick continues. “When you think of the movie stars that last, they have some kind of a furnace inside, an inner dynamic. Russell brought that to the character.”

Crowe’s own sense of perfectionism was the crowning touch to his work as the brutally efficient Maximus, Wick says. “His standards are extraordinary. If Russell doesn’t feel that a part of the character’s journey is credible or well thought out, he’ll say so, and if no one listens he’ll get on a table and shout until someone does.

“There’s no quarter-inch of any performance that Russell is involved in that he won’t fight to the death for.”

Which makes his casting in the film all the more appropriate.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more