Eye on the Oscars: The Producer

How do you shoot the mind of a tortured math genius? According to producer Brian Grazer, it takes a special talent.

When casting “A Beautiful Mind,” Grazer and director-producer Ron Howard realized that the movie’s success almost entirely hinged on an actor’s performance as Nobel-winning mathematician John Nash and his descent into schizophrenia.

“A movie like this is so character-driven,” says Grazer, who helped nurture the script by Akiva Goldsman. “It doesn’t have the visual effects or anything else to augment the entertainment of it.”

While searching for their main man, the producers received several calls from interested parties, including Russell Crowe’s agent, George Freeman. At the time, “Gladiator” had not been released, but Grazer was impressed by Crowe’s textured performance in “The Insider.”

“I felt he showed, in his body of work, an amazing amount of range and intensity,” says Grazer. “He was perfect for Nash because he’s living in multiple worlds and realities.”

With Crowe onboard, the producers began organizing shoots in Princeton, N.J., both at the university and soundstages created at an old military base. But first Grazer had to examine the economics of making a movie about the mind.

“We had to make the movie a lot less expensively than any other film I’ve done with Ron,” he explains. “So we did it on the cheap and that was hard.”

The producers’ commitment to the project came through when they deferred their paychecks to ensure the movie would be made. “Everyone got paid less,” Grazer says. “But now it seems to be working out.”

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