Up next: Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year,” scheduled for a 2006 release
“Cinderella Man,” the riches-to-rags-to-riches story of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock, was a script that had been floating around Hollywood for years, but Russell Crowe took a shine to it and brought it to director Ron Howard right after the release of the duo’s four-time Oscar winner “A Beautiful Mind.”
“I immediately knew it was a great part for Russell,” says Howard. “I knew it would allow him to display, in this one character, aspects of his personality that no one had ever seen before — his strong sense of morality, integrity and deep love of family. I just knew he would crack it.”
He also knew Crowe would be up to the physicality of the role. Just to play the part required shedding more than 50 pounds from his previous “Master and Commander” fighting weight. To do so, Crowe worked with legendary Muhammad Ali/Sugar Ray Leonard corner man Angelo Dundee, doing a near-endless series of boxing exercises from the 1930s, transforming his body into the long-muscled, barrel-chested look of a Depression-era boxer.
Speaking with Interview magazine, Crowe called the film’s physicality “the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was three or four times more difficult than ‘Gladiator.’ I was in massive pain pretty much on a daily basis, whether it was my shoulder or my back or my Achilles’ tendon, or just the sheer fact that some idiot was punching me in the head quite a lot.”
But Howard believes the hardest thing Crowe did was mastering Braddock’s Irish tongue.
“People take Russell’s ability with accents for granted, but that brogue is a real challenge. Done wrong and it’s a funny accent. It’s a thin line. He managed to do a dem, dese and dose guy who still carries himself with nobility and strength.”
Furthering the challenge was Braddock’s strong, silent nature. Crowe had to convey everything he felt in the film without the aid of the epic speeches or extreme behavior that other boxing films have utilized to convey character.
As for the results? Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers reiterated what many others had written when he called Crowe’s performance “jaw-droppingly good, a movie star with an actor’s true subtlety and grace.”