Russell Crowe at the New York
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Russell Crowe debuted 12 minutes of his directorial bow, “The Water Diviner,” a movie he also stars in, to a packed room of international buyers on Thursday night at the Majestic Hotel here in Cannes.

In an exclusive interview with Variety before the event, Crowe said he had been seriously considering his role behind the camera for more than a decade as he starred in big studio films like “American Gangster” and “Robin Hood.” It was a job that the Academy Award-winning actor found to be a good fit.

“The thing is, the whole process for me is very easy,” said Crowe. “I find it a little strange to talk about it because people want to hear how difficult it was. But it was not.”

Crowe believes one reason he made a seamless transition from acting to directing is that “I speak this language. I’ve worked with some of the great cinematic artists — Ridley Scott, Peter Weir, Ron Howard, Michael Mann. Each one of those experiences informed me in a different way.”

“The Water Diviner” is a drama about an Australian dad (Crowe) who travels to Turkey in 1919 to find the remains of his three sons lost in World War I’s Battle of Gallipoli. The $22.5 million film was produced Andrew Mason, Troy Lum and Keith Rodger and exec produced by James Packer and Brett Ratner.

“As a director that’s grown up in the business, it’a exciting to bring opportunities to other directors whose passion for film is equal to mine,” said Ratner, who noted it was the first project his production company RatPac took on. “We’re very excited to be part of Russell’s directorial debut.”

Crowe started to work on financing the film two years ago, when he approached RatPac’s Australian mogul Packer. “I wanted to keep it independent,” Crowe said. “I wanted to keep it Australian because it was the right thing to do.”

After Cannes, he’ll return to his home in Melbourne to finish editing the film, which has a Dec. 26 Australia release date, with other regions scheduled near the same window.

Crowe has pre-sold the film in all but four territories — the U.S., Russia, China and Japan. Mister Smith Entertainment is handling international, while WME is handling the U.S. sale.

“We are kind of lucky because ‘Noah’ has come out and it’s now the largest non-sequel release in the history of Russian cinema,” Crowe said of the biblical tale that has so far grossed $339 million worldwide. “I think that’s going to position us quite well.”

The ambitious “Water Diviner” had a 53-day shoot that moved throughout Australia, Turkey and Laos. Crowe said he only went one day over schedule, after temperatures rose to 121.6 degrees in southern Australia.

He believes that his box office clout as an actor has opened up the opportunity for him to direct. “The advantage that I have in doing both, financing is more readily available,” Crowe said. “I’m using what’s been built over 25 years of lead roles to my own advantage.”

Crowe is already developing the next movie he wants to direct, which he won’t star in, because it’s set in Vietnam with local actors. “It’s in a foreign language, where every single person in it is from a culture outside Western civilization. I want about $30 million. How do you think that will go?” Crowe asked.

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