There Was A Behind-The-Scenes Feud Over Gladiator's Most Famous Line

Sometimes, actors don't have the same level of affection for their movies that the fans do. "Gladiator" is what made Russell Crowe into a full-fledged movie star, winning him an Oscar for Best Actor. It was also the first of his collaborations with legendary director Ridley Scott. One of the most famous moments in the film is when Russell Crowe's Maximus, a general turned gladiator, swears revenge for his family's murder against Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). However, according to behind-the-scenes reports, Crowe had to be corralled into even delivering the now-iconic line.

Shooting with an incomplete script

According to Crowe, the script for "Gladiator" was incomplete when he signed on. What convinced him to play Maximus was Scott's pitch about how the film would render ancient Rome onscreen:

"So, I went to see Ridley and he was so prepared and the things that he was showing me, the visual images and the mathematics of how he was going to not have to build an entire Coliseum yet still shoot the Coliseum. We just clicked in the first meeting."

Recalling the production of "Gladiator" in 2016, Crowe said that when they first started principal photography, the shooting script was only 21 pages long. This meant that plenty of work crafting the story had to be done on the fly. The crew took to mixing and matching elements from different drafts, and shooting was even halted one day so that Crowe, Scott, and producer/writer David Franzoni could plot out where the story would go next. A monologue where Maximus explains to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) his desire to return home to Spain was written by Crowe himself, who drew on his own feelings of homesickness during the shoot.

Crowe credits Scott's direction with not only seeing the film completed, but with turning a mess of a production into a Best Picture winner:

"If you have a really responsible director like Ridley, who is never gonna go crazy with the costs of stuff, he's always gonna be responsible for the dollars he's spending, it's not actually that bad a way to do it."

Despite Crowe's retrospective praise, the actor and his director didn't agree on everything during the shoot itself.

The moment in question

"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."

This vow that Maximus makes to Commodus is one of the most quoted pieces of dialogue from "Gladiator." However, the man who originally delivered these words is not among its fans. Crowe did not like the line as written, feeling it was overwrought, and insisted it be changed while refusing to say it. After multiple takes, he was convinced to deliver it as written. An unnamed Dreamworks executive ascribes Scott's peacemaker attitude as the reason Crowe relented: 

"At first he absolutely refused to say it. He did a lot of posturing and put the fear of God into some people. Thankfully, Ridley never yelled. He was the voice of reason dealing with many unreasonable factors, not the least of which was his lead."

While Crowe gave into delivering the line, that doesn't mean his feelings softened. After the scene wrapped, Crowe remarked to Scott, "It was s***, but I'm the greatest actor in the world and I can make even s*** sound good." Considering Crowe won Best Actor for the part of Maximus, he might've had a point with this boast.