Source: Press kit booklet
Read the full production notes here
It took a star with an imposing presence, Russell Crowe, to play the bigger-than-life Jack Aubrey. Much of the magic of O'Brian's work is pairing the captain with his natural opposite: a man of science whose courage matches Jack's: Stephen Maturin, played by Paul Bettany.
Peter Weir's celebrated body of work was a key draw for Russell Crowe. "I'm a longtime fan of Peter's movies," says the actor, "and I had always wanted to work with him. I'd grown up with Peter's movies. For instance, I remember the most terrified I'd been in my young life was being in a cinema watching The Last Wave."
Crowe was also fascinated with the character of Lucky Jack. "He was a kind of man who doesn't exist anymore; there's no template for Jack Aubrey," says Crowe. "If you are talking about the British Royal Navy as his employer, he is a very unruly employee. However, in the broader sense of the mission with which he is charged as captain, he might not do it the way you want him to do it, but his results at the end of the day will be far more than you intended."
Weir says Crowe was born to play Lucky Jack. "Russell has a natural energy and authority, and he took command of that ship from the beginning."
Crowe appreciated some of the perks of "command." "Every day between my trailer and the set, I would hear 'Good morning, Captain' about seventy or eighty times," says the actor. "Actually, it was difficult giving up the uniform; I'd grown quite fond of it."
Crowe was pleased to rejoin Paul Bettany who played, memorably, Crowe's imaginary roommate in A Beautiful Mind. Their collaboration in film proved invaluable in helping the actors create their characters' relationship in Master and Commander. Says Crowe: "We developed a kind of creative shorthand in A Beautiful Mind that I thought would serve us well in establishing quickly and effectively the Jack-Stephen dynamic. I was so glad that Peter made the decision to cast Paul. There are rhythms and things that we just understand of each other. With another person, you might actually have had to break down a scene and explain it. Paul and I were able to get to a point of depth that you might have to work ten times harder with somebody else to even touch on."
"It was a joy to watch Paul take the character and make it his own, yet at the same time have it deeply rooted in Patrick O'Brian's writing," says Weir. "Russell and Paul are beautifully weighted opposite each other, and you believe they're friends. It's as if Maturin, as Paul plays him, is the shape of the modern man and Russell as Jack is from a bygone time."
"I loved being out on the Rose," says Russell Crowe, who earlier had sailed through tempest-tossed waters in Fiji (coincidentally in a boat named the Surprise) to begin preparing for his role as Jack Aubrey. "Climbing a mast on The Rose at sea, 137 feet above the ocean, was a highlight for me. Those days were really special; there was an immense sense of freedom because we weren't connected to the land."
Russell Crowe shared Peter Weir's passion for historical and character authenticity. "The reality of the situation for a man like Jack is that it is a very lonely job," says Crowe. "Every ship's captain I spoke with before we began this film discussed that loneliness aspect, and to be prepared for that. One shared with me a saying - 'Not always right, but always certain' - meaning that as captain, you can't transmit any doubts you may have in the middle of a life-threatening situation."
Crowe studied the nautical history, lore and skills required as a British Royal Navy captain of the time. He also learned the ins and outs of the ship, and became quite adept at climbing the rigging to the tops. Sailing master captain Andrew Reay-Ellers was one of the consultants who assisted Crowe in his research.
"We helped Russell recreate Jack Aubrey's 20-year naval career," says Reay-Ellers, "working for hours each week, from the nuts and bolts of every line onboard the ship, to sailing maneuvers, strategy, and that nature of a captain's command. Russell felt that Jack, although as captain would never set a sail personally, was once a midshipman and would have that knowledge. Russell wanted to know everything I was teaching his men, and we went through a condensed version of a lifetime of learning the ship."
Reay-Ellers was impressed with Crowe's dedication to research and training. "He spent hours pouring over diagrams, reading some very dense literature on ship handling strategies, and he rose to the challenge. At the same time, he was learning to play the violin and a type of sword fighting unique to that period and rank. It's just mind-boggling, the amount of things he was simultaneously learning; he wanted that level of confidence, that air of casual knowledge that he knows every line on the ship, just the way Jack Aubrey would."
Crowe's violin training stems from Lucky Jack's penchant for the instrument and his occasional musical pairings with Stephen Maturin, himself a cellist. Over a period of several months Crowe worked with longtime friend and Australian violin virtuoso Richard Tognetti (who later would help compose the film's score), and with violinist Robert E. Greene, who previously worked with Crowe during A Beautiful Mind.