This is London - May 2000
The Phoenix has landed
by Joaquin Phoenix

I don't do many big studio films. I've been offered a few but nothing like Gladiator. Those films are usually loaded with lines like, "Johnny, get the gun!," the sort of stuff that just makes me go, "Oh God!". But Gladiator offered me everything I could possibly want in a film.

Playing Commodus was fulfilling because he was a real figure - I did do some research into him, and much of the film is historically correct. He was one of very few emperors who went in the ring with a gladiator. And he could shoot running ostriches through the neck.

The whole Gladiator experience was intimidating, though. I'm intimidated on every movie, but I'd never made one this size or been able to create a character with such erratic emotions. But that sense of being overwhelmed was quickly squashed when I got together with Ridley Scott because he's so calm. He somehow manages to make you feel like you're working on a $10 million, five-week shoot instead of this massive five-month production in three countries. That's what you look for in a director, one who will put you at ease and help you create and submerge yourself in your character's world.

And then I got to work with Russell Crowe. I'd be satisfied if an actor I worked with is just a great actor. But he's much more than that. Off-set, he would throw weekly dinner parties for the cast and crew. He was always doing that, and taking us out, but I don't know where he found the energy.

I had quite a bit of time off and he worked nearly every day for five months. I know I was exhausted, and I didn't even have the physical work he had. But Russell and Ridley were the ones who kept everyone's spirits up.