Oscar-winner Russell Crowe reunites with Gladiator director Ridley Scott in “A Good Year,” a Fox 2000 Pictures presentation of a Scott Free production.
While looking for a vehicle on which to re-team with Ridley Scott, Crowe remembers chatting with the director during the production of Gladiator about getting together again for another film. I enjoy working with Ridley because we have a really good rhythm together. We talked about what the next project could be, knowing we wanted to do something entirely different from Gladiator. So, we decided to work together on a comedy.
Crowe plays London-based investment expert Max Skinner, who moves to Provence to sell a small vineyard he has inherited from his late uncle. Max reluctantly settles into what ultimately becomes an intoxicating new chapter in his life, as he comes to realize that life is meant to be savored.
Confident and cocky, headstrong and handsome, Max Skinner is a successful London banker who specializes in trading bonds. A financial barracuda on the banks of the Thames, Max devours the competition in his efforts to conquer the European market. His latest conquest has netted a tidy seven-figure profit, much to the chagrin of his Saville Row-draped rivals. Maxs triumph is in perfect keeping with his philosophy: winning isnt everything, its the only thing!
Max travels to the chateau where he spent his boyhood summers vacationing with his eccentric uncle, whom he hasnt seen or written to in years. While Max tends to the legal affairs of his inheritance, he is suspended from his firm, pending an investigation into his questionable bond transaction.
Max is uncertain as to whether life in the South of France suits him. He rings up his best friend, London realtor Charlie Willis, to inquire as to what a small chateau and winery like La Siroque would command on the current market. Charlie advises Max that small wineries with a good product can bring several million dollars, as boutique wine, made in small batches, is the rage in wine shops. Its money in the bank for Max should he lose his job.
As Max fondly embraces the memories of summers past (spent with a man whose wisdom and philosophy helped Max chart his successful career) while contemplating a cloudy future, a complication arises with the sudden arrival of a determined, twentysomething California girl, Christie Roberts. Christie, a Napa Valley native, claims to be the illegitimate daughter of the deceased uncle. The revelation, if true, makes her Maxs cousin and, according to French law, the beneficiary of La Siroque.
Maxs memories and the passage of time bring forth emotions and feelings he thought were long lost, and afford him a new appreciation of his late Uncle Henrys philosophy on life and on life in Provence: Theres nowhere else in the world where one can keep busy doing so little, yet enjoy it so much!
A key change from the novel was the screenplays depiction of Uncle Henry, who is only referred to in the novel. After toying with the idea of making Henry a ghostly figure, Scott and Klein decided to depict the character in flashbacks, which, says director Ridley Scott, allows us to see the grooming of Max as a child, which pays off as the story unfolds.
According to Crowe, these flashback scenes accent one of the films principal themes: That as long as people are in your heart, they never die. I thought that was a wonderful metaphor, Crowe continues. When Ridley and I worked on Gladiator, the metaphor was death. But on “A Good Year,” we discussed the themes in terms of reincarnation not necessarily from the dead to the living, but having the living dead, like Max, become revitalized from his experiences in Provence. Every character in this story has a situation that changes his or her life for the better.
Transformation of the Characters
Max isnt the only character that undergoes transformation. Says Crowe: For every character, something happens within the story that elevates, changes or revitalizes his or her life. I've had the same thing happen in my own life, when I married and we had a baby. So it is possible to get yourself out of a rut and change things. That's what the title refers to Maxs life. He comes to Provence, reconnects with the memory of his uncle and the things that his uncle taught him, which opens his heart. And his life changes.
Getting the Role
I always thought that Russell would be perfect for the character of Max, Scott adds. Russell is like Max. Russell carries a lot of the innocence in him and manages to keep that innocence fresh, untrammeled somehow.
Crowe found much to dig into when he took on the role. Max has had a fortunate childhood in that he had this wonderful bon vivant uncle who put all the information in him that he needed in order to become a good bloke. But, he's taken his uncle's advice on competition and edge and made it his life's mantra, to the point where competition isn't really any fun for him anymore.
One of the key things that Ridley said to me when we first talked was, There's a Provenal saying that you don't own the chateau; the chateau owns you, Crowe continues. That's one of the things we worked on. Max must travel to Provence in order to receive his inheritance. From the time that he gets there, events conspire to keep him here. It's very definitely a fish-out-of-water/coming-of-age adult comedy with humanity, which gives it realism.
Working in the Provence
In describing the allure of Provence, author Peter Mayle notes the area has three hundred days of sunshine a year, stunning scenery, remarkably unspoiled countryside, and extraordinary light. You don't find that light in many other places in the world. I like the pace of life down here. It imposes a certain rhythm on you, which, when you get used to it, is very pleasant. I feel at home here.
I loved waking up in Provence, adds Russell Crowe, who lived there for two months during production. There's something extra special about this particular valley, the Luberon. I think it's got to do with its fertility. The light there is very similar to Australia — the blues, the pinks and the oranges in the sky. I felt very comfortable there.
Provence itself dates back to 600 B.C., when Phocaean Greeks settled in Massalia, now modern-day Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast, and the regions most populous city. Its history could also be depicted through the history of the wines introduced by these Phocaeans over 2600 years ago. These ancient vines the oldest in France were later developed by the Romans and, thereafter, in the Middle Ages, by monastic communities.
Comprised of 700 villages, Provence has several regional wine growing appellations (covering an estimated 27,000 hectares, or 68,000 acres), all designated as A.O.C. (appellation dorigine controlee), the governmental system established in the 1930s that regulates production and distinguishes quality French wines from table wines. The region boasts extraordinarily favorable growing conditions, or terroir, defined as a combination of conditions in a vineyard site that comprise the vine's total environment and give its wines what longtime wine writer Matt Kramer calls somewhereness.
The Mediterranean climate (year-round sunshine, perfect ventilation from a wind dubbed “mistral” and good rainfall), combined with the terrains siliceous soil, favors red grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvdre, much of which is used to produce ros, the regions specialty of the estimated 140,000,000 bottles produced annually. White grape varietals common to the terrain include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Rolle.
Swimming in Empty Pool
Another key chateau shooting location was its empty pool, where Crowe got the opportunity to flex both his comedic and physical muscles. We have a running gag where Max falls into the pool and then realizes he has fourteen-foot sheer walls, and he simply can't get out, says the actor. The pool doesn't have any water in it, so he has no way of getting out.