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He may be world famous and a millionaire many times over, but Russell Crowe still feels very grounded in his approach to making movies.

"I've always had a very simple, working-class attitude towards the job," he says over the phone from San Francisco, where he's promoting "The Water Diviner," his feature directorial debut.

"I guess it's the way that I got brought up, man. My mum and dad always made it very clear to me growing up that people had to work for a living.

"Even when I did odd jobs around the hotels my father was the manager of, my mother would take tax out of my pocket money," he adds with a laugh. "At the time I thought it was extremely unreasonable."

But it prepared him for the real world. And when he landed his first outside job, the workload and the chunk of money missing from his paycheck felt normal.

"I was expecting it; it was something that my mum had drilled into me," the New Zealand native says. "I think there's a certain level of respect for people doing their job that's always been with me."

Crowe, 51, began thinking about directing a feature more than a decade ago. But there was a bit of a problem: His own success.

"I was in the middle of being an extremely famous bastard," he explains. "And it kind of felt to me some people were attached to that project only because of that, not because they realized that I had a specific creative perspective as a director."

When he finally decided to jump in and do "The Water Diviner" — the story of a man who travels to claim the bodies of his three dead sons from a World War I battlefield — Crowe, who also stars in the film, had faith he could make it work.

"It just got to a point where there was an accumulation of real on-set experience that took me to a place of confidence. When I meet a director I don't want to hear that they may want to do this, may want to do that — you want to hear that they are inside their topic, that they believe in their perspective. In fact, that they think they are the only person in the world that can tell that story," he says.

"You want that kind of certainty and strength."

Understand, "The Water Diviner" is not some simple period piece with sparse sets and only a few actors. It is a full-on historical epic with battle scenes, exotic locales and a complex, family driven story, not unlike a film by either Ridley Scott or Ron Howard, two directors Crowe has worked with repeatedly.

The key to filmmaking — and here's that work ethic again — is preparation, Crowe says.

"A film is always going to be relentless. You have a defined schedule and you have a defined set of assets. So I had a two-week boot camp three months before we started shooting, and I had a two-week rehearsal period with (the actors) just before we started shooting," he says.

"I'd already filled their minds and their hearts with what I wanted them to know, and what they needed to do physically, so then all I'm asking from them is to be constant and consistent."

It's clear that if "The Water Diviner" is successful enough financially, Crowe will get behind the camera again. But it's also clear that Crowe doesn't measure true success in dollars and cents.

"I never did it for the money in the first place. There'd be a whole lot of film companies that realized after they worked with me that I love the job so much I probably would have done it for free," says the man who was reportedly paid $20 million for starring in 2010's "Robin Hood."

"And that's always been the key, man. Anybody that I know in this business who is money-orientated and pedigree-orientated, their careers don't go very far," says the three-time best actor Oscar nominee who won for 2000's "Gladiator."

"I love the job. I know every day on set while walking to the camera that I'm one of those lucky people who makes their living doing something they truly love."

tlong@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/toomuchTomLong

Russell Crowe

Born April 7, 1964

Wellington, New Zealand

Best actor Oscar nominee three years in a row: "The Insider" (1999), "Gladiator" (2000), "A Beautiful Mind" (2001). Won for "Gladiator"

Has appeared in seven films that have earned more than $100 million domestically

Total domestic box office earnings: $1.677 billion

Next up: "Fathers and Daughters" with Aaron Paul and Amanda Seyfried, and "The Nice Guys" with Ryan Gosling

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