Russell Crowe: Beyond the brand name

Our Seth Doane caught up with actor Russell Crowe during some down time Down Under in Australia:

It seems a million miles from anywhere. Life at Russell Crowe's 1,400-acre ranch is about a beautiful sunrise, rolling hills, simple peace and quiet.

Russell Crowe on when you know a film is working

Crowe says he's always thinking about this not-so-little patch of earth as he travels and works around the world. He may be from New Zealand, but this part of Australia is home.

"Nana Glen" is a seven-hour drive north of Sydney. Most important, it's 7,275 miles from Hollywood.

"You come here and relax and detach?" asked Doane.

"Well, this is the island, you know?" Crowe replied. " You come in beyond the gate and you're not a brand name anymore."

In the world of brand-name movie stars, Russell Crowe is among the biggest.

There's, of course, his Academy Award-winning performance as a Roman general in "Gladiator"("On my signal, unleash hell!"), and nominations for his portrayal of a tormented math genius in "A Beautiful Mind" ("Find a truly original idea -- that's the only way I'll ever distinguish myself"), and as a tobacco-industry whistleblower in "The Insider" ("We are in the nicotine delivery business").

There's "L.A. Confidential," Noah," "Les Miserables" -- we counted more than 40 movies in which he's acted.

But he invited us to his farm to discuss a very different sort of role: director.

So what makes directing so much more appealing to Crowe than acting? "Well, it's understanding what the art form really is," he said. "It's understanding that it's about composition. It's about color. It's about levels of emotion, levels of tensions. And it's just a very complete -- in fact, the most complete -- artistic experience that I've ever had, because so much is under your control."

His first real commercial directing effort is "The Water Diviner," a film set to be released in America this coming week, which has already won a number of awards in Australia, where it was the highest-grossing movie of 2014. It's the story of a father (played by Crowe) who goes in search of his three missing sons who went off to war.

In a cattle pen to one side of his farm, Crowe told Doane, if you think the transition from actor to director was difficult, well, it wasn't: "This is the language that I speak," he said. "I've been in front of a camera since 1970. Lead roles in feature films for 25 years. I speak this language. I am of this tribe."

The backdrop for "The Water Diviner" is the Battle of Gallipoli, the invasion of Turkey by British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops 100 years ago.

Russell Crowe in "The Water Diviner." Warner Brothers

Doane asked, "Are you a student of history? I was binge-watching and thinking you take on a lot of historical subjects."

"Well, there's a balance," Crowe said. "Look at the opportunity I get, man. I've time traveled! I have walked the streets of Rome where everywhere, anything in my perspective that I can see, is 100 percent 184 A.D. That's what people are dressed like. That's what it smells like."

Crowe says attention to detail is critical for a director. While filming "The Water Diviner," he says if he wasn't careful, he could've shot hundreds of satellite dishes on buildings (not exactly fitting for 1915 Istanbul).

Russell Crowe directing "The Water Diviner." Warner Brothers

In Sydney, Doane sat with him as he cheered on his movie at the Film Critics Circle Awards -- and picked up an honor himself, as Best Actor ("I'm not going to talk about the director, because he was an ass. But I managed to get through the day," he quipped), though he'd wanted the award for Best Director).

Doane asked, "Do you, at this point, like directing more than acting?"