Ridley Scott’s Gladiator stands out amongst Hollywood’s Roman Empire-based movies produced in the last half-century. It’s for good reasons, too, as it delivers some of the film’s most iconic lines that have remained evergreen. Yet, several of the movie’s lines were a result of improvisation. Behind the scenes, Gladiator suffered several setbacks, with the film’s script undergoing lots of revisions following complaints from cast members.
Even after hiring John Logan and William Nicholson to help modify David Frazoni‘s draft and script, Russell Crowe was not impressed with some of the lines. Crowe, at one point, was disappointed with the entire script and tried to rewrite it during filming. Scott, known for his openness to improv, gave actors the leeway to ad-lib lines. This helped introduce lines and scenes, making the movie one of the greatest. Here are five iconic lines from Gladiator that were just improv.
1. Strength And Honor
In the movie’s opening scene, Crowe’s Maximus walks to the front of the line. When the Barbarians returned the headless body of Rome’s Army messenger, the Romans prepared to go to war. As a way to motivate his men, Maximus tells Quintus, standing by his side, “Strength and honor.” Quintus echoes the words back.
These are one of the first lines in the movie, but they became one of its most famous ones. Crowe wanted to create a bond between the General and his soldiers before the battle began. Initially, Crowe wanted to deliver the lines in their original Latin form, Virtūs et Honos. However, Scott insisted it sounded a lot better in English.
2. At My Signal, Unleash Hell
The line was entirely Russell Crowe’s idea and still is one of the film’s most popular lines. The lines are delivered in the same battle scene as “Strength and Honor.” Astride his horse, Maximus prepares to attack the Barbarians. Looking at Quintus, Maximus gives his last command before galloping away into battle.
3. Maximus Describes His Home To Marcus Aurelius
From the opening scenes of Gladiator, Maximus comes off to viewers as a soldier who misses his home and family. In his conversation with Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), the Emperor beckons Maximus to tell him about his home. Crowe ad-libbed most of the lines in his description. Since the script didn’t provide exact lines for the dialogue, Crowe used his home and farm in Australia as inspiration.
“My house is in the hills above Trujillo. A very simple place. Pinkstones that warm in the sun. A kitchen garden that smells of herbs in the day, and jasmine in the evening. Through the gate is a giant poplar. Figs, apples, pears. The soil, Marcus- black. Black like my wife’s hair. Grapes on the south slopes, olives on the north. Wild ponies play near my house. They tease my son. He wants to be one of them.”
4. Proximo’s Scene With The Slave Trader
This scene introduces the character of Proximo (Oliver Reed). An injured Maximus is found by slave traders and taken to the city of Zucchabar in the Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis. As Proximo sits and sips from a cup, he’s interrupted by the praises from a slave trader (Omid Djalili).
As the trader approaches him, Proximo grabs him by his crotch and complains about his last purchase. In the actual script, Proximo was supposed to punch the slave trader in his face before proceeding to complain about his last purchase. However, Oliver Reed improvised and grabbed Djalili’s crotch before adding some of his own lines. Scott kept the cameras rolling and caught the unfiltered reaction and expression from Omid Djalili.
5. Am I Not Merciful?
Joaquin Phoenix‘s performance as Commodus was one of the highlights of Gladiator. In the movie, Commodus is an unworthy son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who became an unlovable Emperor. In the grand scheme of things, Commodus would have easily garnered sympathy from the film’s audience. However, underneath the character’s “misunderstood nature” is a dark, rotten, mad core.
Commodus the Merciful, in an attempt to punctuate the rottenness of his character, shows mercy to his sister and nephew for betraying him. Not only will Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) have to keep her emotions in check, Commodus punishes her further by telling her she’ll marry him and produce his purebred heir. Phoenix 100% ad-libbed the scene-ending scream of the line, “Am I not merciful?”
The script had the line, but it was supposed to be delivered as a gentle ending to Commodus’ speech. After following the script, Phoenix holds Nielsen’s face and screams the question at her. Connie Nielsen‘s shock and fear were the actress’s natural reaction to Phoenix’s scream. This made it the best ad-libbed line in Gladiator.
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