Russell Crowe Called Director an "Idiot" for Slamming Meg Ryan Affair
The co-stars fell into a real-life romance filming the box-office disappointment Proof of Life.
In the 2000 thriller Proof of Life, Russell Crowe portrays a kidnapping and ransom specialist who embarks on a mission to rescue an American engineer being held by guerrillas in South America and ends up falling for the engineer's actor wife, played by Meg Ryan. The film's production took an unexpected turn when life mirrored art and real-life sparks flew between Ryan and Crowe, resulting in an off-screen affair that overshadowed the film's release. Read on to learn more about the scandalous romance and why it led to Crowe calling director Taylor Hackford "a [expletive] idiot."
Ryan was married to Dennis Quaid at the time.
When Proof of Life began filming in 2000, then-36-year-old Crowe was at the peak of his fame after the recent release of Gladiator, which would earn him the Oscar for Best Actor. He was also single. However, then-39-year-old Ryan was married to fellow actor Dennis Quaid, who she met filming 1987's Innerspace and wed in 1991. The two welcomed their son, The Boys actor Jack Quaid, the following year. By then, Ryan was a household name following her big breakout in When Harry Met Sally in 1989. Starring roles in '90s rom-coms Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail cemented her place as "America's Sweetheart."
That squeaky-clean image would change when rumors of a burgeoning romance between Ryan and Crowe emerged during the Proof of Life shoot. She and Quaid issued a statement announcing their separation in June 2000, and just a week later, the New York Post confirmed that Ryan and Crowe were a pair, citing reports of the two "smooching and nuzzling in restaurants and clubs all over London."
Taylor Hackford blamed the movie's dismal performance on the affair.
Proof of Life was released in December 2000, after a troubled shoot that included the tragic death of a stand-in actor. To avoid questions about their relationship, Russell and Ryan declined to do interviews to promote the film, according to ABC News. Per the same article, director Hackford told the Calgary Sun that he was "deeply hurt" by the actors' lack of support for the movie "and that Proof of Life will probably best be known as the film that sparked a love affair between Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan." He added that he had cut a love scene between the two actors after testing versions of the film with audiences, leaving in just "one kiss—and a lot of long, lingering looks."
The film garnered mediocre reviews and the romance between its leads failed to lure audiences in, meaning that it didn't make up its $65 million budget at the box office. Hackford, who also directed hits like An Officer and a Gentleman, blamed this poor performance on the tabloid story attached to the film. The following February, he told The Guardian, "It had an indelible and very destructive effect on the release of the film in the US, because the real-life story overpowered the film."
Crowe called Hackford "an idiot."
Crowe minced no words when confronted by the director's remarks. "He said that?" the actor said, according to The Guardian. "He's a [expletive] idiot. No seriously—what a knob."
By this time, Crowe had announced his split from Ryan, telling Melbourne's Herald Sun (as quoted in People) that their need for "filling up" on their respective home countries was too much for the relationship to bear. "Meg is a beautiful and courageous woman," he added. "I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I haven't lost her friendship."
Crowe may have patched things up with Hackford too, later starring with the director's wife, Helen Mirren, in 2009's State of Play.
Ryan said Crowe didn't break up her marriage.
While the timeline led the public to assume otherwise, Ryan later stated that her affair with Crowe was not to blame for destroying her marriage. In a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey, she called her relationship with Quaid "unhealthy" and said that she probably should have left sooner. "It was never about another man," she said, adding that Crowe "was not a homewrecker." Two years later, she claimed to InStyle, via HuffPost, that Quaid's own infidelity contributed to their demise. "Dennis was not faithful to me for a long time, and that was very painful. I found out more about that once I was divorced," she said.
Her career was forever changed.
Her on-set romance with Crowe may have destroyed something else, however—Ryan's career, which never regained the momentum it had had in the '90s. Despite this, she has called scrutiny over the affair liberating, telling The Guardian in 2003, "This thing that people are so afraid of all the time—public censure or disapproval—has no power if you know yourself." The actor has also noted that her 2003 erotic thriller In the Cut may have hastened her departure from "sweetheart" status but claimed that her separation from mainstream Hollywood was two-sided.
"I think the feeling with Hollywood was mutual," she told The New York Times Magazine in 2019. "I felt done when they felt done, probably."
That said, Ryan will return to her rom-com roots soon with the movie What Happens Later, co-starring David Duchovny and set for release this November. This time around, she also co-wrote and directed.
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