Peter Weir wanted MASTER AND COMMANDER-The
Far side of the World to give the audience as accurate a feeling
as possible of life aboard a fighting ship of the period. He and his
team of historical consultants were relentless in their pursuit of
Young boys, some only eight years old, were often servants or "powder
monkeys," running back and forth to the gun deck delivering powder
to the gun crews. ln the case of officers, there was a training regimen
wherein young gentlemen, many of noble birth, could be taken under
the captain's supervision aboard ship as midshipmen, studying and
learning the books much as they would in a private school.
There were midshipmen as young as twelve, such as the Lord Blakeney
character, played by newcomer Max Pirkis. Weir built up the parts
of these younger actors so audiences would set how they were treated
on board as equals. "They had to take the injuries, sail the ship,
go into battle and fight alongside the men," says Weir.
ln 1805, with Britain's King George III in bis 45th year on the throne,
the celebrated carter of the heroic Lord Nelson was soon to come to
an end with bis death at The Battle of Trafalgar. War between Britain
and France had been a constant throughout Nelson's lifetime and continued
through to 1815. Russell Crowe shared Peter Weir's passion for historical
and character authenticity.
"The reality of the situation for a man like Jack is that it is
a very lonely job", says Crowe. "Every ship's captain
l spoke with before we began this film discussed that loneliness aspect,
and to be prepared for that. One shared with me a saying 'Not always
right, but always certain' - meaning that as captain, you can't transmit
any doubts you may have in the middle of a life-threatening situation."
Crowe studied the nautical history, lore and skills required as a
British Royal Navy captain of the time. He also learned the ins and
outs of the ship, and became quite adept at climbing the rigging to
the tops. Sailing master captain Andrew Reay- Ellers was one of the
consultants who assisted Crowe in his research.
"We helped Russell recreate Jack Aubrey's 20-year naval career,"
Says Reay-Ellers, "working for hours each week, from the nuts
and bolts of every line onboard the ship, to sailing maneuvers, strategy;
and that nature of a captain's commando Russell felt that Jack,
although as captain would never set a sail personally, was once a
midshipman and would have that knowledge. Russell wanted to know everything
I was teaching his men, and we went through a condensed version of
a lifetime of learning the ship."
click on the picture in order to see the large scan
Reay-Ellers was irnpressed with Crowe's dedication to research and
training. "He spent hours pouring over diagrams, reading some
very dense literature on ship handling strategies, and he rose to
the challenge. At the same time, he was learning to play the violin
and a type of sword fighting unique to that period and rank. lt's
just mind- boggling, the amount of things he was simultaneously learning;
he wanted that level of confidence, that air of casual knowledge that
he knows every line on the ship, just the way Jack Aubrey would."
Crowe's violin training stems from Lucky Jack's penchant for the instrument
and his occasional musical pairings with Stephen Maturin, himself
a cellist. Over a period of several months Crowe worked with longtime
friend and Australian violin virtuoso Richard Tognetti (who later
would help compose the film's score), and with violinist Robert E.
Greene, who previously worked with Crowe during A Beautiful Mind.
Preparing to portray Stephen Maturin led Paul Bettany along his own
eclectic course of study. "I went with Peter Weir to the Royal
College of Surgeons in London to meet with a surgeon there, Mick Crumplin,
who was also an historian," recalls Bettany. "Mick was helpful
in terms of learning some of the medical procedures of the time, so
that l had a grasp of how to perform them in the film."
Bettany also dabbled in dissection during time spent at the Scripps
Institute of Oceanographie Study in La Jolla, for background in pre-Darwin
knowledge about insects, animals and fish.
To aid in their efforts to bring this era to life, the filmmakers
utilised, in addition to their team of consultants, a wealth of historic
resources at their disposal, including the cooperation of several
museums, access to historical artifacts, paintings, diaries, illustrations,
ships logs, original blueprints - as well as the richly detailed world
described by Patrick O'Brian. An extensive resource library was housed
on the studio lot, and cast and crew were encouraged to take advantage
of this resource.