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Russell Crowe never made it to the press conference for “Master and Commander,” apparently due to an injury suffered on the set of his current film. On the plus side, the usual slack-jawed celeb-oglers were nowhere to be found and a number of interesting questions were put to director Peter Weir, himself as much an Australian success story as Crowe.

Weir has moved from art-house success with his early films like “Picnic At Hanging Rock” or “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith” to a Hollywood career that includes “Witness” and “The Truman Show.”

Here the director discussed his tips for shooting at sea, and sidestepped the Royal Navy’s rep for rum, sodomy and the lash.

On his casting choices

“Russell Crowe was my only choice. Not because he was Australian; I felt he brought natural qualities of leadership to the part. I wanted to take you back in time with this movie, so the details were very important, none more so than the faces. I didn’t want modern faces, people who lived on a diet of hamburgers, and above all, people who had on their faces cynicism, or “attitude,” as the Americans say. So I studied paintings from the past, and photographs from the earliest period of the 19th century, and then went looking for people who would look like that.”

On the film’s ‘message’

“I think I’m a storyteller, not a message sender. I wanted you to just share some emotion with these men on board, to share their humanity. I don’t like it when period films patronize the past, to look back with an armchair view. So I wanted to take my camera back to 1805, to say here is a group of people, here is what happened, this is their story, and that their lives would reflect on our lives.”

On the difficulty of shooting at sea

“I decided early on that the answer to this question was not to go to sea. So for 100 days we filmed in our tank, and we then added CGI and miniatures to create the illusion that we were sailing from Brazil around the Horn to the Galapagos.”

On working with a cast of children

“I enjoy working with children in stories where they have to deal with adult situations. The children in this film are based on reports and records from the time, of young boys fighting in the British Navy, and I tried to use every detail in the film. This story reminds us that childhood is a fairly recent invention, reaching its peak in the Victorian Period/late-19th century. But for most of our cultures, children were expected to work just like men as soon as they could.”

On the absence of homosexuality in the film

“In my research I found that homosexuality was a capital offense in the British Navy. Also, having taken two cruises on the Endeavor, working as part of the crew, putting the sails up and down, [I found] you’re too tired to think of sex. [Grins.]”

On his first impression of the novels

“I started reading Patrick O’Brien’s novels back in the early ’90s. In fact, when I finished my last film, “The Truman Show,” [the studio] asked what gift I would like, and I said I’d like hardcover copies of every O’Brien book, and they gave me first editions. And I began looking for a new script, and strangely, my only interest was reading O’Brien. So I didn’t realize my next movie was just there, right in from of me. I never thought of them for a film because I thought it would be too difficult.”

On the Academy Awards

“The cliche is true: The nomination is the best part. The rest is fate. As for the New Zealand team, with Peter Jackson, WETA digital made my ships, so we are comrades in arms.”

On making the French the villains in the film

“The book was set in a dirty little war of 1812 between Britain and the United States, obscure, and Britain very much at fault. But the main settings of the books are the Napoleonic Wars, so I moved it to 1805. I wanted the enemy to be a phantom, more as if Jack is in a contest with himself, not to vilify the enemy. They were symbolic, in a sense.” (G.F.)

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