As the New Zealand-born, Australia-raised actor explained around the time of release, he didn’t want to spend too much with Nash — then in his 70s — because he felt the 35 years Nash spent on meds for the paranoid schizophrenia he suffered from had made him a different person than the younger version Crowe was portraying.
Years later, though, Crowe admits that was a mistake. One that corrected itself.
“We were shooting in Princeton. And that’s where John lives, and that’s where he works,” Crowe said of Nash in a Role Recall interview with Yahoo Entertainment filmed just one month before Nash’s death in 2015 (watch above, with A Beautiful Mind beginning at 3:46). “So he just walked up to the set. And I realized it was him, and I was sort of dumfounded. Because there he is, the guy that I’m playing, and I’m staring at him.”
While Crowe didn’t get into details, his then-unavoidable interactions with Nash clearly had a profound effect.
“I learnt a very strong lesson through that,” Crowe said. “If you’re playing somebody, and you have the opportunity to meet them, don’t be an absolute idiot. Meet them! Because they will inform you of stuff that you can’t imagine. Or, they will actually show you that your imagination may have gone too far, or hasn’t gone far enough.”
A Beautiful Mind landed Crowe his third consecutive Oscar nomination for Best Actor after The Insider and Gladiator (for which he won). Inspired by the 1997 book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, it follows Nash from his days as a graduate student at Princeton into his celebrated career and marriage to wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) as he struggles more and more with delusional episodes.
“People might have edges and boundaries,” Crowe said of Nash. “And when you’ve got a mind as broad and expansive as John Nash’s, he doesn’t have those boundaries.”