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Whatever Happened To The Cast Of Gladiator?

Ridley Scott's 2002 epic historical drama "Gladiator" stars Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius, an Ancient Roman general-turned-slave-turned-gladiator who must overthrow a mad emperor to restore a republic. Set in about A.D. 180, the story follows Maximus, a noble army general who is chosen by his mentor, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, to be his predecessor. Of course, this inflames his son, the selfish, crazy, incestuous Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), who murders his father in retaliation for his choice. He then takes the throne and casts Maximus out to be executed. Maximus survives, however, and is sold as a slave to the gladiator arena, where he slowly climbs the ranks, becomes a popular fighter, and heads to Rome to win the crowd and face his foe.

"Gladiator" won multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects. In addition, Crowe was nominated for Best Actor, Joaquin Phoenix for Best Supporting Actor, and Scott for Best Director. The film was a hit and kicked off a trend called "The 'Gladiator' Effect," a rebirth of interest in all things Ancient Rome (not to be confused with the "Gladiator Effect" of the helmet in sports). Indeed, the legacy of "Gladiator" is that of an epic historical drama that inspired multitudinous films and TV series after it. But what of its stars? Many are still acting today and winning awards yet again. Here's what happened to the cast of "Gladiator."

Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius

The emotional heart of "Gladiator " is found in its lead character Maximus. A betrayed general who just wants to go home, Maximus doesn't long for glory or power — he wants a quiet life with his family. So when his daughter and son are murdered, his devotion transforms into revenge. Russell Crowe manages to bring both an intense drive and tender caring to the role, and the performance earned him the Best Actor Oscar at the Academy Awards.

The New Zealand-born actor moved to Australia when he was young and started his career down under. He did small theater productions before moving on to Australian TV and earned money by busking when he didn't have any acting work. In the early 1990s, Crowe hit the states, and a big streak of roles in "The Quick and the Dead," "L.A. Confidential," "Mystery, Alaska," and "Gladiator" shot him to Hollywood fame. Since then, he's starred in tons of films, fronted his own band, and has been nominated for more Academy Awards, among other trophies. His repertoire has everything from serious dramas and musicals to comedies and comic book films, including a role as Superman's Kryptonian father Jor-El in "Man of Steel." His next gig is playing Zeus in "Thor: Love and Thunder."

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus

Up until "Gladiator," Joaquin Phoenix was a low-key working actor who had been in the business since he was a child. A member of the famous Phoenix family, his older brother was River Phoenix, who tragically died in 1993. Before "Gladiator," Phoenix was working steadily and co-starring in films like "Inventing the Abbotts" and "To Die For." But his performance as wicked Emperor Commodus in "Gladiator" put him on the Hollywood radar and earned him Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations.

Since then, Phoenix has been a steady, famous face in many prestigious dramas. He's played Johnny Cash in 'Walk the Line," co-starred with Mel Gibson in M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs," starred in Spike Jonze's futuristic AI drama "Her," and played Jesus to his partner Rooney Mara's Mary Magdalene. In 2019, Phoenix starred as a man named Arthur Fleck in "Joker," an origins story for the DC Comics Batman villain that took on a less comic book style and opted for a more gritty, 1970s crime drama-inspired ambiance. For the role, Phoenix lost 52 pounds so that the character would look sickly. His disturbing performance seems to have been worth it since the role earned him the Best Actor Oscar at the 2020 Academy Awards.

Connie Nielsen as Lucilla

A historical drama wouldn't be a historical drama without a bit of a love interest. Thankfully, the female lead in "Gladiator" is a smart, strong, and regal woman who uses her wit and strength to fight the advances of her incestuous brother and protect her son. Connie Nielsen's Lucilla may have once been paired with Russell Crowe's Maximus, but the two parted ways, starting their own families and following other paths. When they are thrown back together in "Gladiator," the affection still lingers, providing for the film's bit of lingering romance and sexual tension.

The Danish Nielsen began her career in Europe and worked in her home country of Denmark — as well as France and Italy — before making her way to the U.S. Her first major English-language role was alongside Al Pacino in 1997's "The Devil's Advocate." She also appeared in "Rushmore" and "Mission to Mars." After "Gladiator," Nielsen has been a steady working actor in U.S. film and TV. She's also joined the comic realm, playing Wonder Woman's mother Hippolyta in the 2017 film, and returning to the role in "Wonder Woman 1984" and the two versions of the "Justice League" films.

Oliver Reed as Proximo

The great Oliver Reed plays Antonius Proximo, the old, disgruntled former Gladiator who buys Maximus in North Africa and helps turn him into a star. In the film, Proximo claims to have been inspired by Marcus Aurelius, who touched him on the shoulder and freed him from being a captive gladiator.

Reed began his acting career in the 1950s and hit it big in the 1960s and 70s after playing Bill Sikes in 1968's "Oliver!" After that, Reed's resume becomes jam-packed with film performances in dramas, comedies, and musicals, as well as a lot of British TV. "Gladiator" was Reed's final film role, and he passed away during the shoot while the production was filming in Malta. According to Air Malta, the night before collapsing of a heart attack, Reed reportedly, "downed over eight pints of lager, twelve double rums and half a bottle of whiskey, won an arm-wrestling contest against many members of the British Royal Navy crew, HMS Cumberland, and insisted on paying for the entire round." The story of "Gladiator" was therefore changed; Proximo was supposed to live through the film, but director Ridley Scott used CGI, body doubles, and previous footage of Reed to create a scene in which he dies. "Gladiator" is dedicated to him.

Derek Jacobi as Senator Gracchus

Derek Jacobi is another legendary actor with a long career who has a supporting role in "Gladiator." As Senator Gracchus, Jacobi is a politician wary of how newly crowned Emperor Commodus wants to run the Roman Empire. He collaborates with Lucilla in encouraging Maximus to escape and lead his army into Rome to take back the throne. However, he is arrested when Maximus' plan fails and must face Commodus in the arena.

Jacobi was already an iconic Shakespearian actor when cast in "Gladiator." Per The Guardian, he began his career in the 1950s while in school, graduated from Cambridge University, and was mentored by Laurence Olivier, with whom he went on to help found England's National Theatre. Jacobi had an extensive resume of theatrical, film, and TV work before joining the cast of "Gladiator," and since the film, he's continued his extremely prestigious career. Throughout his life, he's played just about every male Shakespeare character ever written. In recent years, sci-fi fans have come to know him as The Master in "Doctor Who."

Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius

Emperor Marcus Aurelius doesn't last very long in "Gladiator." A moral and noble leader, Aurelius congratulates Maximus on a successful battle before asking him to become his heir. When Commodus is informed of this decision, he murders Aurelius — his father — before taking the throne himself and ordering Maximus executed. The role is small but powerful, and Richard Harris' quiet, sweet voice yet demanding presence makes Marcus Aurelius the kind of leader Maximus would fight for.

Born in Ireland, Richard Harris made his film debut in 1959 in the film "Alive and Kicking." Much like the other actors of his generation, he began in the theater before making his move to film and TV and heading over to the United States. He also put out several albums and published a book of poetry. Harris might be more well known to millennials as the first actor to play Professor Dumbledore in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and the second film, "Chamber of Secrets." Unfortunately, Michael Gambon had to take over the role after Harris passed away in 2002 at the age of 72 from Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Djimon Hounsou as Juba

After Maximus escapes his executioners only to find his family murdered, he wanders the south of Spain and collapses. Eventually, he's picked up by slavers and taken to North Africa to learn to fight in the arenas. His only friends are fellow enslaved gladiators Juba — a Numidian played by Djimon Hounsou — and Hagen, a German, whom we'll get to next on this list.

Born in Benin, Hounsou moved to the U.S. in 1990 to pursue modeling after spending his teens years in France, where he was discovered while homeless. He starred in a ton of music videos — including Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" — before hitting the acting realm and breaking out in Steven Spielberg's 1997 slave trade epic "Amistad." He then had a long stint on "ER" before landing the role in "Gladiator." After that hit, Hounsou has continued acting and modeling. He appeared on "Alias," starred in "Blood Diamond," and voiced T'Challa/Black Panther in a 2010 animated series based on the comic. He is also in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in other ways, playing Korath the Pursuer in "Guardians of the Galaxy" and other titles.

Ralf Moeller as Hagen

Maximus' other companion in the arena is the Germanic Hagen, played by Ralf Moeller. Their friendship starts out a little awkwardly, considering that Maximus had recently defeated the armies of Germania in the Battle of Vindobona that opens the film. But after Hagen pulls a funny gag on Maximus by pretending that his stew is poisoned, the two become pals.

Moeller, a German bodybuilder, started acting in 1989 in the film "Cyborg." In 1997, he had a quick role as an Arkham guard in "Batman & Robin," and on television, he starred in the syndicated "Conan the Adventurer." "Gladiator" is no doubt Moeller's biggest role, but he has still been acting since then. After "Gladiator," he landed a major role in "The Scorpion King," the 2002 sequel to "The Mummy." Since then, he's done mostly action-heavy or fantasy-based films where his super-built body comes in handy. But he also dips his toes into comedy from time to time, most notably in 2006's "Beerfest."

Tommy Flanagan as Cicero

Maximus' loyal servant Cicero isn't a soldier, but he does make huge sacrifices to help his leader's cause. He works as a liaison between Maximus and Lucilla, sending messages and making plans. Unfortunately, Cicero ends up being used as bait by Commodus' guards, but his multiple acts of bravery throughout the film prove that one doesn't have to be physically intimidating or powerful in order to make a difference.

Cicero is played by Scottish actor Tommy Flanagan, whose face you probably recognize as one of those "oh that guy!" actors; he's truly in so many things. What makes him so recognizable are probably his facial scars, which come from being attacked with a knife outside of a club where he was DJing in his early career. Before "Gladiator," Flanagan's largest role was as one of the fighting Scots in "Braveheart." Around that time, he was also in "The Saint" and "Face/Off." Since "Gladiator," Flanagan has done even more films and TV shows. His most notable role has probably been as Filip "Chibs" Telford in "Sons of Anarchy." He's also been in 'Sin City," "Smokin' Aces," "24," "Revenge," and "Westworld."

David Hemmings as Cassius

Cassius is the Master of Ceremonies at the Colosseum in Rome. His bombastic presence, curly wigs, and showman abilities help turn the brutality of the gladiator games into something ... fun, we suppose?

Cassius is played by David Hemmings, a British actor with quite an interesting upbringing in the show business industry. Hemmings was a child actor in British films, and he was also a boy soprano who traveled throughout Europe singing for composer Benjamin Britten. After his voice broke and he could no longer hit those high notes, Hemings turned back to acting. His big break was 1966's "Blow-Up," and he also appeared in "Camelot" and "Barbarella." He also had a pretty impressive directing and producing career for shows like "The A-Team," "Magnum, P.I.," "Airwolf," and "Quantum Leap." 

By the time "Gladiator" rolled around, Hemmings was steadfast in a character acting career and took on a few supporting gigs similar to the size of Cassius. Notably, he was in "Spy Game," "Gangs of New York," and "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." Sadly, Hemmings passed away in 2003 from a heart attack while on the set of his final film, "Blessed."

Spencer Treat Clark as Lucius Verus II

Maximus' son is tragically killed by Commodus' Roman guards, which is all the more reason why Lucilla becomes overly protective of her own son, Lucius Verus II, who is an heir to her father's crown. Played by Spencer Treat Clark, Lucius is a genuinely sweet kid whose interest in gladiators and making friends sometimes get him into a bit of trouble.

Born in New York, Clark was pretty young when he got into show business. He had a recurring part in the soap opera "Another World" before landing the "Gladiator" gig. After being a prince of Ancient Rome, Clark appeared in a number of other hit films, like the M. Night Shyamalan thriller "Unbreakable" and its sequel "Glass," the drama "Mystic River," and Joss Whedon's black and white "Much Ado About Nothing." Clark is most well known these days for his role on Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," and he's set to star in the TV adaptation of Stephen King's "Salem's Lot."

Tomas Arana as Quintus

Maximus' right-hand man in battle is the Roman legatus Quintus, who was part of the Praetorian Guard. But Quintus is ordered to have Maximus killed after Marcus Aurelius' death, and while he doesn't attempt to do it himself, his betrayal does hurt. Thankfully, Quintus gets to redeem himself later on in the film and promises Maximus to help restore the Roman Senate, as Marcus Aurelius had wished.

Quintus is played by American actor Tomas Arana, whose international film credits reflect a pretty prestigious career. He's been directed by Lina Wertmüller, Liliana Cavani, Carlo Verdone, and Japanese director Koreyoshi Kurahara in films all over Europe. Before "Gladiator," Arana played the GRU sleeper agent Loginov in the 1990 film version of Tom Clancy's novel "The Hunt for Red October," and the stalker/killer in the 1992 Whitney Houston hit "The Bodyguard." After "Gladiator," Arana continued to act in films like "The Bourne Supremacy," "Limitless" and "Guardians of the Galaxy," as well as on TV shows such as Josh Halloway's pre-"Lost" thriller "Intelligence," and most recently "The New Pope."

David Schofield as Senator Falco

Senator Falco is one of Commodus' little sidekick politicians in "Gladiator." He's obviously obsessed with his own power and will coddle Commodus and lure him to further evils and inspire his more devious acts. Surely, Commodus is a bit evil himself, but enacting those wicked deeds is much easier when you have some support from a little snake like Falco.

David Schofield is the perfect choice to play Falco, as he's been playing devilish sneaky guys for a lot of his career. Much like all of the other British guys of his generation in "Gladiator," Schofield started out in theater before working up to British television and then Hollywood films. His pre-"Gladiator" credits include "An American Werewolf in London" and "Last of the Mohicans." After "Gladiator," Schofield appeared in "From Hell" and played Ian Mercer in the films "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." He also does a lot of historical television like "Da Vinci's Demons" and "The Last Kingdom." Most recently, he joined the well-received drama "Unforgotten."

John Shrapnel as Senator Gaius

Thankfully, in addition to Gracchus, Maximus has another senator on his side who works with Lucilla to overthrow Commodus — Senator Gaius. There are a few scenes in "Gladiator" when Commodus is going off on one of his crazy rants or looks like he's about to kill someone, and Gaius gives the others a kind of, "Can you believe this guy?" look.

Like Derek Jacobi, John Shrapnel was an early cast member of Laurence Olivier's National Theatre Company as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company. "His glory was on the stage," The Guardian writes. "Shrapnel was always interesting in these 'solid' roles because he played them with such force and intelligence. He oozed gravitas and could make dullness seem virtuous," the publication later wrote. Nevertheless, he drifted into the film world often. Notably, he played a key funny part of the PR agent in the romantic comedy "Notting Hill." After "Gladiator," he was in the epic "Troy," the Keira Knightley historical drama "The Duchess," and numerous filmed stage plays. In 2020, he died in his home on Valentine's Day.