Russell Crowe Woos Crowd Opening Night at Taormina Film Fest

russell crowe Taormina fest - p 2013
Tullio M. Puglia / Getty Images Entertainment

The actor was joined by Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and director Zack Snyder ahead of the Italian premiere of "Man of Steel."

TAORMINA, Sicily -- The 59th edition of the Taormina Film Festival got underway Saturday with the biggest Teatro Antico crowd in recent memory on hand to see Russell Crowe presented with a Taormina Arte honor ahead of the Italian premiere of Zack Snyder's interpretation of the Superman story, Man of Steel.

Taormina artistic director Mario Sesti welcomed Crowe with an homage that recalled the festival's storied history: "Now, to this stage that has hosted Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Weir, we now welcome Russell Crowe," Sesti said to enthusiastic applause.

And Crowe successfully enamored himself to the crowd estimated at more than 4,000, at least in part by speaking in Italian.

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"This is my first time in Sicily, and you are already giving me an award," he said, reading from notes. "I should come here more often."

He added: "I have always had a deep love for Italy, even before I became a gladiator," referring to his role in Ridley Scott's 2000 adventure story Gladiator, which earned Crowe an Oscar as best actor.

In Man of Steel, Crowe plans Jor-El, Superman's biological father. After receiving his prize, he was joined on the stage of the 2,400-year-old Teatro Antico by Henry Cavill, who plays Superman in the film, plus Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Snyder.

The much-heralded screening is part a wider European launch for the big-budget blockbuster, which went into wide release in the U.S. on Friday, where it earned $44.1 million in its first night screaning nationwide. Distributed by Warner Bros., it is scheduled top open in Italian cinemas June 20.

The film, which The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy said includes "as much spectacle and action as any movie could ever think of," was well received by the mostly full Teatro Antico crowd, which applauded the first time Cavill appeared on screen in his Superman getup.

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Earlier in the day, Crowe wowed Italian journalists in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on what it was like to play a role pioneered by Marlon Brando (who played Jor-El to Christopher Reeve's Superman in the 1978 version of the saga) and the Jesus Christ parallels with Superman (who was sent to earth by his father in order to save mankind before the age of 33), to needing to go on a diet for the part and what it was like to prepare for a role based on another planet.

"Usually, when I make a film, I do research," Crowe said. "But it was tough because this time I couldn't actually go to Krypton. But I am a father of two young children and so I wondered how it would feel if I had to send them to another planet to save their lives."

The 59-year-old Taormina festival, dramatically set on a cliff in Sicily's north eastern corner, will run through June 22, with The Lone Ranger scheduled as the festival's closer.

Twitter: @EricJLyman