I covered this in my weekly DVD column, but here’s a little more information regarding one of this week’s big DVD and Blu-Ray releases, THE EAGLE. I actually really enjoyed this movie when it was released in cinemas earlier in the year. We have a superb interview with the film’s stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell below. The home release is available from today. Check out the special features and art at the bottom of the page. We have also posted the trailer, along with video interviews with director Kevin MacDonald and producer Duncan Kenworthy too.
So tell me all about your character.
I play Marcus. He’s a Roman soldier whose father was the leader of the 9th Legion, and essentially his father took his Legion, 17 years ago into the north of Britain – which is now Scotland – and they disappear. Cut back to 17 years after, and I’ve now been sent to Britain on my commission as a soldier trying to essentially win back my family’s honour. I can’t do it as a soldier, so I decide to go over Hadrian’s Wall and try to figure out what happened to my father and if I can, bring back the Eagle or face death. I take a tribesman, a Scottish slave essentially – even though it wasn’t Scotland back then – played by Jamie Bell, and we see things very differently.
It seems very historically accurate.
Yeah, Kevin (Macdonald – director) is obsessed with accuracy. He is a documentary maker. A lot of directors take a lot of creative license just for dramatic sake and it ends up looking phony. Audiences are smarter than you give them credit for sometimes and people don’t really get it. People know a lot about Rome because so many movies have been made about it, so many documentaries and we learn about them at school. If you just do a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-type version of it, people are going to be a little disenchanted. The Romans were some of the most advanced yet simple and driven people that you could ever, ever find in history.
How was it learning to fight like a Centurian?
It’s really eye-opening. The short sword is specifically made to be thrust in and up into your sternum. That’s what it was made for and that’s why they really excelled in hand-to-hand combat because back then, the Germanic tribes, even the Britons, they all had long swords and big long axes, so we could get in close and really be effective.
Can you talk about doing all of the stunts yourself, and did you sustain any injuries?
I didn’t sustain any injuries during the fighting, other than I thought I had broken my hand for a second but I just sprained it pretty bad. You just get bangs and bruises here and there. But I had a pretty bad burn injury in the river – that was pretty serious.
How did you get burnt?
They were pouring water down our wetsuits to keep us warm because we were in a hypothermic river all day for 13 hours, for about three or four days. We had been doing this for 13 hours and this poor guy was having to run up and down the hill, about every ten minutes with a huge bottle of water. We’d wrapped the day and I started to walk up and here he comes with the bottle of water to warm me up; he pours it down my wetsuit and it was boiling water. What had happened was that he hadn’t got all the way down to the river to dilute the boiling water with the cold water, so it was pretty painful.
So can you talk about the relationship between this Roman leader and his slave? It’s a very powerful relationship.
You know, at that time Rome was occupying a country and doing it without apologies. They were conquerors, that’s what they did. They did it in the name of Rome but with the idea that these people needed what Rome was. And that is a pretty warped mentality, when people are very happy with how they are, but for some reason, someone comes in and thinks they need the Roman way of life. It’s not so political and it’s not so humanitarian. They would kill as many people as you could possibly kill if that’s what it took, for Rome. I think that Marcus absolutely had this all-or-nothing mentality for Rome, because he felt he needed to essentially prove himself. His father was sort of a disgrace, so he had to be the perfect one and I think he was too committed in a way. He has to learn on the way, why and how he is seen through Esca’s eyes.
How was it working with Jamie Bell?
Jamie is… I keep saying it, but him and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are maybe two of the best young actors that are in our age group. They are so incredibly smart, they can do everything and they are just so thoughtful and they care so much about it.
Tell me about your character.
Esca is his name, freedom is his game. He’s a guy who, when we first meet him in the film, has lost everything. He’s lost his family, he’s lost his values, he’s lost his tribe, he’s lost his freedom and he’s enslaved by the very people who took that all away from him. And in that first scene you can tell, he’s willing to die; he’s very prepared to die – it would be easier if he just died. He could rid himself of the shame of being captured. He is saved and his journey after that is that he lays down a debt of honour. After that moment for him, every step, every action is about becoming a free man again.
Can you talk about the relationship between the Roman master and his British slave?
For the journey that these two characters go on… as much as it is a physical journey into the unknown, into a world that was very dangerous and hostile, it really is a journey about these two guys who are enemies and who are chained together. They have to go on this mission together, not knowing whether the other is going to turn around and put a knife into his back. It’s that suspense, that sense of mistrust and betrayal that is lingering in the air. It draws this story forward.
And why do you think they bond? Is it because they have both lost fathers?
Absolutely. I think they are absolutely very parallel people, with very parallel storylines. I think guilt and shame are big themes for both of these characters. I think their journey is a catharsis. The sentiment of your saving grace could also be your closest enemy is a really valuable message.
So how was it working with Channing Tatum?
Channing is a great guy. I think the world of him. We had such a good time on this. You know, it’s two guys riding on horses and playing with swords in the Highlands of Scotland, and Romans and armour and all that stuff. So we were like kids on set, we had a great time together. We were also very competitive which helped push you a lot harder. So yeah, we had a great time on this, a really good time.
The film feels very historically authentic. Did you learn something about the Romans that perhaps you didn’t know before?
More than anything I had a real appreciation for the tribes of Northern Scotland to be able to survive in that terrain and that landscape. I also really feel for the Romans who obviously came from certain parts of the Continent. They went up there in their tunics and their sandals going, “Where the Hell are we? Let’s get out of here. Let’s build a big wall and never go back there.” I did empathise with them.
How was it learning to fight and did your dance background help you with the fight choreography?
Sure, yeah, absolutely. I think if you have a history of any sort of physical movement, like dancing or anything like that, it’s always going to help when it comes to stuff like this because fight scenes are basically just choreography, they could be dance choreography. So both me and Channing do have that background and we applied all of that stuff. It kind of comes as second nature after a while.
I managed to get off this one unscathed, so I was fine. Nothing to really report there.
Even on the horses?
Even on the horses. I had never ridden a horse before so I had to learn from scratch and really bank time in the saddle before we started the film, but the one thing I was never afraid of was falling off. I really trusted this horse. He was called “The Mountain Goat” because he was incredibly stable over rocky terrain, so I was very well taken care of.
Can you talk about shooting in Scotland? It’s so beautiful up there but cold.
Oh, incredibly cold. I mean, yes, it is beautiful and it is the backdrop of the film; I think it’s a very integral character in the movie and to the telling of that adventure. It does present its difficulties: we were in some very remote places; Kevin MacDonald (director) really wanted to push the envelope of experiencing the frontier, the unknown world. So it was difficult, technically difficult: some of tents blew into the sea, some vehicles overturned, the horses were slipping and sliding on the hills and stuff, so it was demanding but I think that kind of stuff informs the film and informs your performance.