When Russell Crowe first mentioned the idea of making Robin Hood to his favorite director, Ridley Scott, the filmmaker knew instinctively that they were on to a winner.
"Russell said to me, ’Do you fancy doing Robin Hood?’ Maybe it’s a male thing, but my ears pricked up instantly and I said, ’That’s a bloody great idea.’"
Scott and Crowe have enjoyed a productive professional relationship that dates back ten years to when they made the Oscar® winning film Gladiator together. Robin Hood would be their fifth collaboration, following A Good Year, American Gangster and Body of Lies.
It would also prove to be one of their most challenging, but ultimately, most rewarding. There were times during the five years it took to get the film into production that Scott feared that it wouldn’t happen.
Sets were built and then moth balled because of fears over a possible actor’s strike and some teething problems with the script. "I was well into it and then we got tangled up with the strike, on-off, on-off, and of course the studio was nervous because the film isn’t cheap, so the studio was asking, ’Shall we pull it?’" says Scott.
"And then I wasn’t able to work because we were simply in a void and, of course, I like to work. So there were a couple of moments when I thought it might not happen partly because of cost against the politics that were going on."
But both Scott and Crowe, and indeed the studio, Universal, refused to give up on Robin Hood, and the director is delighted that their perseverance has paid off. For both men, the chance to re-invent one of the most enduring legends of all time for a contemporary cinema audience was just too good to let go.
"The story of Robin Hood is certainly legendary, but was it true? Did he exist, or was he just made up? And I think that’s always been a fascinating question. Robin is the classical Dudley-Do-Right who is also a great warrior, and that’s a classic combination."
"And when you look back on what has been done one shouldn’t be critical, but did it need a new coat? Definitely. And have we done that? We certainly have. So I think it’s a re-invention of the legend of Robin and this film tells how Robin became an outlaw, so by the end of the film you see him established as an outlaw."
SYNOPSIS. Crowe plays Robin Longstride, a soldier who has been away fighting in the Crusades for the late King Richard the "Lionheart." Longstride and his fellow comrades in arms—Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), Little John (Kevin Durand) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle)—are traveling through France when they come across the dying Sir Robert Loxley who has been mortally wounded in an ambush.
Loxley was on his way back to England to deliver Richard’s crown to his heir, Prince John (Oscar Isaac) and before he dies he asks Robin to not only complete his task, but also deliver his own sword to his father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow) in Nottingham.
When Longstride and his men return to England and complete this mission, they discover a country on the brink of the abyss with a population taxed to the point where it can no longer feed itself. Moreover, the rumblings of an uprising led by the barons in the North are looming.
Scott and his writers have skillfully blended real historical events from medieval England (the story is set in the late 12th century) with the compelling tale of how a hero emerges to stand up and fight for his countrymen.
"I think it’s always stronger if you do that," he says. "With a lot of the Robin Hoods you think, ’Why is the Sheriff of Nottingham such a bad guy? Why is King John a bad guy?’ And not understanding a) the economics and b) the politics or anything that makes any sense whatsoever."
"So you get a lot of moustache twirling and you know, the ’good guys’ against the ’bad guys,’ but I always like to know where they are coming from. I mean, a good parallel is Gladiator, where we trod pretty carefully through the latter day history of Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus and, through that, threaded this fictitious character named Maximus."
"And in this instance we’re doing the same thing. And I thought a great starting point was to ask, ’Why is the kingdom in such disarray and why is there so much taxation?’"
"Because they are bankrupt. Why are they bankrupt? Because of the comings and goings of Richard the Lionheart who, for ten years, on the pretext of the name of God and the Cross, was doing ’good’ down in the Holy Land. In actuality though, he was just having a rip-roaring time spending all the money from the Crown and consequently leaving the country bankrupt. So that was a good place to start."
Scott and Crowe’s working relationship is combative, at times, says Scott, and on set they would often have heated discussions about how to approach a particular scene. Both had a huge input into the screenplay for Robin Hood (just as they did for Gladiator) and clearly hold each other in the highest regard.
There were reports that, at times, it got a little fractious between the two men. But a little creative tension has always been their way, says Scott.
"I think so. Russell said to me, ’Isn’t this our way?’ I said, ’I guess it is, but you know it can be a lot easier.’ But it is the way. You know, with Russell you had better be prepared."
"The first experience I had with him was on Gladiator, and he would sit there and listen to me and I thought he was ignoring everything I was saying, but he wasn’t; he was listening, very intently."
"And in turn I would listen to him because Russell is inordinately intelligent and extremely well read on any material that he is about to do. He’s very opinionated. And therefore he’s a hard partner in crime—except that we’ve done it five times now and it works."
Scott was delighted with his cast recruited for the Robin Hood adventure. The Merry Men-as Scarlet (Grimes), A’Dayle (Doyle) and Little John (Durand)-are all close friends of Crowe’s. Grimes and Durand both starred with Crowe in the hockey movie Mystery, Alaska some ten years earlier, and Doyle, a musician who is making his acting debut with Robin Hood, has worked with Crowe on several song writing projects.
That off screen friendship was vital, says the director, because it fed into their roles on screen as a band of comrades in arms who have fought alongside each other for years.
"Yes and they worked out really nicely. They are great guys. There’s the big guy, Kevin, and Alan Doyle the singer who plays Allan A’Dayle, and Scott who is Will Scarlet, and they are all great. Scott is a good singer, by the way, just like Alan."
Cate Blanchett plays Lady Marion Loxley, a feisty widow who runs her estate on the outskirts of Nottingham and tries to help the poor the best she can.
"I found Cate to be terrifically comedic actually. She has a great sense of humor that she brings to the part. And she’s lovely to work with. She’s a real pro and I loved that whole experience," says Scott.
FILMING LOCATIONS. Fittingly, Scott would use some of the same locations for Robin Hood that he had used ten years earlier for Gladiator, notably Bourne Wood near Farnham, Surrey, England, where the iconic opening sequences of Gladiator were filmed.
Returning to the same spot to film was an emotional moment for both director and star. "It was fabulous going back there," he says. "Russell and I stood on the exact same spot saying, ’Wow, this is where we started talking about that bird on the branch and you were thinking about home,’ and that was the very first shot in Gladiator."
"And we shot literally in the same valley. I put the French castle on the hill in the same position where Marcus Aurelius’s tents were and we shot on the battleground below."
"I used it for several locations actually. That valley was so useful I cannot begin to tell you. You can drive a hundred yards, go round the corner and you are suddenly in Spain, go round the corner and you are somewhere else. It’s incredible."
Robin Hood was based at Shepperton near London and Scott used locations within a 30-mile radius of the studios. A notable exception saw Scott take his cast and crew to the coast of Pembrokeshire, Wales, the location for one of the big set piece battles in the film where Robin leads his men to repel an invasion by the French.
"You know, I never complain because I kind of love it," says Scott who, at 72, packs the energy of a man half his age. "But I was concerned about the scenes in Wales because we were in the sea with knights in chain mail and spears and arrows and horses and landing craft, and that spells total disaster because the sea doesn’t stay still, of course."
"That beach is spectacular but the tide shoots in and once it’s coming in it moves like lightning and nothing is in the same position twice. So once you say ’action,’ the landing craft arrives, horses shoot out and stumble ashore, arrows fly through the air, and once you shout ’cut,’ you want the landing craft back out but you can’t because they’ve grounded on the bloody sand so you have to wait for the sea to come forging in and lift them up so you can go again."
Scott and his team of writers (and even Crowe) carried out extensive research into the origins of the Robin Hood story. So does he believe that the man who robbed the rich to give to the poor actually existed?
"Definitely," he says. "It’s like asking, ’Did King Arthur exist?’ Definitely. But you know historians always say, ’But it didn’t happen that way,’ and I always ask, ’Were you there?’ And they say, ’No’ and I say, ’Well, then how do you know?"
"There is a lot of liberty and logical appraisal to be taken of history. Robin Hood, Green Man, Robin of Loxley, Robin of Sherwood, Robert of this and Robert of that. The Green Man-all those English pubs that are named after him-are all certainly Robin Hood and they occur over a period between the 11th and 14th century, so clearly there was someone who symbolized an heroic figure who would take from the rich and give to the poor, a man who was heroic and fair."