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Robin Hood - Mark Strong interview

Mark Strong in Robin Hood

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MARK Strong talks to us about playing the villainous Sir Godfrey in Sir Ridley Scott’s re-invention of the legend of Robin Hood.

He also talks about sword-fighting on the beach with Russell Crowe, why the Robin Hood legend is so enduring and why audiences should be pleasantly surprised by this new version…

Q. Robin Hood is set to open Cannes. Are you looking forward to being part of that experience?
Mark Strong: I am, I am. Opening the festival is an amazing thing.

Q. You’re on a real hot streak of playing villains – Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass among them – but where does Sir Godfrey rate among them?
Mark Strong: Oh, he’s up there! He’s pretty bad [smiles]. What’s lovely about him is that he’s so visceral and so brutal. I get to ride a horse and smash monks over the head with maces at the same time!

Q. Did he exist?
Mark Strong: There was a Sir Godfrey, who was an eminent knight. I don’t think he was a bad guy. But basically the source material for him is Guy of Gisbourne in the original script… King John’s right-hand man. So, he’s kind of born out of him.

Q. What makes the legend of Robin Hood so enduring?
Mark Strong: I think the romantic notion of somebody who takes from the rich and gives to the poor is universal. The anti-establishment, rebellious figure… I think people also love the notion of an outsider, or an underdog – especially if you’re English.

Q. Were you surprised when you first read the script that Sir Ridley Scott had chosen to tell the making of the legend, rather than the legend itself? This film ends where most films about Robin Hood begin.
Mark Strong: Yeah, well originally when I saw the first script, while we were shooting Body of Lies in Morocco, it was an identity swap story. Fascinatingly, Robin Longstride – Robin Hood – was going to get the opportunity to step into the shoes of the Sheriff of Nottingham, which is why it was originally called Nottingham, and see things from the other point of view. Now, an element of that still exists in the story at the moment, because he takes on the persona of someone who has been killed. But to subsequently realise that the historical context means they could explore where this guy came from by having him be absent at The Crusades for most of his young life and coming home from The Crusades to find out who he really is… I think it’s a really good take on it.

Q. This is your second time with Sir Ridley and Russell Crowe. Do you feel like one of the team now? I remember you admitting to being quite nervous when you first went out to shoot with them on Body of Lies after your wife had given birth…
Mark Strong: That’s right. She obligingly gave birth the day before I was due to travel [to Morocco]. That was amazing because I got there, on Body of Lies, and we all sat around a table and wet the baby’s head. So, that was a fantastic introduction to have to them [smiles]. Subsequently, it was lovely seeing Russell again on Robin Hood, even though I didn’t have an awful lot to do with him during the film. But we had some down time and got to chat. Ridley [is someone] I’ve come to really admire and respect. I really enjoy his company. So being around with those guys was great.

Robin Hood

Q. You do get to fight Russell on the beach. How was that scene to film? I imagine quite exhausting, to say the least, given that you’re in your costume and chain-mail…
Mark Strong: Yeah, it was exhausting because I had seven layers of costume, which were also soaking wet! It made it pretty heavy and the swords aren’t light either. But just coming up out of the water and the context that it’s set in meant that you had to concentrate. It was also blisteringly hot in Wales, where we shot half of it… and the other half was in a tank in Pinewood with waves coming at you that had been created by machinery. So, you had to be on your toes.

Q. How was the scar make-up? Was it uncomfortable? It certainly helps to create a memorable look for you…
Mark Strong: It wasn’t actually. But it was a wonderful emblem to have this guy carry for the whole of the film… as the kind of open wound of his resentment if you like [laughs]. I enjoyed that. But they’re so good these days with prosthetics and stuff that it wasn’t a problem.

Q. How comfortable are you on a horse?
Mark Strong: Really good. I did a lot of riding on Stardust, so I got comfortable with it then, and subsequently I’ve got to really feel good. So, it was nice to be given the opportunity to ride again.

Q. When it comes to doing the research how much did you do into the period? And did you attempt to separate myth from reality?
Mark Strong: Well, the thing is there’s so many stories born up around Robin Hood that have been going on for God knows how long that you don’t really need to separate it. So, all I did was stick to this version and the script. If you looked at other versions, they weren’t particularly helpful other than providing a sort of general knowledge of who Richard [The Lionheart] was and who [King] John was.

Q. How do you think audiences will react to this version?
Mark Strong: I hope they’ll be intrigued and I hope they’ll feel that they’re seeing something a little bit fresh and a little bit knew. Obviously, people feel they know the Robin Hood story because it’s been told so many times in many forms, but this is an attempt to explain the origins of that and where it comes from. So, if people are worried that they’re going to see something they’ve seen before, what’s great is that it delivers something a little bit different.

Q. It’s also timely and does have contemporary resonance for anyone seeking it, what with issues of taxation and foreign conflicts…
Mark Strong: Definitely… and I’m particularly interested to see how the whole anti-French thing goes down at Cannes [laughs]. I’m surprised they chose it as their opening film… it was very bold of them! The old foe as a villain is always great and taxes are always an issue, aren’t they? But it’s also fascinating to know that at the time that was how things were paid for. You had to give some of your crops, and stuff that you worked very hard for, to the church, who would then store it for you in barns. So, that was your tax if you couldn’t pay cash. And the idea that someone else was riding around taking all of your money… it’s amazing that there weren’t revolutions all the time.

Q. Has Sir Ridley said anything about revisiting it for a sequel? It’s left pretty open for one…
Mark Strong: Well yeah, absolutely, because you get to the end of the movie and arrive at the point where Robin becomes Robin, so it certainly leaves it open. The truth is, these days everybody is making a film with a view to expanding on it. So, rather than make a five hour movie, make a movie and give yourself the option to follow it up sometime if people enjoy it. And in a way, there’s nothing wrong with that because if people do enjoy a film, you want to see another one. But if it doesn’t work and people aren’t interested then you can always just leave it at that. But I think it’s great that he has the opportunity to take it somewhere if he wants to.

View photos from Robin Hood

  1. Mark Strong makes this film. Historically it’s inept, accent wise don’t ask. But Strong is the perfect villain. Good on him too

    Frank    May 24    #