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The Eagle - Kevin Macdonald and Duncan Kenworthy interview

The Eagle

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KEVIN Macdonald (director) and Duncan Kenworthy (producer) talk about some of the challenges of making Roman epic The Eagle, including accessing remote Scottish Highlands locations and finding the right tone to secure a 12A certificate.

Q. The film looked one of the most physically arduous films I’ve seen of late. When you were planning the movie, did you have to prepare the actors for how much of a tough time they were in for?
Kevin Macdonald: Channing, I think, is from Florida, so he wasn’t quite expecting the rigours of Scotland in the winter! But Jamie knew what to expect. A lot of it involved shooting in remote locations, particularly in the small villages up in the north west of Scotland. We had to walk quite a long way to get to the location. Just putting up the sets and building all those huts and things was incredibly difficult for the construction and art department because it was so windy. We had a particularly terrible patch of weather just before we started shooting. And because the guys were only wearing period costumes most of the time, such as capes, it wasn’t exactly warm.

Q. Duncan, you’ve longed to do this as a project for years and years. But to do it right it needs to be as authentic looking as possible… So, what went through your mind in terms of what you thought you could get away with and what you had to do for real?
Duncan Kenworthy: Well, one of the things that Kevin and I both agreed on was that we wanted it to seem as authentic as possible. Somehow, between Gladiator, which I loved personally and thought reinforced the need for a film like this, whereas Troy and Alexander which – whatever you think of them – are full of CGI.

I thought actually that’s not the way it should be… it should be something smaller, sort of like a Roman documentary because the quality of the book is very much about the physical environment and CGI seemed to go against that. We both thought: “Why is it that so few films have been made in the Highlands of Scotland?” If it was America, they’re so good at taking advantage of all their natural assets and I could only name Rob Roy as taking place truly in the Highlands, whereas Braveheart went to Ireland. But now we know why… because it’s too hard! If we’d been a bigger film, we wouldn’t have taken the risk of the weather. We had no plan B. If we’d been a smaller film, we couldn’t have afforded the 4×4 vehicles. So, I think we were just through the eye of the needle and we took the risk and it worked.

Q. What kind of experience or knowledge did you have of the Rosemary Sutcliff novel upon which this is based?
Kevin Macdonald: I’d read the books when I was 11 or 12 I think and they made a big impact on me. It was something about the idea of Romans in Scotland… I grew up in Scotland and I couldn’t imagine there being Romans there. So, it captured my imagination. Then I heard 30 years later or so that Duncan had the rights to the book and was also passionate about it, so that’s how we got together.

Q. Have you discussed the idea of sequels? Or filming another in the series of Rosemary’s books?
Kevin Macdonald: We haven’t discussed that to be honest. The books are very interesting – the two books that come after it are not really sequels, they’re in more of a sequence. They’re following the bloodline of Marcus Aquila and following the ring, so the next book is not Marcus – it’s his descendent. And likewise with the book that follows after that. So, it’s kind of a very intriguing notion.

Q. Duncan, would you be interested in developing more of the books?
Duncan Kenworthy: We have an option on the next two in the sequence, and I think The Lantern Bearers would make a fantastic movie but as Kevin says, they’re not sequels to this. We’ve been accused, or maybe praised, for setting up a possible sequel in the last scene between the two main characters. You know: “What next?” “You decide!” So, it would be quite interesting to see what they end up doing. So, why not?

Q. Kevin, did you have to have any discussions about the grisly content?
Kevin Macdonald: Well, to me it doesn’t seem very grisly but once you’re involved in the material you sort of cease to see any shock behind it. The film is 12A, which means that children can see it if they’re accompanied by an adult and I think that’s probably an appropriate position for it.

Q. And Duncan, as a producer going in, do you have a rating in mind?
Duncan Kenworthy: I think we agreed that we would let the film tell us what the rating should be. You can’t have a film about battle and warfare without having some violence. But we weren’t making the film because we were driven to make a gory spectacle. I’m proud of the ratings system here [in the UK] that it is a 12A; it is the director’s cut. It was rated initially in America a hard R, and the studio wanted a PG-13, so we had to make a few cuts. I think flying blood was the problem, isn’t that right Kevin?

Kevin Macdonald: Yes [laughs]. You’re allowed blood on the ground but we weren’t allowed blood in the air. But I think the film is very moral and in some ways very old fashioned in its values, so it’s not filled with gratuitous violence. I think that it’s striving to be historical and to put these men’s lives into some sort of context. So, in doing that you have to have a certain amount of horror to know the jeopardy that they’re in.

Read our review of The Eagle

Read our interview with Tahar Rahim