With “The Eagle” currently in theaters, the cast and crew seem grateful they might finally see the fruits of their physically and emotionally demanding shoot. Shot entirely on location in the Scottish Highlands, “The Eagle” placed its stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell in often-grueling situations under the careful direction of filmmaker Kevin Macdonald.
Last week in a press junket in Beverly Hills — far from the harsh conditions of rural Scotland — the film’s stars and director discussed the origins of the film and their experiences filming it.
“I saw this as a Western in Scotland,” Macdonald (“State of Play”) said.
Macdonald expanded on his American vision for what seems to be a uniquely European story.
“The idea of seeing the Romans as marines seemed like a very attractive, contemporary way into making this film,” the Oscar-winning director said when asked about the unorthodox casting of an American in the role of a Roman soldier.
Macdonald claimed he knew Tatum (“Step Up”) was perfect for the part the second he met him.
“I just instantly saw him as a soldier,” Macdonald said.
Just as Macdonald immediately knew Tatum was right for the role, Tatum immediately knew the role was right for him.
“‘Gladiator’ and ‘Braveheart’ are two of my favorite films,” the self-confessed history-buff said. Instead of listening to music on his iPod between filming takes, Tatum listened to a multitude of audiobooks on Roman history — a technique he claimed helped him stay in the role.
It wasn’t just the historical element that piqued Tatum’s interest in the role of Marcus, an ex-Roman soldier on a mission to restore his family’s name. After portraying soldiers in the films “Stop-Loss” and “Dear John,” Tatum admitted to finding military-related roles particularly fascinating.
“I definitely have an affinity for soldiers and what they stand for and what they do,” Tatum said.
After casting Tatum, Macdonald claimed the casting of Bell (“Billy Elliot”) as Esca came just as easily.
“As much as I wanted them to be a cultural odd couple, I also wanted them to be a physical odd couple,” Macdonald said. Comparing both the physical and cultural attributes of Tatum with Bell, it’s clear Macdonald accomplished his goal.
Reflecting on his own experience filming, Bell recalled the competitive relationship between him and Tatum.
“There’s a great competitive nature between the two of us,” Bell said. “Who has the bigger sword? Who’s got the faster horse? Who can dance better? Which is great because it’s exactly what these two characters need to go on the journey with.”
Upon hearing this, Tatum was quick to clarify where this competitive nature came from. “[Bell’s] the one that’s competitive,” Tatum argued, grinning. “That kid made everything into a competition.”
When asked about filming on location in the Scottish Highlands, both Bell and Tatum began recounting their grueling experiences.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever done,” Bell said, recalling the scenes shot in the freezing-cold riverbeds. “Physical environment always informs physical performance,” he explained when justifying the need for the harsh filming conditions. “It feels really bad, so then it looks really good.”
Tatum has his own war stories from filming, with one particular instance making headlines earlier in the year. The incident in question being when a crewmember accidentally poured scalding water down Tatum’s wetsuit in an attempt to keep the actor warm while filming some of the river scenes. Despite being rushed to the hospital due to severe burns on his member, Tatum returned to set the next day, ready to work.
When asked if the crewmember who made the infamous mistake was fired, Tatum quickly came to their defense.
“No, I would not let him get fired,” Tatum said. “That poor kid had to run 15 minutes up to the truck all day for 13 hours for weeks at a time to just try and help keep us warm. If he was incompetent or bad at his job, I probably would’ve blown his teeth down his throat. But he wasn’t … and he bought me a bottle of whiskey too, so that always helps.”
Summing up the undeniably difficult filming process, Tatum said, “This shoot was the hardest thing that I think anyone [on the film] has ever done.”
“The Eagle” is currently playing at Metropolitan Fairview Theatre in Goleta and the Metropolitan Fiesta 5 Theatre in Santa Barbara.