The Eagle Cast
:Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong Director
: Kevin Macdonald Genre
: Adventure, DramaRated
: PGRunning Time
: 114 minutesSynopsis
: In 2nd-Century Britain, two men - master and slave - venture beyond the edge of the known world on a dangerous and obsessive quest that will push them beyond the boundaries of loyalty and betrayal, friendship and hatred, deceit and heroism…The Roman epic adventure The Eagle is directed by Kevin Macdonald and produced by Duncan Kenworthy. Jeremy Brock has adapted the screenplay from Rosemary Sutcliff's classic novel The Eagle of the Ninth.
In 140 AD, the Roman Empire extends all the way to Britain - though its grasp is incomplete, as the rebellious tribes of Caledonia (today's Scotland) hold sway in the far North. Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) arrives in Britain, determined to restore the tarnished reputation of his father, Flavius Aquila. It was 20 years earlier that Rome's 5,000-strong Ninth Legion, under the command of Flavius and carrying their golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth, marched north into Caledonia. They never returned; Legion and Eagle simply vanished into the mists. Angered, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of a wall to seal off the territory; Hadrian's Wall became the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire - the edge of the known world.
Driven to become a brilliant soldier and now given command of a small fort in the southwest, Marcus bravely leads his troops during a siege. Commended by Rome for his bravery, yet discharged from the army because of his severe wounds, Marcus convalesces, demoralized, in the villa of his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland), a retired army man. When Marcus impulsively gets a young Briton's life spared at a gladiatorial contest, Aquila buys the Briton, Esca (Jamie Bell), to be Marcus' slave. Marcus is dismissive of Esca, who harbors a seething hatred of all things Roman. Yet Esca vows to serve the man who has saved his life.
Hearing a rumor that the Eagle has been seen in a tribal temple in the far north, Marcus is galvanized into action, and sets off with Esca across Hadrian's Wall. But the highlands of Caledonia are a vast and savage wilderness, and Marcus must rely on his slave to navigate the region. When they encounter ex-Roman soldier Guern (Mark Strong), Marcus realizes that the mystery of his father's disappearance may well be linked to the secret of his own slave's identity and loyalty - a secret all the more pressing when the two come face-to-face with the warriors of the fearsome Seal Prince (Tahar Rahim).Release Date
: July 21st, 2011Actors Take Flight
In casting the movie's lead roles, Kevin Macdonald notes, "We had to think at all times in terms of two people, not just one. For a romantic comedy, you can't cast one person in isolation and then find just another as a match - you need to take the chemistry between them into account. It was the same here.
"It was important to me that these two young men look completely different and be culturally different. The aim was to cast a true Celt to play Esca. It just so happened that Jamie Bell is from the same part of northern England that the character is from; Esca's tribe, the Brigantes, hails from the Sunderland area, which is where Jamie grew up."
Adhering to the mandate established in development - American actors as Romans, British actors as Britons - the director "asked Jamie Bell to use his own accent to emphasise his difference from Channing Tatum, who is speaking in his own American accent. This way there's not only this physical friction between the two, but an ever-present difference in culture that comes out in the way each speaks and the way each moves.
"Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell were committed and enthusiastic, and came prepared. That was a godsend, but what we couldn't plan for is how well they got on; they became good pals. Right from the beginning, they steeped themselves in the period and their characters, and wanted to do all their own stunts."
Stunt coordinator Domonkos PĂˇrdĂˇnyi was working with as many as several dozen men at a time. He reports, "With Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell being game for everything we do, the cameras could get angles which they couldn't have had with stunt doubles. It didn't take long for these two actors to pick up fight choreography."
Duncan Kenworthy clarifies, "In the end we were able to let them do most of their own stunts, which - given the insurance ramifications - was quite unusual. Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell became pretty skilled at horse-riding, fighting, and sliding down waterfalls! So the insurers grew increasingly confident. Of course both of our stars got their break in a dance movie - Channing Tatum in Step Up, and Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot. They both have physical grace and the ability to learn from a choreographer, which is basically what fighting - and dance - is all about."
Kevin Macdonald adds, "Channing Tatum has played soldiers before, in American films, so he well understands the military mentality and has a lot of sympathy for these men. What Marcus wants to do is prove that he is a better Roman soldier than anyone, or than anyone expects. When he can no longer do that, he still has the drive to prove that his father was not a coward and was in fact a great solider. Channing Tatum creates such empathy that the audience will go with him on Marcus' journey of rediscovery and of renewal."
Jeremy Brock attended the two weeks of rehearsals that introduced the actors to each other, and admits, "When you write a screenplay and you first hear it acted out, apart from the fact that you are ecstatically happy that something you wrote is getting filmed, you find yourself unable to go back to how you heard it in your head. It becomes the actors' piece, and you alter it, making tweaks so that it sounds right coming from them."
He adds, "Channing Tatum approached the role with a wonderful openheartedness. Everybody knows that he is strong and charismatic, but what surprised me was how sensitive he was to the shifts in Marcus' emotional journey. Marcus migrates from confident warrior to despair to a different kind of confidence, underscored by a new maturity. Channing Tatum negotiates that trajectory with great sensitivity and thought.
"Jamie Bell really thinks things through. The first time he turned up at rehearsal, he had notes, he had a book, and he had questions. You feel that he is not acting Esca but that he is being Esca. He allowed himself to explore what it would feel like to be a Briton, with all that pride and sense of self submerged into slavery."
Playing so many of his scenes opposite Jamie Bell, Channing Tatum found the younger actor becoming a valued colleague and friend. Channing Tatum states, "There were emotional connections in our scenes together - whether they were emotional scenes or not, you are still opening up. Jamie Bell will probably be a friend of mine forever.
"Our characters are two guys that are lost, broken, and alone. If you've wanted something your whole life, and then it gets taken away from you, what makes you keep going? Marcus and Esca have to discover that after they are imprinted on each other. Throughout this journey, what they get from each other is unexpected solace and repair. They learn a lot about honor, friendship, and trust."
Jamie Bell explains, "When Marcus and Esca meet in the sequence at the arena, they are in the same scenario; each is striving for a sense of belonging, while their freedom is being taken away from them. Their journey is made with the understanding that your saving grace could also be your enemy. This is an epic movie, but it's also very subtle in terms of the relationship between these two lost men who go on a suicide mission.
"I saw in Esca a character with real range; I became fascinated with his wildness, his unshakable mental strength, his steadfast holding to the value of honor and the way he conveys that to Marcus. It's not in the script, but I gave thought to the last hours and days before he was enslaved. Playing him, I often had to walk a fine line. Central to the film was something which I found relevant in terms of today's society; the theme of unwanted customs, beliefs, and ways of life being thrust upon an indigenous culture."
Making the movie "fulfilled childhood dreams of mine," states Channing Tatum. "I've been so blessed to have experiences like this in making movies. It was like I was in my backyard playing, even though I was riding out on cliffs and running through fields with swords."
Jamie Bell concurs, saying that he often thought, "I get to fight and use a sword? That's out of most kids' dreams."
The Eagle reminded Channing Tatum of movies "like The Searchers, in terms of going into the unknown to find something and also part of yourself, and Braveheart - which is one of my favorite movies."
Channing Tatum further cites not The Last King of Scotland but rather another movie from director Kevin Macdonald; "Touching the Void shows how great Kevin Macdonald is at depicting relationships, especially friendships. The Eagle is an epic story, but it's also a personal one about two men finding a reason to live. He can focus on two people and convey a sense of how they really feel about each other, what they go through. So I knew that he would get the essence of this movie right."
JamieBell agrees, adding that "Touching the Void, like The Eagle, sets its two men against a landscape. The two weeks Kevin Macdonald spent with us in the rehearsal room is where I really saw his talent. He wanted this movie to work on different levels. During filming when we were against the elements on location, he would push you and push you, for the good of the film. I respect that kind of filmmaker being at the helm.
"When Kevin Macdonald told me he wanted Channing Tatum to play Marcus, I thought the combination of the two of us would bring something dynamic and unique to the movie. When we started work in the rehearsal room, I got the chance to see how Channing Tatum approaches a role; to him, everything is personal. His depth and understanding of the character, and the way he came to life in those two weeks of rehearsals, was a joy to watch."
Channing Tatum reveals, "This was the first time on a movie that I'd ever gotten to rehearse with a director, a screenwriter, and another actor. During those two weeks, we put the scenes up on their feet."
Confirming Duncan Kenworthy's assessment of the two actors' shared skills, Jamie Bell comments, "As we both come from a dancing background, we had a connection right away and it was naturally easier for us to grasp all the physical elements of the picture that were required. Channing Tatum is a very hands-on kind of actor, and he likes to be in the thick of it - seemingly, the more dangerous the action, the more he wants to do it! He enjoys putting himself through those physical tests; I believe it enables him to better understand situations, and chart the feelings, on his character's journey. His stunt double often did not get so much as a sniff of the set…"
Duncan Kenworthy reports, "During filming of one sequence, Channing Tatum came up to me to thank me for letting me do the stunt. I told him what the deductible was that we would have to pay in the event of an insurance claim, and he said, 'I'd help you out with that.' I told him, 'The way that you can really help us is by not having an accident!'"
Channing Tatum had placed himself on "a special meal plan to get lean," which he commenced two months before the start of filming, and practiced mixed-martial-arts in advance as well as learning to wield a sword.
The actor says, "I don't think I could have done this movie without having an athletic background. The physicality of Marcus is such an important component - the way he moves, walks and talks. We had training in horseback riding, marching, and participating in a Roman testudo [tortoise-shaped, shield defense] formation.
"That's important, but for me, it was about getting right the more subtle things, like walking as a Roman would, and not being loose and relaxed. When you put on a pair of sandals, it makes you walk different. Then you sound different, because you are holding yourself a certain way and the resonance in your chest has changed, and you're no longer sounding contemporary. It totally puts you into character. Marcus also has a limp through the majority of the film. I had to keep reminding myself of little things like that."
Jamie Bell, who also started prep work a couple of months before filming, remarks, "For me, the biggest challenge was, we were going to be on horseback for half of the movie. I had never ridden a horse before, and had developed a general anxiety towards them. I told Duncan Kenworthy and Kevin Macdonald that it was imperative to get me in the saddle as soon as possible.
"I trained on a horse for about six weeks, three lessons a week. I owe everything to my trainer at The Devil's Horsemen, Camilla Naprous, whose incredible natural affinity with horses put me at ease. Two weeks after the first lesson I was trick riding and had found a comfort and a delight at being around these animals. When you have to deliver pages of dialogue and access emotion, you need to be able to forget you're riding a horse and my training helped me achieved that. I'm now searching for a great Western to do!"
Although he was no stranger to fight training and choreography, these elements of the shoot still required Jamie Bell's attention and input. He explains, "When I approach the physical component of a role, it always has to be led by character. So I wanted to differentiate the way Esca approaches combat. Channing Tatum's character is a trained fighter and soldier, an efficient killer trained by an efficient army, whilst Esca fights from his gut, using his finely tuned instinct and spirit. There is a profound aggression within Esca; every fight is a fight for honor, for freedom and for his family. There's conflict for him at every turn in the journey with Marcus; Esca has found himself siding with his enemy and he struggles with questions of loyalty."
Able to hew closely to his own native Sunderland accent for the role, Bell found researching the role fascinating. He admits, "I knew very little about the Roman occupation of Britain, and of Britain itself during this period in history. What I found is that the only material of semi-accurate value comes from the classical writers; Tacitus, Strabo, and Caesar.
"Despite being forced into submission and servitude, legends like Boudicca and Calgacus arose through rebellion and kept the Romans on their guard. For me, reading up on the Celts - or, what they called Celts - and the Romans was fascinating. It was surely a surreal time for both the invaders and the natives. I read Calgacus' speech - as transcribed by Tacitus - to his army before the battle of Mons Graupius, and was very moved and motivated. I held his words in the back of my mind the whole time whilst portraying Esca."
Although The Eagle is dominated by the two-man journey, three key roles called for actors who could command attention from both the other characters and the audience.
To play the only family that Marcus has left, Kevin Macdonald "always wanted Donald Sutherland - he was the first person I thought of. You can't be a movie fan and not love him, given all those great pictures he's made. When working, he is so engaged and intellectually curious. Donald Sutherland gives his all, and that's a marvelous gift."
Duncan Kenworthy adds, "Donald Sutherland injects such unique energy into his scenes. When he is in a scene, you can't take your eyes off of him. He is full of vitality - which is crucial, as his character helps brings Marcus back to life."
Channing Tatum elaborates, "Uncle Aquila pushes Marcus, and makes him get out of bed in the morning which at that point in the story is the only thing that keeps Marcus going. He's a wise, quirky man - and that's who Donald Sutherland is, too."
The two-time Golden Globe Award winner was impressed by his younger costar, saying that "Channing Tatum tears in with a vengeance, pursuing the truth, digging it out all the time. One day, we were sitting around the Coliseum set. I noticed that he had headphones on. I thought, 'Oh he's listening to some on-the-edge band I've never heard of.' But I asked him, and - turns out it was a book he was listening to. He downloaded books on Ancient Rome, philosophy, politics…the dedication that this young actor has is a wonder."
Mark Strong, cited by Duncan Kenworthy as "one of Britain's most versatile and talented actors, who seems to immerse himself effortlessly whatever the role," took on the character of Guern, whose very existence comes as a surprise.
Kevin Macdonald notes, "Mark Strong is an actor I have always admired. He often plays villainous characters but I recognised a sensitivity in him. Guern has carried a shame with him for 20 years, and realises that he can now no longer run from his past."
Strong relished the opportunity to join what he praises as a "formidable team," and to delve into his character's back story, since it impacts the journey of Marcus and Esca. The actor notes, "Guern is pivotal to the theme of personal discovery for the characters in this story, which I see as a coming-of-age adventure. I could see Guern's past as being not many miles removed from the experience of young men who have had to experience Vietnam or Iraq; a young soldier, in the heat of battle, makes a crucial decision. He then has to live with that decision for the rest of his life.
"So, I didn't need to do much research into Guern as a Celt, or Guern as a Roman; what I concentrated on was playing a person who as a young man had believed in something but then had an extreme shock - and has been in hiding thereafter."
Mark Strong clarifies that "'Guern the Hunter' is his Celtic identity. His real name is Lucius Caius Metellus, and he was a foot soldier in the first cohort of the Ninth Legion."
Channing Tatum feels that Guern's presence in the story was enhanced by the actor's commitment to the role. He reports, "On location, I came upon Mark Strong sitting by the river one day and it just looked like he had just grown right out of the ground. He had this great look to him, and when we started playing the scene, his voice sounded like it has roots to the earth.
"Another character who I'm looking forward to seeing on-screen is the Seal Prince. The way Tahar Rahim played him, the majestic calmness makes him feel even more dangerous."
Tahar Rahim, the French actor who attracted the world film community's attention with his starring role in Un Prophete, sees his character as "a hunter and a warrior who is protecting his people's tribe. He may be a barbarian, but he's not insane; he just has a different culture and rules that he lives by.
"When I read the script, I saw something political. It is about two people from different countries, who are opposite in everything but they have to work side by side. In the course of the trip, Marcus' purpose in life changes. Travelling does change you, and if you don't change, then you haven't learnt anything."
Though he wears less clothing than the other main actors, Tahar Rahim spent far more time being tended to by Graham Johnston's make-up and hair department. Yet it may have been a beneficial early call to have; the green mud used to paint the skin of the Seal Warriors was a Hungarian mud-mask treatment purchased in bulk from the famous spas of Budapest.
The actor reports, "It took an hour each day to put it on. This ancient tribal look - with mud everywhere, for their camouflage - was based in reality. I had to keep that in mind, playing scenes simply, because the look 'talks' enough."
Tahar Rahim found himself "very much enjoying the challenges of working with a foreign cast and crew - and having to say my lines in a language new to me." Fluent in English and Arabic as well as his native French, he "had to learn and say my lines in ancient Gaelic, getting the accent right while also understanding the meaning of what I was saying.
"Just by being in the movie, and in the landscape we were filming in, I was part of an amazing adventure." The Eagle Has Landed
Duncan Kenworthy says, "Producing is usually a series of painful moments separated by occasional pleasures. This time, though, even when times were tough there was always pleasure, because with this team of brilliant, committed people I'd finally managed to do what I'd dreamed about for all those years - bring this great story to the screen.
"One of the things I most appreciate about Kevin Macdonald as a director - one of the things that mark him as special - is his drive to make every scene count. Nothing gets in the way of the storytelling. He wants to intrigue, move, and entertain you at every turn. I hope - I believe - that The Eagle does just that."
Kevin Macdonald offers, "The Eagle has a story that grabs you from the beginning, and you don't know where it is going to take you. It's also a serious character study.
"Above all, though, this is a rip-roaring tale!"