Robin Hood: Interview with Actor Russell Crowe

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Russell Crowe stars in "Robin Hood," directed by Ridley Scott and also starring Cate Blanchett. The latest version of the classic fairy tale is being released on May 14 by Universal Pictures.


An Enthused Actor


“I was very enthusiastic,” Crowe says.  “Robin Hood has always been in the back of my mind since I was a child.  I was a big fan of the various incarnations I saw when I was growing up.  There’s a universal connection that everyone makes to Robin Hood, which is at the core of the story: there might be somebody out there who cares enough to redress the imbalance.  There’s an empowerment quality about Robin to which people respond.” 


Doing it Right


Crowe’s agreement, however, came with a caveat.  “I said I’d do Robin Hood, but only if it were a fresh take,” he adds.  “It is one of the longest-surviving stories in the English language.  That requires due respect.  I took the attitude that if you’re going to revitalize Robin Hood, it has to be done on the basis that whatever you thought you knew about the legend was an understandable mistake.  It has to be different from what has come before.  Take Robin and Little John, for example, who don’t get on when they first meet.  When we first meet them, they have a disagreement.  But that doesn’t take place on a log over a creek with a staff fight, which has been done to death.  What we’ve done is to redefine the times and shift the timeline.” 


He adds, “We have a situation where the man who basically invented taxation is the same King John who signed the first version of the Magna Carta.  We have a period between 1199 and 1215, and it felt like that was the ideal breeding ground for revolution…or the birth of a revolutionary figure.  As much of the film is predating the Magna Carta, then it’s possibly the birth of a nation as well—the birth of England and everything that is great about it.” 


Intense Preparation


To prepare for this role, Crowe read more than 30 books about Robin Hood and the late 12th and early 13th centuries.  “Robin is a witness to that death at the age of five,” explains Crowe.  “He is then left in a monastery with the Templar Knights in France.  His guardians [Loxley and Marshal] go off to the Crusade, but several years later when they come back, he’s not there.  He’s had a very hard time, been treated badly, and he’s gone with the one piece of equipment that he was left with, his father’s cuirass.  You can imagine a small child dragging around a fully grown man’s chest-plate armor.” 


When we are introduced to Robin during Richard’s siege in France, he has no knowledge of life before his father was killed.  “He’s suppressed the memory of watching his father die,” says Crowe.  “In his mind, his mother and father just got rid of him and stopped loving him.  That’s what has been on his mind for 35 to 40 years.  


Working with the Academy Award-winning Cate Blanchett


Crowe recounts: “Her demeanor, everything about her…I was kicking myself.  Why hadn’t I thought of it before?  Cate is a magnificent actress.  She has resilience and a resonance.  She’s tough, strong and single-minded.  Every decision she makes is about truth.  She has complete control over her emotional responses, so she can make the smallest gesture a gigantic statement.”  


During an Australian event at which Blanchett and Crowe attended, Crowe asked the crowd if they thought that he and Blanchett should make a film together.  “A thousand people loudly supported the idea,” he remembers.  “Her eyes were shining, so she obviously thought it was a great idea too.”


With Blanchett on board, the filmmakers developed the “Petruchio and Kate” relationship that evolves after Robin’s return to England brings him to Lady Marion’s home of Peper Harow in Nottingham.  According to Crowe, they agreed that Robin and Marion should be “of a kind.”  He explains: “The Marion relationship has certain Shakespearean elements to it.  It’s very much The Taming of the Shrew.  Robin and Marion don’t get on at all when they first meet, but there is a latent kindness to both these people.  They are similar creatures who have been looking for some sign of that intuitive kindness in other people all their lives.” 


Living the Role


Already a master horseman, Crowe embraced the physical challenges of production by undergoing a grueling workout regimen and becoming an accomplished archer, quite skilled with the difficult longbow.  Following in the steps of Robin Hood, he became proficient at shooting the very challenging weapon while wearing heavy chain mail.  As well, he trained for three months in Australia and would hunt in the forest barefoot.  “You’ve got to make the thing that’s part of your character part of you,” Crowe advises.  “If you’re going to fire a bow and arrow, then you need to learn how to do it because the circumstances are never going to be perfect.”  


A stickler for detail, the actor spent many months in training, soon learning that shooting Robin’s arrows was much more difficult than it initially seemed.  “You’re going to have to fire at a certain mark, in a certain place, and you’re going to be firing while you’re running, while it’s raining,” Crowe offers.  “There was an extended period where I was firing 200 arrows a day.”  That is roughly equivalent to what an Olympic archer would do in preparation for a competition.  “It’s just what you do,” he adds.  “It’s the quiet contemplation and the work before there’s film in the camera that creates the character.”