”We keep replaying history,” says Ridley Scott. ”We don’t seem to learn s—, do we?” So open your notebooks and sharpen those No. 2 pencils. Kingdom of Heaven chronicles a chapter of the Crusades that has to do with a 12th-century blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) whose spiritual journey across the Middle East finds him defending Jerusalem from invading Muslims and romancing a princess (The Dreamers‘ Eva Green).
”I was constantly studying to have an understanding of the period,” says Bloom, who previously fell from a helicopter for Scott in Black Hawk Down. ”It’s a huge, huge topic.” And it was a huge, huge production, with sets in Spain and Morocco, where Scott staged a re-creation of 1187’s Battle of Hattin. Bloom, meanwhile, trained hard for his first major lead role, gorging on six daily meals, adding 15 pounds of muscle, and rehearsing swordplay on his day off. ”It was just the most exhilarating ride of my life,” the actor says.
But while the shoot abroad went smoothly, the $100 million-plus movie is still a risk at home. Since Scott’s Gladiator won 2000’s Best Picture Oscar, sword-and-sandal flicks have stumbled. Troy, King Arthur, and Alexander were all disappointments at the domestic box office last year; a flop by Kingdom could bury the genre. Then there’s the war in Iraq. Scott understands that his clashing-cultures plot could cause a stir, given the current state of world affairs. ”I hope it doesn’t distract from the movie,” he says. ”I hope the movie stands on its own two feet as a movie, not a documentary.”