Outlaw King star Chris Pine and director David Mackenzie are here with a wee Scottish history lesson for you.
Aware that some people might not know much more about Scotland’s turbulent past other than William Wallace’s fight for freedom, Mary Queen of Scots’ beheading, or perhaps the Jacobite rising of 1745 — thank you, Outlander for that one — the Scottish director set out to show his country’s history is far more sonorous than Mel Gibson’s cry for freedom with Netflix’s Outlaw King.
The gritty historical drama stars Pine as national hero and King of Scots, Robert the Bruce — oh, and also an outlaw for a minute there — who picked up Scotland’s struggle to throw off English occupation after William Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk, eventually regaining his country’s independence.
Ahead of the movie’s Netflix release on Friday, Pine and Mackenzie talked to EW about preparing for battle, purchasing kilts, and proving there’s much more to the story than Braveheart laid out.
EW: What made you want to bring this story of Robert the Bruce to the screen?
DAVID MACKENZIE: I wanted to tell the story because Robert has kind of got lost in history. People have kind of always thought of another character — who will remain nameless at the moment — as the hero, and it felt like a weird injustice and a slight dishonesty in the telling of history. So I wanted to get in there and try and do something that was closer to reality and obviously still entertaining.
CHRIS PINE: I liked that it was really hard to pin down Robert’s motivations. From all of the scholars I talked to and the books that I read, the fascinating thing about the man was that you couldn’t tell where his loyalties lay and what motivations were propelling him — that to me was fascinating and made him very human. He was a mystery to most people. I found playing that slipperiness really exciting; some people might want more straight-ahead illumination of a guy, but I found that kind of ambiguity really interesting
How was mastering the Scottish accent?
PINE: It was difficult to get an accent to be organic that is so foreign from my own. There were particular sounds that I stumbled on, but also just getting the musicality of the language down. I didn’t want it to be a movie about an accent; I didn’t want people to not believe I was Scottish, but I also couldn’t draw too much attention to it and away from the story.
Did you enjoy spending some time in Scotland?
PINE: I had a great time! We shot a pretty heavy schedule so there wasn’t much sight seeing. We just shot on something around 40 locations from top to bottom and I saw some spectacular spectacular natural visions out there — cliffs falling into the ocean, heather, beautiful rivers — so it was quite something and obviously the landscape is as much a part of the story as anything else.
Did you bring home a kilt?
[Laughs] No, I did not buy a kilt because there were no kilts in the 1300s! When I get my Scottish passport, I’ll get one.
Florence Pugh is such a powerful force as Robert’s second wife Elizabeth de Burgh. How was working with her?
MACKENZIE: Chris and Florence had a fantastic chemistry, and it was very obvious that these two were right for each other. She brings a real, easy authenticity to Elizabeth and inhabits what she’s doing in a way that’s incredibly fresh. It’s amazing that she is so honest for someone so young.
PINE: She’s an incredible talent. It was important for me to have a partner who felt like she came from the earth and was really strong, powerful and grounded — and Florence was that. She was a delight to work with and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.
And Aaron Taylor-Johnson is just terrific as a slightly wild James Douglas.
MACKENZIE: What’s interesting to me is that James Douglas is a character who’s allowed to express the raw anger and the patriotic stuff that Robert’s not quite allowed to express in making the character more sophisticated. He gets to be a channel for the rage and I think Aaron really understood that and went for it in a really interesting way. He made the character really intense and quite nutty and energized. I think it’s really interesting kind of buddy foil with Robert and how they have different functions in the narrative.
PINE: He brings a primal energy to it that’s really important. One of the meditations on violence in this film is the that men and women call themselves human and at the same time they’re as close to the earth and violent and animalistic as those that roam on four legs. I think that he brings that violent destructive power that is a part of this world and personifies it completely.
He’s insanely good in the last big battle scene. How was the experience of shooting that, Chris?
PINE: It was probably nearly a month of shooting. It was long and it was muddy and I think virtually shot in real time. We’d been preparing for the fight for a long time with the stunt coordinator; we had people on horseback and horses in mud. There’s a chaos and voracity in that it’s not hyper choreographed. It’s just disgusting and chaotic and sh–’s happening all over the place. After ten minutes of fighting I hope the audience is just as exhausted and visually inundated as we were when we finished the fight. I never thought of it as a victory at the end while the enemy scatters away, it’s just awful… Everybody lost somebody, people die, violence is brutal. It’s not supposed to be pretty and it doesn’t always have to end with the audience cheering. It sucks. The prince is pathetic — there’s nothing pretty about it, but that’s what I thought was so beautiful about it.
What do you hope people will learn from this movie?
PINE: For me, the most important thing in the film is something Angus (Tony Curran) says to me when I find out what’s happened to my family: “This is price you pay.” That was always deeply meaningful to me. We’re dealing with some major acts of violence propelled by many different ideologies — country, family, flag, nation — and there are deep, significant, real prices that have to be paid for that. It’s not always pretty but it happens all over the world. Robert’s a real person that did something quite extraordinary but had much destruction after it. We should take a hard look at why we do it and the people who do it.
MACKENZIE: We were trying to get under the skin of 14th-century life and the idea of what it must’ve been like to struggle with occupation and trying to unite your own country and do all the things that Robert does in the film. I wanted to give the audience an opportunity to think about those things.
Outlaw King rules Netflix on Friday.