Watch Angus Macfadyen reprise his Braveheart role in Robert the Bruce clip
One might expect any actor to have a special place in their heart for their breakthrough role. But Angus Macfadyen's connection to his goes deeper than most. The Scottish actor rose to prominence with his performance in Braveheart as Robert the Bruce, the warrior king of old who helped liberate Scotland from English rule in the 14th century. Now, 25 years after Mel Gibson's Best Picture-winning epic charged into theaters (and almost two years after Chris Pine played the Bruce in Netflix's Outlaw King), Macfadyen has stepped into the role again in the new film Robert the Bruce, which the actor spent more than a decade trying to bring to the screen.
"I started talking about it probably a few years after Braveheart came out," Macfadyen says of the new film, which he also produced and co-wrote. "It just wouldn't let me go. It was like having the ghost of Robert the Bruce walking around with me going, 'You really have to finish the story.'"
Robert the Bruce is far removed from Braveheart's epic scope, however. As the film begins, Robert has been declared an outlaw and is ready to give up his dreams of the throne, having suffered numerous defeats by the English army. Eventually, he finds his way to the home of a peasant family — as you can see in the exclusive clip above — who must help the would-be king evade capture and persuade him to take up the cause of Scottish independence once more.
"There's sort of a High Noon quality to the film, where you know that when the snows melt, the bad guys are coming for him. And there's going to be a showdown, but the showdown is completely one-sided," Macfadyen explains.
With Robert the Bruce now available on VOD (the film's director and cast, including Macfadyen, Jared Harris, and Shameless star Emma Kenney, will host a live watch party on Twitter at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Saturday), Macfadyen spoke to EW about stepping back into the title role, the long road to realizing the film, and how life imitated art before and during the shoot.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Talk about the road this film took to the screen.
ANGUS MACFADYEN: In 2006 we wrote the first script, which was a was a big-budget film, and we couldn't get the money to make that. So then we shrunk the script down in 2010 to a much more intimate story, about Robert the Bruce when he was on the run, and ended up in a cave and the mythology around that, which every Scottish kid knows about, Robert the Bruce and the spider. [According to legend, Robert watched a spider successfully weave a web after two failed attempts, which inspired him to continue his fight for Scotland's freedom.]
Other than budgetary restrictions, why did you want to tell this particular story with that kind of intimate approach?
Well, just for that reason. If you can get inside the skins of these few characters, you can identify with them, because they're the ordinary people of the land, and you can understand their fears. These are all people who've lost their fathers in wars for William Wallace or Robert the Bruce, and the story we're telling is about the consequences of war and violence on family, and the prices that ordinary people have to pay for the ambitions of, in this case, an aristocratic elitist. We still live in a feudal system, in some sense, and we've never we've never left it. There's the people who are the one percent who have all of the money, and then there's the rest of the people struggling to get by. It's something which I think people can connect with on an emotional, visceral level.
How is Robert different as a character here than the person we saw in Braveheart?
I think the arrogance, the ambition, the flush of youth, by this point, is gone. He considers himself a failure; he's lost fight after fight, he no longer feels he has God on his side, if he ever did. And he goes into a cave to basically die. And in that moment I think he has an epiphany, and comes out a changed man. It's like Joseph Campbell, it's the story of the man who goes into a cave and comes out a hero, ready to face his destiny when destiny is ready for him, not when he thinks it's ready for him.
How did it feel for you to return to the role after so many years?
It felt great. In a way, it's tailored to me, because I'm now a lot older, and so is the character. He's faced life, and it's knocked him down, and he keeps getting up. You bring your life experience to that. These things aren't things you can act; you're either able to be that, or you're not. So it was sort of like going into a cupboard and finding a box and opening it, finding a pair of dusty old slippers which you hadn't seen in 25 years, and putting them on and they feel warm and comfortable, and you just go, "I like these. I'll walk around in these."
In a way, the whole journey of trying to get the film made was very much a mirror experience of the story in the script. It took me twice as long to get the film made as it took him to actually become the king. And so that's what I brought to it. I actually lived the failure, again and again and again, until I basically gave up and went into my own metaphorical cave. And then by some divine providence, suddenly the money showed up one day, and from the moment of that happening to us shooting was a very fast period, three months. We had to start very fast because we had to shoot it in winter.
What was that shooting process like?
For such a small shoot, we actually shot quite a long time — about eight or nine weeks in all — partly because we had very short days. In the winter, you can only shoot about eight hours of light, and we couldn't shoot at night — it was too cold, and we couldn't get up the mountain to the locations anyway. Some days we couldn't even get up there during the day, because we would have blizzards, and the road would literally disappear in front of our eyes. It was brutal, brutal weather conditions, and not enough money to do anything comfortably; we didn't have trailers with running water or electricity, so we were using little Bunsen burners which could keep your feet warm, but nothing else. We were taking dumps in the snow outside because we couldn't flush a toilet. So we were basically living like medieval characters, as it were, throughout the whole experience. But funny enough, for being the hardest shoot I've ever done, it was also probably one of the funnest. You just have stories to tell afterwards. You can't believe you got through it in one piece.
Now that the film is finished and out in the world, how does it feel to have completed this journey?
I'm not sure if I have completed it. If the film does well, I actually do have the third chapter, as it were, which is the the journey to him actually becoming the king, and the final battle. And I do have a third script, which I'd like to finish the story.
- Don't lose your head! Get your first look at Anne Boleyn on The Spanish Princess
- Watch Ryan Phillippe navigate a sticky love triangle in exclusive Big Sky clip
- The Bachelorette preview: Harvard man Bennett can't spell
- His Dark Materials gave Lin-Manuel Miranda 'new perspective' on adapting Kingkiller Chronicle