Despite its sometimes dubious adherence to historical fact, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was a defining moment in the way Scotland thought about its past, making the tale of William Wallace suddenly relevant to a cinema-going audience.
Brian Cox and James Robinson, who both appeared in the 1995 film, were at the Edinburgh International Film Festival for a red carpet screening last night, to mark 20 years since production started.
They spoke to Jonathan Melville about the unique challenges of filming the historical epic in Scotland, and how it still “feels like yesterday”, two decades on.
When the offer came in to appear in Braveheart, Brian Cox says it presented him with a dilemma.
“I was offered both Rob Roy and Braveheart which were actually filmed at the same time,” he recalls. “In fact I didn’t change my hotel room. I stayed in the same hotel room for both parts! In fact, I actually turned Mel down, believe it or not. I said, ‘no, I’m going to do Rob Roy‘. And he was a wee bit affronted by this, quite rightly, and he said, ‘well, you have to be in it’.
“The part of Uncle Argyle was described as being very cadaverous, this kinda skinny guy,” Cox continues. “He said, ‘it doesn’t matter whether he’s skinny, you’ll play it’. I said, ‘well, if you don’t mind, OK’. Then of course I had a problem with the Rob Roy director. He was from Broxburn, and he said, ‘I don’t know if you should be doing that, because it might affect our film’. I said, ‘it’s not often you get the chance of two movies in Scotland, c’mon, what am I supposed to do?’ And he said, ‘well you could turn it down’, so I said, ‘well if you give me the money I’ll turn it down!'”
For Robinson, playing the young William Wallace, it was an intimidating experience to play alongside Cox.
“I remember the first time I met you on set I was absolutely petrified because you came up and said, ‘hi I’m Brian, nice to meet you'” he recalls. “And I’m ten years old and I see this guy walking up to me with this scar and this white eye. You said ‘I’m gonna play your uncle’, and I said, ‘you can play whoever you want to play!”
Filming in Scotland also presented its own challenges, as Cox remembers:
“It was very muddy, and wet and dreich. They lost the set a couple of times. I remember John Toll [director of photography] on the first day of filming. He took out his lighting meter and he said, ‘I think you should put that away’. And he said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, ‘I don’t think you’re gonna need that – you’re in Scotland man, the lighting will never be the same for ten seconds running!'”
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