Diary of a Déise Man in The London doin the Films
with Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe
(first published in the Munster Express newspaper May 2010)
If you end up at the cinema over the next few weeks and happen to go and see the new Russell Crowe movie, Robin Hood, don't get a fright if about an hour into it you hear a flat Waterford accent shouting at Mr. Crowe.
That'll be me.
The mad thing is by rights I shouldn't be in the movie at all. This time last year I did my first day of filming on it, four weeks later I had to pull out of the film and I thought that was the end of my film career. How I got to do it in the end is a fair auld story in itself.
Twelve months ago I was in a play at the National Theatre in the West End and I suddenly found myself cast in a scene with Russell Crowe in Robin Hood. Things were on the up and up you might say, and well they were. I was to be the Church Deacon, very minor nemesis of the Merry Men and the first person to be robbed by Robin. Grand. I had two days of filming to do, the first day was just me in the background of a scene and then the second day which was to be a few weeks later was where I had all me lines with the big man himself. That first day of filming was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life. I've been working professionally as an actor for 10 years now but nearly all of that time I've been on stage. Apart from having 2 lines in an episode of Judge John Deed and 2 lines that got cut from the film Atonement, I was a complete and utter novice walking onto the set of Robin Hood. On that first day it REALLY showed. I was being led across a field in Surrey where they had built medieval Nottingham to meet the man who directed Gladiator, Alien and Blade Runner and over to me left on two horses were Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. It's far from this I was raised boy. Bricking it is not the word. I meet all these crazy famous people and it's all a bit surreal and they put me in me spot and they ask me can I say one word to tell Friar Tuck (the Full Monty's Mark Addy) that Robin and Marian are riding through the village to see him. Just say 'Friar' they tell me. That's all, one word. How difficult could that be? Surely I can't get that wrong. It's one word. So I'm sitting there, all set, nervous as hell but ready to make me major movie debut and the assistant director yells action and Crowe and Blanchett start riding towards us and I look up and point, take a deep breath and exclaim 'Friar!' and I say it loud and confident filling the field with the word, so important it is to me. They yell cut and I'm thinking that's gone really well and it's only one word but I feel like it's gone well because I put a lot into it. I see the assistant director walking over to me, obviously to say well done and as he does I hear the great director Ridley Scott over the walkie talkie shout;
'Can someone tell the Church Deacon to tone it down a bit, it's like he's announcing the end of the world.'
They always say that the difference between doing theatre and doing film is that you have to act much smaller on screen. Well I was still trying to fill a 1200 seat theatre and in film terms I was brutal! Way too big, way too loud and that was only one line. I got it right in the end but I felt like a right eejit. In fairness I was just so new to it all I hadn't realised, but that didn't stop me feeling useless. I vowed that I'd be more clued in on the second day of filming I had, because that was the big one. I had proper lines in that scene and those lines were with Russell Crowe so they had better be done right.
And then I had to pull out of the film.
Now after telling you the story of the first day you might think that maybe I got sacked, which was possible due to me announcing of the end of the world and being a bit crap, and in fairness I thought that might happen meself. No the reason I had to resign from the production was because in between my first and second day of filming I was diagnosed with cancer. Specifically a relapse of the Hodgkins Lymphoma I had been treated for in 2007. When I told the production company of my illness and that I would be in the middle of having chemotherapy when the filming day was scheduled they were unwilling to take a chance. And who could blame them? It was a big possibility that I would be too ill on the day to film and also there might be issues with insurance and so on, so it was mutually agreed that I should bow out. I was only in the background of the scene I'd shot so it was easy to recast. I was devastated but I had other things to worry about in fairness and I put it behind me. It just wasn't to be.
Then two weeks later my agent called me to tell me that the film was back on. What? How was this in any way possible? It turned out that Ridley Scott had been informed that I had had to pull out of the movie and he was also told of my situation. At which point he demanded that they did not recast and that they sort everything out so that I could do the second day of filming because if I was well enough to do do it then he wanted me to do it. Now this wasn't because I was indispensable to the film, after all I was the fella that said his lines too loud. This was Ridley Scott, one of the biggest directors in world, who had a lot more to worry about than a nobody like me, he was just being a nice guy. He knew my situation and he was just throwing me a break. In the 10 years I've been an actor it's the nicest thing that's ever happened to me in the business. Fair play to him. Now in fairness he was taking a gamble because it was highly possible that I would be too sick to film that day. It worried me too but I had some help in making it happen. The best help. My consultant Dr. Mary Ryan and the Doctors and Nurses of Medical 4 in Waterford Regional Hospital knew the craic and were on the case. It was mental. I was being admitted on the Tuesday for chemotherapy for four days and I was filming the following Tuesday. But Dr. Ryan had it all worked out that if I got my treatment on those specific days then I should be well enough to film on the Tuesday because my blood counts shouldn't crash until the Friday. Unbelievable. And she was dead right. I was sitting on the flight from Waterford Airport the night before filming in utter disbelief that this was actually going to happen. That second day of filming was unreal. What an experience. Now you've been reading all this and in the end what you really want to know is what's Russell Crowe really like? Well I can tell you he's sound out boy. I thought he was a really good guy, and he wasn't being nice to me because I was sick. He didn't know. Only Ridley and a couple of people on the production team that day knew the situation. My life flashed before me eyes early on in the day when I was accidentally given a wrong cue for when to shout one of my lines at Russell. He lifted up his bow and arrow and I duly shouted my line at him as I'd been told and he held up his hand and shouted at me:
"Woah there mate! I've got another line to say!!"
Me heart was in me mouth and all I could think was that he was going to kill me. I jumped down off the cart I was on and ran over to him to say sorry and he looked at me and smiled and said:
"Aw not to worry mate, we'll just do it again."
and then we chatted about Wimbledon. Mental. We ended up working through lunch and during that time we were doing my close up and some big stars wont stick around to give their lines to you but Russell Crowe stayed and as he said his lines he was tucking into a beef stew having asked was that alright with me. I'll never forget it. Like I said, Russell Crowe? Nice guy. This time round I was also a bit more confident in what I was doing and the lines were going a lot better than that first day and Ridley Scott came over to chat with me. He told me I was doing well and I was delighted with that and I was able to thank him for making it happen because without his intervention I wouldn't have been there at all. He was so deadly about it all and took a real interest. Then he asked me where exactly I was from and I told him Waterford and he asked me to do the lines in my own accent because he wanted to hear what it sounded like. So I did it and after that take I got the thumbs up to keep doing it like that and that's why there's a fella that sounds like he's from Congress Place shouting at Russell Crowe and with that a thousand jeers were born. But what a guy Ridley Scott is. I owe him a lot because getting to do that movie really did help me at the beginning of the tough months of treatment I had ahead of me. That helped me at the beginning but I wouldn't have gotten through it at all without my Mother and Father, me Nanny, my girlfriend Suzy and all me friends. But I especially have to thank Dr. Ryan, Sam, Corinna, Regina, Darina and all the doctors and nurses of Medical 4 in Ardkeen and Burkitt's Ward in St. James' in Dublin, who made it possible for me not only to do that film but also are the reason that I'm around now to actually see the film. What I do is not special, I just dress up for a living. What they do is very special.
So when you go and see the movie and are amused or maybe appalled to hear a Blaa accent in the middle of Sherwood Forest, please keep this in mind - Ridley Scott asked me to do it that way, I swear to god boy.