Accent is now on Scottish actors in historical movies

Category: Misc./General Career News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: October 14, 2007 | Publication: Sunday Herald | Author: Brian Pendreigh
Publication/Article Link:Sunday Herald

SCOTTISH ACTORS are now the first choice for big-budget historical blockbusters, according to Peter Mullan, one of the stars in Hollywood's latest action-adventure The Last Legion, which opens in the UK next weekend.

Scots have had starring roles in recent hits such as 300 and the mini-series Rome. But the trend reaches new heights with The Last Legion.

In the new film, Scots feature as both cultured Roman leaders and the hairy Goth hordes who overrun them and bring their empire crashing down.

"The Scottish accent, I think, is quite good in epic films, because you've got a sense of a weird Celtic history," said Mullan, who played one of William Wallace's followers in Braveheart.

Mullan believes Mel Gibson's Oscar-winner played a major role in changing Hollywood attitudes towards the Scots and history. "Braveheart was a real big deal," he said. "In our lifetime we had never seen the Scots as the heroes. They were always the funny guy or the drunk or whatever."

Hollywood producers had sometimes - but not always - baulked at the idea of American accents in movies which were set in ancient Europe and had traditionally relied on English actors. But not anymore.

Colin Firth may have a starring role in The Last Legion, but he is vastly outnumbered by Scots. Mullan and fellow Braveheart veteran James Cosmo are joined by Kevin McKidd, John Hannah and Iain Glen in major roles.

The 35 million film, set in the fifth century, mixes fact and fiction and draws on real historical characters for inspiration. Glen plays the Roman ruler Orestes, while on the opposite side Mullan plays Odoacer, the commander of the Goth army that overruns Rome.

And that is just the opening chapter in a sprawling story that ranges across the ancient world from Constantinople to Hadrian's Wall and links the fall of the Roman Empire to King Arthur, Merlin and the legend of Excalibur. Hannah is a senator and McKidd and Cosmo are Mullan's axe-wielding lieutenants.

"Obviously any English is inaccurate," said Mullan. "They would either be speaking in Latin or whatever other language they had at that time.

"Just by virtue of speaking English I don't see any reason why you have to do it in RP (received pronunciation). I've never liked RP to listen to. It's boring. These days it brings with it a whole different kind of flavour."

Mullan discussed accents with McKidd before they started and made it clear he would be playing his role in his normal Scottish accent because he could not do any others.

While Mullan, McKidd and Cosmo play uncouth barbarians, Glen and Hannah belong to the Roman ruling classes. "Iain and John were quite educated Scots," said Mullan "It's great."

The cast is rounded out by the Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai and Sir Ben Kingsley, who is half-Indian and half-English and remains best-known for his Oscar-winning turn as Gandhi.

The trend of using Scottish and Irish actors in historical roles, with no Celtic connection, began three years ago. Troy featured a mix of American, Scottish and Irish actors, including Cosmo, and the use of Irish accents sparked some controversy in Alexander.

The hit mini-series Rome subsequently propelled McKidd to new levels of popularity, both in the UK and US, and earlier this year Gerard Butler scored a massive hit as the Spartan king Leonidas in 300. And there will almost certainly be further opportunities in the near future.

Kevin Macdonald, director of The Last King Of Scotland, is also developing a film about the famous Ninth Legion, based on Rosemary Sutcliff's classic children's novel The Eagle Of The Ninth.

The Ninth Legion was based at York, but famously disappeared from recorded history in the 2nd Century.

It has long been popularly believed that the Ninth Legion marched into Scotland on a punitive mission and was massacred. But the legion's true fate remains a mystery, leaving the door open for novelists and film-makers to make up their own endings.