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Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell talk about eating rats and the lack of women on set

The Eagle
12 March 2011

The Eagle is not just another historical action film, full of sweaty muscly, sandal wearing romans rescuing barely clothed peasant girls. For starters the film contains almost no women to speak of, but don’t despair gentlemen, what The Eagle lacks in historical hotties, it makes up with some of the most realistic and gruesome fight scenes that you’re likely to see this side of 300. Add to that, breathtaking Scottish scenery, beautiful dialogue and ancient languages used by the long forgotten tribes of Great Britain, as well as a poignant and moving story of endurance, survival, honour and friendship, and you’ll barely notice the lack of love scenes.

The Eagle’s stars, Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, were at The Soho Hotel on Wednesday, along with Director Kevin MacDonald, and producer Duncan Kenworthy, to talk to us about this breathtaking film, and the difficulties they faced in the highlands of Scotland trying to make The Eagle as authentic as possible. Jamie tells us the horrors of having to eat a pretend dead rat, and Channing describes the pain of being accidently burnt on set in a very sensitive area. If you thought ancient civilization had it bad, read on to find out just how difficult it is to make a film like The Eagle.



This film is one of the most arduous films that I’ve seen of late, it looked like a lot of pain. Duncan and Kevin, did you have to prep the actors that they might have a tough time?

Kevin MacDonald: We deliberately didn’t tell them how horrible it was going to be, otherwise they wouldn’t have come.

Channing Tatum: I wouldn’t have!

Kevin MacDonald: Channing is from Florida and wasn’t quite expecting the rigours of Scotland in the winter. A lot of the shooting was in remote locations, which we had to walk to for a long time, and putting up sets in the wind, and the guys were only wearing little capes.


Duncan, it’s a project that you’ve wanted to do for years but to do it right you have to do it as authentically as possible, but everyone knows there’s a lot of cheats film makers can do, what went through your mind in terms of what you thought you could get away with?

Duncan Kenworthy: One of the things that Kevin and I agreed on was that we wanted it to be as authentic as possible, and somewhere between The Gladiator which I loved and thought that reinforced the need for a film like this, and after that Troy and Alexander, which whatever you think of them are full of CGI, and thought, no that’s not the way it should be, it should be something smaller, more like a roman documentary, because the quality of the book is very much about the physical environment and CGI seemed to go against that. We both felt that more films should be made in the highlands of Scotland, and be more like the Americans who are so good at taking advantage of their natural assets, and I could only name Rob Roy that was actually made in the Highlands, where as Braveheart filmed on an island etc, and now we know why, it’s too hard. If we’d been a bigger film we wouldn’t have taken the risk, if we had been a smaller film, we couldn’t have afforded the 4×4 vehicles, but we took that risk and it worked.


Channing, was the physical challenges of the film a surprise to you?

Channing Tatum: Yeah, even if they’d told me it was going to be the coldest thing you’ll ever go through in your life, I still don’t think I would have understood it until the second day when I was soaked through, it was almost freezing and being outside for thirteen hours a day, and sometimes we couldn’t get trailers to the locations so we hiked in, carrying camera’s to the set. It was a tight knit family and you go through hell together, which is what Jamie and my character went through.


Jamie, I know you could say, well we’re actors so we do whatever we’re told to do, but I think a lot of this seemed to be above and beyond!

Jamie Bell: I think these guys got very lucky! Having me and Channing, because we;re both very good physically, as we both have a background in dance, and when you apply that to horse riding and sword throwing, and I couldn’t ride a horse before which I was very honest about, some actors lie about that, and I feel like the physical nature of getting it done, was part of the struggle of the characters and the story, and it being their endurance and stamina which gets them through it, I don’t think we had the same endurance and stamina, there were moments when we had to keep each other going, and press on.


Tahar, not only did you have to do lots of relentless running, but you also had all the make up to deal with as well, which added to it all, did that become a pain after a while?

Tahar Rahim: Yeah yeah, there were many uncomfortable moments, its OK three hours a week or something, but 8 hours a day your skin gets more red and you burn, and the cold was hard, but it was ok for me I only had eighteen days.



Tahar, you had the added difficulty of learning a dead language, how did you go about that?

Tahar Rahim: I had a coach, we worked a lot and i did it the old fashioned way, I would listen and listen and try to produce something believable.


Was the subtitled dialogue scripted?

Duncan Kenworthy: Jeremy wrote the script as he would normally and then it was translated, so they learnt the lines as you would any other script, and the point of the other language being used is that Channing’s character can’t understand the language and doesn’t know whats going on, so the foreign language is very useful in that regard.


This is a film that prides itself on it’s authenticity, were the rats that you chewed on in the film real Jamie?

Jamie Bell: I don’t know what it was that they gave us to eat, I still don’t really know. They said it’s like the gelatin that holds Harribo sweets together, so that scene came at a time in the schedule where it wouldn’t stop raining and it was sheet rain, and suddenly it was the end of the day and we were losing the light, so we were like, right, let’s do it now, let’s break out the rats! It tasted like Palma Violets.

Channing Tatum: Kevin chose to do a few extra takes because he was enjoying it so much, watching us literally gagging and retching.


Did you do your own stunts and were there any injuries sustained?

Channing Tatum: Almost all the stunts I did, except for the river scene with the rapids, they wouldn’t let us do it because it had been raining so much and was really dangerous. I definitely got hurt, I got scalded pretty bad and some bangs and bruises.

Tahar Rahim: I had nothing because I only had one fight scene near the end and I wasn’t exposed to those kind of risks.

Channing Tatum: There was a moment when i had to put Tahar’s head under water to drown him, and it was so cold, and he was supposed to be tapping me when he’s ready for me to pull him up, but he didn’t and I was really worried i was going to accidental drown him, so I pulled him out and was like ‘hey, wake up!’

Jamie Bell: When you’ve got actors that are really competent all around you at the action stuff, you really have to step up, you can’t pussy out on them which is great because me and Channing are very competitive and we spurred each other on, we competed over who has the best fight scene, the fastest horse, who can stay in the river for longer!It was childhood stuff and it was really good fun.


Channing, I hear that scald you had was on a sensitive part of your anatomy and that there is photographic evidence?

Channing Tatum: Yeah, this poor guy was getting river water and kettle water and mixing it to make it warm and bringing the water up this huge hill, so I met him half way, but he hadn’t mixed it with the river water yet so it was boiling. It ran all the way down my body and wouldn’t stop so I had no skin down there to speak of! But it’s good now and it didn’t even scar! I was pretty proud of it and was showing it to people. Apparently Jamie has the evidence!


Jamie and Channing, you two had a very convincing and natural rapport, was this something that came quite naturally?

Channing Tatum: It was an unforeseen complication, because me and Jamie got on so well straight off the bat that it was hard to keep up the tension, we had to make sure we reminded each other of the fact that our characters at times were supposed to be fighting each other. We didn’t laugh until the last scene when they yelled cut.


Was it refreshing or really different having no women in the film and no love interest?

Channing Tatum: I think doing anything different is always refreshing, but I don’t think it’s ever refreshing not having women around, but I thought it was really accurate and smart of Kevin and Jeremy to make the decision to really stay with these two and not fall into the cinematic stereotype of always having a woman or a love story and really just focus on the friendship. 

Jamie Bell: I don’t know how you bring that convention into the film without it being convoluted, obviously there was a serious lack of women and estrogen around.


The book isn’t as grisly as the film, which makes it more authentic for the film, but what were the discussions that you and Duncan had about making it accessible to the wildest possible audience whilst keeping it authentic?

Kevin Macdonald: To me it wasn’t that grisly, but when your so involved with the material you cease to see any shock value. The film is a 12 A which means children can see it if accompanied by an adult, which i think is an appropriate rating.



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