CS Interview: Randall Wallace talks Braveheart 25th anniversary
Braveheart turned 25-years old this week, and to honor the occasion ComingSoon.net reached out to the film’s screenwriter, Randall Wallace, who was kind enough to talk about the Oscar-winning epic and share a few behind-the-scenes details you may not have known about. You can pre-order the new Braveheart 4K steelbook out on June 16 by clicking here!
Directed by Mel Gibson, who won an Academy Award for his efforts, Braveheart tells the sprawling legend of Scotland hero William Wallace, who takes up arms against the ruthless King Edward I of England; and inspires his fellow Scots to fight for their country’s freedom.
Released on May 24, 1995, Braveheart went on to amass over $200 million at the worldwide box office, and 10 Academy Award nominations, eventually winning five, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Makeup.
Braveheart stars Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, Angus Macfayden, and Brendan Gleeson.
ComingSoon.net: Ok, so just so you know, I’m a huge Braveheart fan. I saw it with my dad and remember just being blown away by the scope of it.
Wallace: Oh man, that’s music to my ears. That you saw it with your dad is the best part of all.
CS: What originally drew you to tell the story of William Wallace?
Wallace: When I first came across the story, I was in Scotland with my wife. She has a Mormon grandmother and I knew her ancestry, but I didn’t know any of mine. So, we had gone to Scotland because I had heard there were Wallace’s in Scotland and came across the statue of William Wallace. I heard a bit of the story — I asked some questions about him — and I heard he was Scotland’s greatest hero and that he had been betrayed possibly by Robert the Bruce. And that story struck me as fundamental to human life. What if something so noble about the life and death of William Wallace transformed Robert the Bruce. All of us are challenged, all of are afraid, and all of us have the capacity to do terrible things, but what happens when it turns us around with our lives and towards something that’s heroic and meaningful? There was that story, but I couldn’t even sit down to write for another ten years. And when I did it was at a really low and difficult part in my life when it appeared, I would have one more chance to write a screenplay before I would have to give up my aspirations to be a writer. And I thought I’m going to write what I want to see; not what Hollywood wants to sell. I’m going to write what I want. So, that’s the greatest of ironies to me is writing with a complete disregard to the marketplace turned out to be the movie that everyone in Hollywood seemed to love and embrace and try to emulate.
CS: There are a number of legends and historical accounts of William Wallace, specifically Blind Harry’s 15th century poem, how did you choose which elements to utilize for your screenplay? Were there other elements you wanted to put in there?
Wallace: Jeff, that is a question I’ve never been asked in all these years and it’s an extremely perceptive one. So, thank you! [Laughs]
Wallace: People have said to me, you must have done a ton of research. And the answer is, no I didn’t. First of all, there wasn’t much research to be done. There weren’t many sources as you point out. There was a general kind of legendary knowledge about William Wallace and I used that as a starting point to write the story I thought was relevant — what mattered to me, and what struck me as the most powerful. And then, I discovered the Blind Harry and read it and was astonished to find elements I thought I had invented in my telling of the story to be in the Blind Harry. One of them was William Wallace encounters Robert the Bruce on the battlefield. This is, of course, one of the most shocking and unexpected and powerful moments in the movie and that was in the Blind Harry as well. So, most of the research I did was from within me.
Other people have asked, well, what did you mostly read? And I said, mainly the New Testament. When you look at the William Wallace story it owes a great deal to the New Testament. Mel recognized that right away, and almost no one else did.
CS: That’s interesting. So, Mel Gibson comes aboard – did the script go through additional changes? Were there sequences or moments you had to give up?
Wallace: There’s a paradox in that I feel the final version of Braveheart is as close to my original vision of what it ought to be and my original script that I’ve ever done. The only other movie I’ve ever written as an original and handed to another director was Pearl Harbor. Braveheart is light years closer to my original vision than Pearl Harbor was — it had the story I wrote, but the execution of the story in Braveheart is so much the same. The irony of course, in that, is that any director on any movie has to take the script and take the story apart inside himself and reassemble himself as they see it. That happens with any story. That’s why novels are such an intimate art form, because the reader creates the story again inside themselves. And that happens with a screenplay, but Mel certainly brought himself to it. His recognition of the power of life and death and the power of fear and courage and the power of pain. He certainly saw it through his own lens. In the end the final version of the movie is the best version. There are scenes that I love that we didn’t film and scenes that I love that we did film that didn’t end up in the movie, and I love all of those and I would love the opportunity to show all of those to people who love the movie. But the final picture as a whole was the best choice to release.
CS: So, GibsonCut confirmed to release in the next few months. Got it.
Wallace: [Laughs] I don’t know if it would be that quick, but I would love to do it. There’s a lot of footage that the public has never seen. And it would be interesting to show. But, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is one of my favorite movies ever, I’ve looked at all the DVDs with the cut scenes. In a certain way, they were unessential. I think everything that’s essential for the appreciation of the movie is available in the movie as it is today.
CS: One of the best lines in the movie is when his Uncle tells him to use his head before the sword — and there are a number of instances of this theme running through the film — what made you decide to write Wallace as a passionate, intelligent leader as opposed to an invincible force like, say, Rambo?
Wallace: Again, what a great question. That is one of my most dear moments, when they’re standing their watching the funeral and the Uncle says, “It was this way for me and your father when we were boys and saw our father killed,” and what that means to the boy. And what the movie means to fathers and sons and passing along the notion of this is who men can be, and this is who we ought to be. Writing this story was an unfolding miracle to me. The story started to tell itself and surprised me with moments like the flower at the grave. I didn’t imagine that would happen. I was writing that scene and I thought, somebody has to go comfort this boy standing at his father’s grave — his mother, father and brother are gone — and the neighbors don’t want to do it because they know if they touch they know they’re going to have to take him home and raise him. And then it was a child — a girl — who would speak to him. And what would she do, she would give him a flower. And then he gives the flower back to her when he returns after all those years. I never imagined that. I didn’t outline it that way and I didn’t base it on any historical source. Just, when I got to that moment, it suddenly told me that that is what should happen. So, the entire movie for me is an experience of a story that told itself to me and still does.
CS: That’s amazing! And clearly audiences felt the same way. Ok, now putting my fanboy hat on, Is there a unique, super-secretive tidbit about Braveheart you can share with us? Was it true Gibson asked Terry Gilliam to direct? Did Gibson really want Brad Pitt in the lead role?
Wallace: I’m absolutely certain there’s nothing to Mel asking Terry Gilliam to direct because I was the one who chose Mel. I did in alliance with one particular ally in the studio who was Rebecca Pollack, Sydney Pollack’s daughter. She was the mother of Braveheart. She was the one I first told the story to and said, “Go write that!” She and I talked about Mel. He was the choice I wanted and the one she wanted. We were thinking about other directors because Mel had mentioned directors, and Terry Gilliam might have been part of that, but there were no discussions with any other directors. Nor with actors. Mel wanted to direct, but he didn’t reveal that to us until after I’d gone to Scotland and came back and sat down in a meeting with him and showed him pictures of battle reenactors and things in the highlands I had found and settings. He said, “I want to direct this,” and he said it like he was letting me in on a secret and asked how I would feel about that. And I said, “I would love that.” He was thinking he wanted to direct and did not want to star. He wanted to direct and pick somebody younger to star. The biggest name he kept mentioning to me was Jason Patric. Of course, I love Brad Pitt. I think he’s wonderful, but I think Mel had the same vision and same issue every director has. In order to get the funding to make the movie the way you want to make the movie, the studio wants a star. The studio wanted Mel. I wanted Mel because he was creatively right. I thought he was the only actor who had the combination of strength and sensitivity to do it. Eventually, he came to that conclusion too. And I think he’s glad he did.
CS: Ok, so, our time is winding down. Last question: it was reported a while back that you were working with Gibson again on a Passion of the Christ sequel. Do you have any updates you can share about that project?
Wallace: I don’t have any updates that I can share. But I can tell you that we talk about it a lot. It’s something I feel like has to happen. That is the Mount Everest of stories and we will be ready to talk about it in some point in the future, but we just can’t discuss it right now.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)