Currently shooting: A Knight's Tale
After The Patriot, handsome Heath ledger returns as apure-hearted hero of the Middle Ages,
ready to joust with all the evil knights of the realm in order to win his beauty. [This
is] the return to writing and directing of Brian Hegeland, who, after the very dark film
'Payback', this time proposes a comedy, much lighter and forward-looking than expected.
By Veronique Trouillet
"With A Knights's Tale, I wanted to film contemporary characters and
situations, in order to make a movie about the Middle Ages where everything doesn't look
like it out of a museum." Brian Hegeland
About 20 knights in armour enter the jousting tournament enclosure and head towards
the main viewing stand. All around them, in the stands, thousands of peasants greet the
fighters with cheers and applause. But some of them are cardboard cutouts, the cheers are
mute and the applause mimed in order not to drown out the dialogue of Sir Ulrich, alias
Heath Ledger (The Patriot, 10 Things I Hate About You), the good guy, dressed in grey
armour, and Count Adhemar, alias Rufus Sewell (Carrington, Dark
City), the bad guy, dressed all in black. They spar with each other a bit,
before the princess Jocelyn (Shannyn Sissamon), whom they both covet. It's not difficult
to know, even at this point, who will win her heart and carry her off on his noble charger
towards the setting sun...
Because A Knight's Tale is a modern fairytale, albeit an anachronistic one: the princess
made the cover of 'Medieval Vogue', the knights parade to 'We Will Rock You' by
Queen, and everyone dances to the rhythms of electric guitars. Still, it's neither a
clowning version nor a parody of an historical film. "The greatest challenge is the
tone of the film", explains the screenwriter and director Brian Hegeland (Payback).
"I didn't want to do a straight comedy. There are some very funny moments, but there
are also dramatic elements. It's a classic American story: a young sportsman who wants to
be a champion. I wanted contemporary people and situations, and not a film about the
Middle Ages where everything seems to have come out of a museum.
Seeking multi-talented actors to play the role of the young champion Brian chose an actor
who, like the character, is in the process of changing his destiny: Heath Ledger, still
unknown a few months ago. "I didn't want big names", continues the director.
"It's easier to believe the characters when they are not stars." And he was
looking for someone who knew how to sing, dance, fight with a sword, joust, ride a
horse... Heath only had to learn to use a sword and a lance. "Rufus
and I trained for more than a month, several hours a day", says Heath. While he faces
Rufus Sewell in the tournaments, the very young Australian, slums with
Alan Tudyk (seen in 28 Days) and Mark Addy (the nice round guy in The Full Monty).
The latter is part of a comic couple in the film, along with the young French actress
Berenice Bejo, recently the winner of the Best Female Hope (Best Upcoming Actress).
"It's reassuring to be surrounded by such good actors", Heath admits. "For
my first leading role in an American film, I have less pressure. Brian had us come a month
before the filming in order to rehearse. We learned to appreciate each other and you
feel that on screen". The stage is a large open-air courtyard. When you look
for one of the actors, you find him/her with all the others, laughing over sodas and
cookies. "Not for me", jokes Rufus, "otherwise I won't be
able to get back into that armour. However, I'm allowed beer - [it's] the only Czech
word I know. That's a bad sign!"
In fact, the film is being shot near Prague, in the Barrandov Studios, strictly for
financial reasons. The story actually unfolds in France and England, but the $40 million
budget would have exploded if the filming had taken place in those two countries. The main
set, a jousting arena, is twice the size of a football stadium and on certain days holds
almost 2,000 people.
"At the time, people appreciated life more", continues Brian Hegeland, watching
two children give Heath objects which they have made out of clay. "[Life] was more
precious because you could easily lose it. And it was mysterious, too. But I don't believe
that the knightly values really existed." "In any case, they don't
today!" adds Sewell. "No one is ready to give their life for a romantic
passion." "Still, people miss romanticism," concludes Berenice,
"they want beautiful stories, to dream... and that's why this film will succeed.
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