KING ARTHUR - Q&A with Ioan Gruffudd
For 30 year-old Ioan Gruffudd, the opportunity to play one of the Knights of the Round Table in the new epic film KING ARTHUR was too good to miss. As a boy growing up in Wales, Gruffudd would stage his own sword fights in his back garden. "The King Arthur story is one that you are told when you are a child and it captivates you for life," says Gruffudd, who stars in the new film as Lancelot and was cast alongside Clive Owen as King Arthur and Keira Knightley as Guinevere. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (TRAINING DAY), KING ARTHUR is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the dynamic force behind last year's PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and also features such international stars as Stellan Skarsgard and Til Schweiger. No stranger to ambitious productions, Gruffudd is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and has appeared in TITANIC and BLACK HAWK DOWN, another Bruckheimer film. But it was Gruffudd's lead role in the TV series HORATIO HORNBLOWER that put him on the Hollywood's map. We spoke to the actor about riding horseback on location in Ireland and driving his Jag on the streets of L.A.
How did you get the role of Lancelot?
I met the casting director, who gave me some of Lancelot's lines to learn, but a few months went by before Antoine Fuqua and Jerry Bruckheimer met me. They went all over London to try to find Lancelot, but whatever I did in the audition must have convinced them. What you see onscreen is an evolution, starting with the little beard that I grew. I worked from the outside in. I didn't have an immediate association with the character because he is so much darker and brooding and angrier than I am. It came through wearing the costume. We decided that I would be in black because that would make me look heavier. The leather also bulked me up a bit, as did the chain metal on my arms. And then, of course, there's the sword. So creating the character of Lancelot came from the outside in.
This isn't your typical King Arthur tale, is it?
A lot of the Celtic nations stake a claim to King Arthur. As a Welshman, I believe he was Welsh and he's not dead - he's just resting in Avalon waiting for the call to arms to save my nation. That's the King Arthur I knew and loved. So I was surprised to learn that we were basing this character on a real person, but I think it's appropriate because these stories come from somewhere, and the nature of storytelling is that when a tale is passed down, it becomes more colorful and more romantic and more magical. So I think it's reasonable for us to base it on a real person. As for Lancelot, this character is much different from any other character I've played in that he's much angrier and aggressive, and, at times, he comes across as being quite cheeky. I think it's interesting and audiences will enjoy this new approach.
Regarding the new approach, in this movie there are hints that Lancelot longs for Guinevere, but nothing ever develops between them, unlike the myth.
For people who know and love that love triangle aspect of the story with Lancelot, Guinevere and Arthur, I'm glad there is that hint in the movie, but really the romance was never there in this story, which was obviously disappointing to me. And when I heard that Keira Knightley was playing Guinevere, it was even more disappointing. Honestly, though, I think a romance between Lancelot and Guinevere would've detracted from the story at hand. I think it is there on the surface - I certainly hope it comes across, these brewing feelings.
Did you suffer any injuries while filming the fight sequences? Do you have any battle wounds?
I know it sounds a bit boring, but we don't have war wounds or war stories from making the movie. Because the fight scenes were so well choreographed, and we rehearsed every aspect of them, it went pretty smooth on the days when we actually shot those scenes. On the first day, we were all sort of very safely cantering around on our horses in the paddock with our costumes and helmets on when Antoine yells, "Cut, cut, cut! Come on guys, you're knights! Gallop toward the camera!" And we all looked at each other because we'd never done this before. It turned out to be more exhilarating than terrifying. It was a real pleasure as an actor to be outdoors all day because we were filming during one of the hottest summers on record in Ireland. I wasn't sitting behind some desk - I was sitting on the back of a horse, breathing this fresh air. It was a real privilege.
So being on a horse so much didn't bother you?
Well, on the first day you're using muscles you never knew existed but after a while you get used to it. I suppose I became a reasonably proficient horseman after six months in the saddle. You learn to use your legs more than the reins. I had the same horse for the whole shoot, and these were the Formula One cars of horses. They were so well tuned I just had to sit on it and he would go to the mark.
It sounds like you had fun?
I grew up on westerns because my father is a big fan of westerns - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, anything with a gunfight. So when I was a kid I'd be outside in my backyard with a stick as a rifle and a bow and arrow. Occasionally, I'd be a knight with a sword. So this film was my opportunity to be a child again and put on a costume and sit on the back of a horse. This time, though, I got to have two swords instead of one. But I think everything that I've done is an extension of being a child ... that's what acting is - to be free enough to turn yourself into these different characters. And that's what we all used to do as children, but then as we grow older we grow more cynical. So in some respects, being an actor keeps you in touch with the child within.
Have you always known that you wanted to be an actor?
I didn't always know, but I had a great and lucky experience when I was a kid. I was in a Welsh language soap opera off and on as a child from the age of 13 until about 20. As a Welshman, I grew up in a culture of singing and performing with music, and I think it was through this performing that I got my confidence as an actor. When I left school at 18, I decided to study drama - I sang in musicals and pageants, I sang in the local choir, and I played the oboe. So I was immersed in performing.
What were some of the films that inspired you to pursue acting?
SPARTACUS was a huge favorite of mine, as was BEN-HUR. Those chariot sequences were incredible, and I don't think Hollywood has even come close to duplicating that action since then. GLADIATOR was very close to doing it, and I think KING ARTHUR has elements of that bigger-than-life action, especially the big ice battle, which is a big, defining moment in our movie that people will remember. We all love these historical, epic films because they give us an opportunity to look back on the way we used to be - how courageous and brave we used to be. These are all attributes that these characters have.
So do you prefer to play a hero in a film?
It's a real pleasure to play these heroic characters because they reflect well on you. Horatio Hornblower is a positive image that I had - I wish I had half the attributes that he had. Same goes for Lancelot. I don't think I would've survived a day back in those days. As far as playing a hero, I think it's sad that we don't have more role models or symbols in film. We tend to forget about these people who were heroic. In this day and age, our heroes are not the same type of heroes people had back then. When we talk about heroes today, we don't think of warring heroes. We have sports heroes and heroes who work in hospitals.
You mentioned HORATIO HORNBLOWER. Were you at all surprised at how well that was received in the United States?
Not really. I think that the people in the United States are very curious about history because their history isn't as old as that of Europe and Britain. There is something romantic and attractive about that time period as well. Also, the series wasn't marketed as well in Britain as it was the States.
Having been in both big-budget films like KING ARTHUR and TITANIC and smaller films like SOLOMON AND GAENOR, do you have a preference?
I enjoy them all equally. Certainly KING ARTHUR was more enjoyable because I was more involved in it than, say, TITANIC. I was on the TITANIC set for five months, but I was in the background and had nothing to do. And when you're in that situation, you go mad as an actor. I do enjoy the faster pace.
Speaking of a faster pace, you recently moved to Los Angeles. How do you like it?
I'm homesick for Wales, but I don't miss London as a place. I miss my friends. I enjoy being in Los Angeles because it's the easiest place in the world to drive, and it's a real pleasure to do that in my black Jag XK8. I've gone all out. But I don't feel so guilty about getting into a nice car because in L.A., you have to drive everywhere ... you're in your car all day. So if I can relieve the pressure of being in a car all day by choosing to be in a nice car, I think it's justified.
When you're driving around town, what's it like for you to see your face splashed across billboards and ads for this movie?
I'm thrilled. I've always sort of dreamed or had this ambition to be on billboards and be involved in these types of films and now suddenly I'm part of one. It really is a dream come true and I'm determined to enjoy it.
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