The charismatic Aussie who cut a dash in "A Knight's Tale" and wigged out in "Monster's Ball" gets a stiff upper lip for "The Four Feathers". He tells BBCi Films about dangerous stunts, being scruffy, and a camel called Big Mountain...
Was it tough shooting in the desert?
The environment was gruelling, but my character's journey was gruelling anyhow, so in a sense it made my job easier that my personal journey in telling the story was gruelling and rough.
I really enjoyed how humbling it was in the desert and how insignificant everything in life felt, because I just felt like I could go in the sand out there. We had nothing better to do other than to focus in on telling the story.
How did you bond with your fellow ‘'soldiers'? Alcohol?
No, we spent four weeks and eight hours a day around a big boardroom table just hanging out with each other and exploring each other's pasts and futures and just deciphering the story and examining each other's character and each other's position in the story.
You can't help getting to know each other through that period of time. And also being so isolated in the desert and not having anywhere else to go other than our rooms, and a very cold swimming pool to sit around, we had ample time to just sit and chat about each other's lives and find something true to love and admire and respect and protect about each other that we could translate on screen. And so it kind of happened, it didn't happen in a forced way either, we genuinely got along with each other and found true friendship, so that part was easy.
How about bonding with the camel?
We couldn't get the camel to the boardroom meetings but my camel was a lovely fellow. His name was Big Mountain and he was big and really smart and he had a very good nature about himself, he had a laugh at himself, he didn't take the job too seriously.
Your character has to be very smart in England and very scruffy in Africa. Which did you prefer?
Scruffy. Definitely. Because I'm a scruff and that's it really. I found it easier being in the desert because I've always felt like I've had the life of a gypsy myself, so it felt closer to my heart rolling around in the sand than it was to straighten up and give posture and formality to the way I express myself.
I'm quite liberal in the way I express emotions and the heart and he [the character, Harry Faversham] wasn't. It was a colder existence back then and I grew up in a warm place.
In one of the battle scenes you jump onto a galloping horse. It looks real - was it?
Yeah, in actual fact the producers of the movie didn't know we were going to do that. Insurance-wise we're not allowed to ride a bicycle let alone jump on a galloping horse. But basically Shekhar [Kapur, the director] came up to me and asked me whether or not I wanted to jump onto a galloping horse. I said, "What the hell" - I thought it would be pretty cool if I could.