One of cinema's most admired directors, Ridley Scott's CV includes such diverse and influential films as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Hannibal, and Black Hawk Down. As a knight of the realm he's an apt choice to make Kingdom Of Heaven, all the more so because of his proven ability to deliver action, history and romance, this time as part of an epic tale set on a 12th-century crusade starring Orlando Bloom.
Going into Kingdom Of Heaven were you at pains to make it as different as possible from Gladiator?
I do try and do something different each time, but there's a thousand years difference so you'd think there'd be enough difference in it. Besides I think this one is more politically and religiously based than Gladiator, which was a romantic Hollywood epic about revenge.
I knew of them, but didn't watch them. I never watch what anyone else does, particularly because I knew that Gladiator would trigger off the lookalikes. So I never even saw them, specifically because I knew this one would be coming out of the box in four years.
Were you at pains to be even-handed in this story, casting only Muslim actors in Muslim roles?
I think the casting of Muslims was a natural decision. There's a big film industry in Egypt, and quite a big one in Syria, and there's a big Muslim community in Paris. We ended up with three really great Muslim actors in key roles.
You were in early pre-production on the film when 9/11 happened. Did that effect things much?
We were concerned whether or not the film would happen. At that moment I was meeting with [screenwriter] Bill Monahan. I was also talking with Bill about his script Tripoli, which I nearly made with Russell Crowe. Bill came back and suggested I do something in the period of the Crusades when there was an uneasy truce, because then we could discuss the idea of tolerance. That's it in its simple form.
Did you sense the themes within the film becoming more relevant as world events unfolded during production?
The way events developed over the next three or four years it started to get more and more relevant. Particularly with the bad use of the word "crusades". People forget that the crusaders were the bad guys.
What, for you, was the trickiest thing to pull off with this film?
I think the biggest thing was the obvious one, the Battle of Jerusalem. One of the hardest things to do even on paper is a battle that only lasts two weeks. Normally this would last two months or even two years. They would basically try to starve the city or wait until it ran out of water. Or worse, they would get a diseased body and catapult in diseased remains and hope that disease broke out. One of the hard things was how to chapter this up and get a sense of time, to capture that without losing all these characters in the process.
So what was the most satisfying thing about it?
I think when you step back, it's a bit like doing a painting. I like to step back and refer to the canvas. So at the end of it looking back I think it works pretty well.
Kingdom Of Heaven is released in UK cinemas on Friday 6th May 2005.