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Readying The Soldiers
Already a master horseman, Crowe embraced the physical challenges of production by undergoing a grueling workout regimen and becoming an accomplished archer, quite skilled with the difficult longbow. Following in the steps of Robin Hood, he became proficient at shooting the very challenging weapon while wearing heavy chain mail. As well, he trained for three months in Australia and would hunt in the forest barefoot. "You've got to make the thing that's part of your character part of you,” Crowe advises. "If you're going to fire a bow and arrow, then you need to learn how to do it because the circumstances are never going to be perfect.”

A stickler for detail, the actor spent many months in training, soon learning that shooting Robin's arrows was much more difficult than it initially seemed. "You're going to have to fire at a certain mark, in a certain place, and you're going to be firing while you're running, while it's raining,” Crowe offers. "There was an extended period where I was firing 200 arrows a day.” That is roughly equivalent to what an Olympic archer would do in preparation for a competition. "It's just what you do,” he adds. "It's the quiet contemplation and the work before there's film in the camera that creates the character.”

Helgeland reflects on the efforts that Crowe made to achieve realism for his character. "Russell took the same attitude he brought to L.A. Confidential to Robin Hood; he wanted to be as true to the period as he possibly could. For example, he wanted his bow to be as close to the bows that were actually used back then. And he wanted to know how to use it.”

Like her fellow star, Blanchett was inspired to get back in the saddle. A seasoned horsewoman after her years shooting the Elizabeth sagas, she was up for the challenge. The performer recalls: "Ridley said, ‘You can do this if you're game for it.' He set the challenge. If someone says ‘Are you game for it?' you're not going to say, ‘Well, no…I'm not.' I do like riding a horse, and they're film horses so they were pretty well trained. It was a thrill.”

Still, the performer knew there would be days ahead she'd rethink her promise to the director. "There is a sequence where Marion gets all dressed up in chain mail and rides off into battle. We had these feral kids on wild ponies and some of the ponies were really difficult to get on. None of them had saddles; it was wild. My very first day on set was a night shoot where I was shooting a flaming arrow.”

A veteran of action films including Tristan + Isolde and Stardust, Strong felt quite comfortable with sword and shield in hand. But he still needed to spend a good amount of time training to learn how to ride at speed while swinging a very heavy weapon. This gave him, and the rest of the cast and crew, much respect for what soldiers in the Middle Ages must have had to do to battle.

"You begin to realize how phenomenally difficult wearing the chain mail and the armor must have been,” the actor offers. "These guys must have been barely able to move or have had some kind of superhuman strength. Or fights consisted of a few blows until somebody went down and couldn't get up and then they got a sword through the visor and it was all over.”

Durand describes the boot camp that Scott set up so that the actors could get in peak condition and train with the dozens of expert stuntmen and stuntwomen: "We did a training camp in Australia, and it was basically just getting really fit. We were all on a specific diet and did cardio and lifting every day. Then, we worked with the bows and arrows; my big thing was becoming a master with the staff. I felt like a badass when I carried that thing.”

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