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Actors Take Flight
In casting the movie's lead roles, Kevin Macdonald notes, "We had to think at all times in terms of two people, not just one. For a romantic comedy, you can't cast one person in isolation and then find just another as a match – you need to take the chemistry between them into account. It was the same here.

"It was important to me that these two young men look completely different and be culturally different. The aim was to cast a true Celt to play Esca. It just so happened that Jamie Bell is from the same part of northern England that the character is from; Esca's tribe, the Brigantes, hails from the Sunderland area, which is where Jamie grew up.”

Adhering to the mandate established in development – American actors as Romans, British actors as Britons – the director "asked Jamie to use his own accent to emphasize his difference from Channing, who is speaking in his own American accent. This way there's not only this physical friction between the two, but an ever-present difference in culture that comes out in the way each speaks and the way each moves.

"Channing and Jamie were committed and enthusiastic, and came prepared. That was a godsend, but what we couldn't plan for is how well they got on; they became good pals. Right from the beginning, they steeped themselves in the period and their characters, and wanted to do all their own stunts.”

Stunt coordinator Domonkos Párdányi was working with as many as several dozen men at a time. He reports, "With Channing and Jamie being game for everything we do, the cameras could get angles which they couldn't have had with stunt doubles. It didn't take long for these two actors to pick up fight choreography.”

Duncan Kenworthy clarifies, "In the end we were able to let them do most of their own stunts, which – given the insurance ramifications – was quite unusual. Channing and Jamie became pretty skilled at horse-riding, fighting, and sliding down waterfalls! So the insurers grew increasingly confident. Of course both of our stars got their break in a dance movie – Channing in Step Up, and Jamie in Billy Elliot. They both have physical grace and the ability to learn from a choreographer, which is basically what fighting – and dance – is all about.”

Macdonald adds, "Channing has played soldiers before, in American films, so he well understands the military mentality and has a lot of sympathy for these men. What Marcus wants to do is prove that he is a better Roman soldier than anyone, or than anyone expects. When he can no longer do that, he still has the drive to prove that his father was not a coward and was in fact a great solider. Channing creates such empathy that the audience will go with him on Marcus' journey of rediscovery and of renewal.”

Jeremy Brock attended the two weeks of rehearsals that introduced the actors to each other, and admits, "When you write a screenplay and you first hear it acted out, apart from the fact that you are ecstatically happy that something you wrote is getting filmed, you find yourself unable to go back to how you heard it in your head. It becomes the actors' piece, and you alter it, making tweaks so that it sounds right coming from them.” He adds, "Channing approached the role with a wonderful openheartedness. Everybody knows that he is strong and charismatic, but what surprised me was how sensitive he was to the shifts in Marcus' emotional journey. Marcus migrates from confident warrior to despair to a different kind of confidence, underscored by a new maturity. Channing negotiates that trajectory with great sensitivity and thought.

"Jamie really thinks things through. The first time he turned up at rehearsal, he had notes, he had a book, and he had questions. You feel that he is not acting Esca but that he is being Esca. He allowed himself to explore what it would feel like to be a Briton, with all that pride and sense of self submerged into slavery.”

Playing so many of his scenes opposite Bell, Tatum found the younger actor becoming a valued colleague and friend. Tatum states, "There were emotional connections in our scenes together – whether they were emotional scenes or not, you are still opening up. Jamie will probably be a friend of mine forever.

"Our characters are two guys that are lost, broken, and alone. If you've wanted something your whole life, and then it gets taken away from you, what makes you keep going? Marcus and Esca have to discover that after they are imprinted on each other. Throughout this journey, what they get from each other is unexpected solace and repair. They learn a lot about honor, friendship, and trust.”

Bell explains, "When Marcus and Esca meet in the sequence at the arena, they are in the same scenario; each is striving for a sense of belonging, while their freedom is being taken away from them. Their journey is made with the understanding that your saving grace could also be your enemy. This is an epic movie, but it's also very subtle in terms of the relationship between these two lost men who go on a suicide mission.

"I saw in Esca a character with real range; I became fascinated with his wildness, his unshakable mental strength, his steadfast holding to the value of honor and the way he conveys that to Marcus. It's not in the script, but I gave thought to the last hours and days before he was enslaved. Playing him, I often had to walk a fine line. Central to the film was something which I found relevant in terms of today's society; the theme of unwanted customs, beliefs, and ways of life being thrust upon an indigenous culture.”

Making the movie "fulfilled childhood dreams of mine,” states Tatum. "I've been so blessed to have experiences like this in making movies. It was like I was in my backyard playing, even though I was riding out on cliffs and running through fields with swords.” Bell concurs, saying that he often thought, "I get to fight and use a sword? That's out of most kids' dreams.”

The Eagle reminded Tatum of movies "like The Searchers, in terms of going into the unknown to find something and also part of yourself, and Braveheart – which is one of my favorite movies.”

Tatum further cites not The Last King of Scotland but rather another movie from director Kevin Macdonald; "Touching the Void shows how great Kevin is at depicting relationships, especially friendships. The Eagle is an epic story, but it's also a personal one about two men finding a reason to live. He can focus on two people and convey a sense of how they really feel about each other, what they go through. So I knew that he would get the essence of this movie right.”

Bell agrees, adding that "Touching the Void, like The Eagle, sets its two men against a landscape. The two weeks Kevin spent with us in the rehearsal room is where I really saw his talent. He wanted this movie to work on different levels. During filming when we were against the elements on location, he would push you and push you, for the good of the film. I respect that kind of filmmaker being at the helm.

"When Kevin told me he wanted Channing to play Marcus, I thought the combination of the two of us would bring something dynamic and unique to the movie. When we started work in the rehearsal room, I got the chance to see how Channing approaches a role; to him, everything is personal. His depth and understanding of the character, and the way he came to life in those two weeks of rehearsals, was a joy to watch.”

Tatum reveals, "This was the first time on a movie that I'd ever gotten to rehearse with a direct

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