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Interview With Centurion Director Neil Marshall

The movie is being hailed as a Roman Die Hard. See what the filmmaker has to say about blending period storytelling with pulse pounding action.
After the SXSW "secret" midnight showing of Centurion, Hollywood News sat down with acclaimed director Neil Marshall.

The surviving Romans must get back from behind the battle lines after being massacred by the Picts. Marshall was asked about blending story with history and presenting both sides fairly.

"It all comes down to compromise. I mean, we’re not making it a total history lesson; it is meant to be an entertaining movie and telling a story, so there has to be a degree of flexibility on it. We got that degree of flexibility with the Picts, especially, because there is no recorded history for the Picts. There’s no recorded language, there’s no written history for the Picts. We know of them through various rumors, but who knows if that’s true. So I approach them from a practical point of view; it was like these people did live in this environment, so how would they have dressed? The idea of them running around in fur bikinis was kind of ridiculous, because it was -18 [degree weather] we were filming in."

"That’s the point. There are no evil people in it, with the exception of maybe Aeron, who’s kind of pure evil (laughs). Everybody is motivated; everybody has a total justification for what they’re doing. The Picts are defending their home and fighting for their lives just as much as the Romans are. That was the key for me – getting into what motivates each of the characters, and everybody wants to survive. Everybody wants to live out this thing."

Marshall also spoke about authenticity vs. movie making pertaining to dialogue and settings.

"I made the decision very early on that I wanted these guys to speak in a very naturalistic way, because we can’t go back and have them all talking in Latin or make it some kind of weird authentic thing like that. They’re from different parts of the Empire, so I thought, okay, we’ll have them speak in English, but we’ll have them speak in a milder version of their own regional accents so they all sound like they come from different places anyway. Visually they all look like they come from different places anyway. But the way that I wanted them to speak was just very natural, like soldiers would now. Because I don’t for a minute believe that soldiers weren’t as bawdy and finding some kind of humor in their situation and ruthless and all of these things [that soldiers are] now. I don’t think that’s changed in thousands of years. I think they’re a bunch of blokes, and if one is getting on with a girl and the other are nudging each other and having a bit of a laugh about it, or if they’re swearing like troopers, I don’t know what the equivalent curses were back then, but we have to do something that the audience can relate to now. There are going to be those people who have issues with it and say it’s not authentic, but what is authentic?"

"I’d never seen anything about the Romans on Hadrian’s Wall and why that was built – you know, what could have been so bad that made the Romans build a 60-foot long, 30-foot high stone wall across the country to keep the Picts out? What have they done? And I’d heard about the myth of the Ninth Legion, this Roman legion that marched into the Scottish mist to deal with the Picts and just vanished without a trace. Where I grew up was at one end of Hadrian’s Wall, so we used to go on school trips there and I was surrounded by this history from a very early age. My dad’s a big history buff and I just absorbed all of this, and I was always fascinated with the idea of these Romans coming in from wherever, from Italy or North Africa or some hot climate and ending up at the farthest-most frontier – the driving, horizontal rain, bleak Scottish frontier or Caledonian frontier. It was intriguing to me as the setting for a story, so I just wanted to explore that myth and uncover the truth behind it."

For the complete interview, click the link.
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