Ironclad Interview
Ironclad Interview
Having starred in the likes of A Knight’s Tale and Solomon Kane, and the hit HBO series Rome, James Purefoy has a reputation for playing sword-wielding historical or fantasy figures intent on murder and violence. And his latest project is no different. Playing a Knight Templar in 13th century England, Ironclad tells the story of one of the bloodiest sieges in medieval history. Recently in London, he spoke to View’s Matthew Turner about his sword-fighting skills, his views on religious fundamentalism and whether or not he has remembered his pants.

You must be quite handy with a sword now?

James Purefoy

I am quite good with a sword now. I think producers need to feel safe that their leading man can dismember somebody at the flick of an Oyster card.
Is there any practical application for swordplay?

James Purefoy

In real life? No. Oh, yes. I am a member of a fencing club. Which is a very different thing, isn't it? Because obviously when you're doing swordplay on films you know exactly where every blow is going to come but when you're doing it in real life you've no idea where it's going to come and that's rather thrilling.
If you're going to make a film about something brutally violent, what's the point of not showing the brutal violence?
Did you injure anybody?

James Purefoy

On this film, no.
Have you ever injured anybody?

James Purefoy

Yes. On Solomon Kane, we were shooting this moment where I'm assaulting a castle with a rapier and the idea was to stick it into somebody's neck here [mimes action] and then drag him along with just the top two inches of the sword as I'm talking to somebody else, and the guy moved at the last second in a way that he shouldn't have, and it went through his cheek and landed on his tongue. But he was a very butch stuntman. I was obviously horrified, because I can't bear hurting people. And I said, “I am so sorry – it's awful,” and he said, [putting on Czech accent] "No, James, just make movie big success and then I boast."
Was anyone injured this time? I mean, you escaped unscathed ...

James Purefoy

Do you know, I'm having trouble remembering whether anybody was actually hurt. I think we were pretty damn lucky. I know that doesn't make great copy – you'd much rather if I said people had a limb severed, but actually we didn't. We were pretty damn good on this. You know, I mean nicks and cuts and grazes but nothing serious. Which is rare.
That's not a real arm that's used to beat someone to death with then?

James Purefoy

Clearly not.
Are you getting sick and tired of the rain, wind and cold on your film sets?

James Purefoy

I just want to make a movie in the Bahamas. That's all. I was watching that Mad Dogs the other day and they all got to go to Majorca for, I don't know, two months? I mean, having said that, I lived in Rome for two and a half years when we shot Rome, so it's all penance now.
Did it interrupt filming at all or was it just, 'Great, we'll just shoot anyway' in the rain?

James Purefoy

No, we just shot in the rain. But, it's only rain. Obviously somebody in the office here is going, 'Oh, the conditions were just horrific,' but I shot Solomon Kane, four months in minus fifteen degree temperatures where my costume froze to my body, so frankly, a little bit of Welsh rain and mud is not that difficult to deal with.
Do you think it adds to it in any way? A bit of method acting?

James Purefoy

Mm-hm-hmm, don't get me started on that. No, I think it's always good to have an atmos, isn't it? An atmosphere that you're working against. And these are tough men. They wouldn't have even noticed it was raining – it was just rain.
Was there quite a bit of camaraderie on set then with the other actors?

James Purefoy

Yes, but I think that's crucial and it's very important for a film that is using that template of the Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven story, that template that you're hanging the film on. It is kind of important that you get a bunch of actors who are going to get on with each other. And fortunately we had not a wanker amongst us. Which is often not the case but there was no ego, there was no problem with that. There was gentle ribbing and joshing and joking. And a lot of people had worked with each other before – I'd worked with Derek Jacobi, Brian [Cox], and Jason [Flemyng] a couple of times and Mackenzie [Crook] twice, so, you know, it feels like just old friends coming back together.
The violence is so convincingly medieval. I wonder if part of the humour might be rooted in that. This is, I think, the first film where somebody clubs somebody to death -

James Purefoy

- with an arm. Yeah, possibly. Is that a first? It might well be a first. I do think the violence in it is extreme but then I've never been good at being soft on it in that way. If you're going to try and make a film about something that is brutally violent, what's the point of not showing the brutal violence? So that's the question. The question is why I made the film in the first place, but it's not a question about how extreme the violence is. It is violent and it was violent and it was known to be one of the most brutally violent sieges of the medieval times in the whole of Europe. I mean, it was horrific. And I think that's the important thing – I don't think that we over-glamorise or make it sexy, the violence. I think we are pretty honest about it.
What certificate is it?

James Purefoy

I don't even know. I mean it should be an 18. If it isn't, there's something wrong.
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