Richie Gray has revealed that although iconic locations like Glencoe, the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle appear on screen, nearly three-quarters of the shoot happened in Montana due to the “scary” costs of making it in Scotland.
The north-western state’s snowy landscapes largely stand in for a harsh winter in 14th century in Scotland in the new movie, Robert the Bruce, which will get its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this weekend.
Gray has denied suggestions that Robert the Bruce is a “sequel” to Braveheart, even though Scots star Angus Macfadyen has revived his role from Mel Gibson’s epic, which Gray has been a huge fan of since seeing it for the first time as a 15-year-old film fan in Australia.
Gray, who had made two previous films in Montana after relocating from Australia to Los Angeles nearly a decade ago, said cost considerations and the fact most of the film’s investors, cast and crew were based in the United States meant it made more financial and logistical sense to base the production there.
When the film, which was entirely shot on location, did relocate to Scotland, Gray and his cast and crew then had to grapple with the freak “Beast From The East” winter storm which hit huge parts of the country for weeks in the spring of 2018.
Gray said: “It’s a very, very different film to Braveheart. We are telling the story through the eyes of a widow and the three children, who are kind of unspoken victims of war and what they lost when their fathers went off to battle. We felt it was something that hadn’t been seen before.
“We were very passionate about making the film in the winter, to make it much more difficult for Robert the Bruce to be on the run in the story and also because of the look of it.
“I’d made films in Montana before and I’d been to Scotland before. They are incredibly similar. I was sending photos of Montana to one of our actors, Seoras Wallace, who is also in Braveheart and is also a direct descendant of William Wallace, and he would send photos of Scotland back to me.
“I’ve been living in LA for nine years, but I’ve made my last couple of films in Montana, so I’d been spending more time there. It’s just such a beautiful place.
“Because of the time constraints we had to get the film made and the connections we had in the United States it seemed to make sense from the start to film it in Montana rather than start afresh in Scotland. We did exterior filming every day. There isn’t a single studio shot in the movie.
“I’d have loved to have shot the whole film in Scotland but it would have been too scary. We had existing relationships with investors, cast and crew.
“But we did shoot maybe 30 per cent of the film in Scotland. We were filming during the ‘Beast from the East,’ which was epic and led to some of the stunning photography that we got. It’s easily the hardest shoot I’ve ever been on, but it was the most rewarding.”
Gray came on board to direct the film after being alerted to a script for a Robert the Bruce film Macfadyen had been trying to get off the ground for nearly 15 years.
They were introduced by New Zealand actress Anna Hutchison, who ended up playing the lead role of Morag in Robert the Bruce, which sees the king of Scotland on the run and with a price on his head when he takes refuge with a women and her three orphaned children.
Gray said: “This is in no way, shape or form a sequel to Braveheart, but I have to say I adore that movie. I first saw it when I was 15 years old when the teacher in my acting class took us to see it twice. It was obviously a big deal everywhere in the world, but especially in Australia.
“Braveheart was about a part of history that we didn’t learn a lot about growing up in Australia. As a 15-year-old I just found it mind-blowing. It’s a masterpiece. When every single person in an audience is crying at the end of movie you’ve either done something very right or very wrong.
“ Anna and I had made a couple of movies together. She was making a film in the UK with Angus and he was telling her about his 14-year mission of trying to make this film. She basically told him that I was a big fan of his and Braveheart and suggested he send the script to me.
“I was scared when I got the script because of the expectation. I was worried about what I would say if I didn’t like it. I just thought it was a beautiful script.”
Gray’s film is being released later this month, less than a year after the unveiling of Netflix epic Outlaw King, which saw Hollywood star Chris Pine play Robert the Bruce in the central role.