GORD'S IN THE HOOD
EXCLUSIVE Former River City star excels as Little John in BBC drama By Paul English
HE recorded dialogue at the legendary Pinewood Studios and spent six months charging down the film industry's hardiest stunt men in the middle of a forest in Budapest. But the dank grey mornings on a muddy rugby pitch in Edinburgh's Myreside were never far from Scots actor Gordon Kennedy's mind while filming new BBC1 drama Robin Hood.
The former River City star, who plays Little John in the lavish new Saturday night production, drew on his experiences as a rugby player with top Edinburgh side Watsonians while playing Robin Hood's brawny sidekick. And he reckons that 10 years of hard knocks on the rugby pitch were the perfect preparation for the biggest part of his career. "I got a very strange sense of deja vu throughout the whole shoot," said the 42-year-old former PE teacher from his home in London.
"I was aware of feelings I hadn't had since I played rugby. Even though we were acting in a fight, I had a sense I was going out to do something physical, in exactly the same way as I used to feel when I was going out to play rugby.
"That was great because there's no better feeling than having that much adrenaline pumping through your body when you're preparing for combat - you feel 10 foot tall and capable of knocking down trees. "But the next morning the first thing my body would say would be 'Hoi! We're not a 25-year-old anymore...'. "Some mornings trying to get up out of bed was really tough after days of running about the forest, falling and crashing into trees. "My character in particular had a lot of physical stuff. In that respect it's been the most demanding job I've ever done, but that's what I loved about it. "You spend a lot of time as an actor standing or sitting and talking, so being able to run around and fight was great."
Gordon won the part of Little John after leaving River City, where he played Mac - the teacher with inappropriate feelings towards his barely-legal foster daughters. He's also appeared in Red Cap with Tamzin Outhwaite and Glasgow Kiss with Sharon Small. But it's his role as one of Robin Hood's Merry Men in the latest retelling of the famous legend which he hopes could propel him to bigger things. "I'm hoping this will relaunch my career as the oldest action hero in town," he said, tongue firmly in cheek.
"I'm looking forward to doing large action pictures with very little dialogue and lots of running into stuntmen. "But it's filmed in High Definition, which is bad news for someone my age, because it shows up every minute detail of your face." The BBC are confident in the effectsladen show, and have given it the familyfriendly Dr Who slot on Saturdays. But Gordon says it's impossible to tell whether the show will be as successful as David Tennant and his blue box. He said: "Who knows. If it is as successful as Dr Who, then that'll be fantastic. Dr Who is a great show, and they've made the hallmark regarding how you remake legends like Dr Who and Robin Hood. But it's all about audiences in the end." Newcomer Jonas Armstrong takes the lead role, with Cockney lad Keith Allen as a bisexual Sheriff of Nottingham.
Richard Armitage (Macduff in last year's BBC Macbeth remake alongside James McAvoy) plays Guy of Gisborne while the brooding Lucy Griffiths (C4's Sugar Rush) appears as Maid Marian. Armstrong's take on Hood has been described as "Jamie Oliver with a bow and arrow", but Gordon's based his character on two men from very different backgrounds.
He said: "Little John doesn't say much, but when he does, people listen to him. "He's a leader of men, and there are plenty of others doing the talking. He was the leader of the outlaws before Robin came along, so despite being big, he's certainly not stupid. "In the past there's always been a slight inclination towards playing someone big like him as stupid. "But I was thinking along the lines of French actor Gerard Depardieu in Cyrano de Bergerac. "He was a very big man, a great fighter who ran at people and knocked them into the river. "Little John might be big and violent, but he's very clever. The only thing is, I don't have a lot of dialogue to prove that. He's not at all verbose - which was, naturally, a problem to someone like me. "But I think if Robin Hood is Jamie Oliver, then Little John is Jason White, the captain of the Scottish rugby team.
"He's a big man, his deeds are much bigger than the man he is. And he doesn't lead by talking all the time." It's these contemporary touches which Gordon believes set the latest adaptation apart from the Jason Connery and Kevin Costner versions. He said: "There's no point in remaking something like this unless you're going to do something different with it. Hollywood is awash with pointless remakes. "The great thing about the legend is it's still good versus evil.
The broad brush strokes are still there. It's still about someone who's trying to rid the world of poverty. These are universal themes, told in a contemporary spirit, but set in the Middle Ages. "The modern parallels are extraordinary. An unpopular war going on in our world, and there was back in Robin's day too. "There's a party in power who some people think have too much power and have become quite unpopular, just like the Sheriff of Nottingham and his men. "Robin would make a great Prime Minister today. I'd certainly vote for him. "A drama like this has to be complex enough to draw in kids who are more attuned to sophisticated plots these days." GORDON'S wife Susan and their boys James (12) and Patrick (13) flew out to join him during the long shoot. He said: "Once my boys knew I'd been offered the job there was no way I could turn it down. When they heard it was Robin Hood they suddenly became very interested in dad's job for the first time. "They're both just the right age for all that, and had a great time on set."
His settled home life is a far cry from that of his last big character, River City's Mac. Gordon left last year after his character cracked on to Shieldinch teen Nicki, played by Jayd Johnson. His scorned partner Alice (Lorraine McIntosh) subsequently sought revenge by downloading child porn onto his laptop - a stunt which landed her in jail. Gordon claims he'd never rule out the return of Mac and said: "I'd love to do something again. I don't expect it to happen, but if there's a good reason then I'd love to.
"River City's like altitude training for actors, and it's a very professional set up. But you have to learn and work very quickly. "People were concerned when I told them the way Mac was going, but at no stage did he actually do anything hideously wrong.
"I always wanted to make sure that the character was unclear, so many characters are black and white - good or bad - but Mac was morally questionable at most.
"So he became very ambivalent, and I think that worked well. He didn't turn into a mass murderer that so many middle class characters do when they join soaps."
Of course, Gordon's other major Scottish project was Absolutely - the Nineties sketch show which introduced the world to Stoneybridge and Siadwell.
The good news for fans of the show is that Gordon's getting the cast back together.
"We're hoping to bring a DVD out for the first time next year," he said. "It occurred to me after some of the extras on River City told me how much they loved it.
"There's a guy called Absolutely Andy who's run a petition to get the show released on DVD. So I'm determined to get us all back together to do a commentary for the DVD."
But the bad news is, there's no chance of any new material. Gordon said: "I'm still really proud of it. We wrote it performed it and it was successful. But it makes me very cautious for ever wanting to do it again. We got away with it the first time..."
Robin Hood, 7 October 2006, BBC1, 7.05pm.