You remember Mel Gibson’s award-winning performance as William Wallace, but these nuggets about the creation of Braveheart may enrich your repeat viewings.
1. Screenwriter Randall Wallace first had the idea on a vacation to Edinburgh.
He saw statues of William Wallace (no relation) and Robert the Bruce adorning Edinburgh Castle and asked a tour guide who they were. The guide proceeded to tell the screenwriter about their story. Wallace was immediately inspired to write a screenplay about the famed warriors.
2. But Wallace didn’t immediately start his research.
Wallace opted to do specific historical research after he completed his screenplay because he wanted to capture the drama of the story first and input historical details later. Wallace brushes off claims of the movie’s historical inaccuracy by saying that the script is only his dramatic interpretation.
3. Mel Gibson didn’t want a title sequence.
The director opted against including a main title sequence because he felt the film should launch right into the story. Nevertheless, famous designer Kyle Cooper created a brief title sequence for the film. Cooper would go on to do the noted title sequences for films like Se7en, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and American Horror Story.
4. There’s a little Spartacus in Gibson’s direction.
Gibson’s main inspirations for Braveheart were sword-and-sandal epics he watched growing up, like El Cid and Spartacus.
5. Gibson worked in order.
The first shot in the movie was the first shot that he filmed.
6. James Robinson, who plays Young William, hadn’t acted in a movie before Braveheart.
At one of the casting calls in Glasgow, Gibson asked another young actor there if he knew anybody who would be good for the movie, and the young actor referred Gibson to Robinson.
7. Mel Gibson’s brother makes an appearance.
The director’s brother, Donal Gibson, plays the leader of one of the clans that joins up with William Wallace at the midpoint of the movie.
8. Mad Max influenced the battle scenes.
Gibson admits that he borrowed the cinematic techniques for most of the violent shots in the movie—like shooting at different speeds or using jump cuts to emphasize the violence—from his Mad Max director George Miller. He also admittedly borrowed ideas and techniques for more atmospheric shots from director Peter Weir (who directed Gibson in Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously).
9. Gibson had no choice but to star as William Wallace.
Gibson was relatively new to directing and was known more as an actor when he took on Braveheart – at that point his only directing credit was the small drama The Man Without a Face. Because of his onscreen fame, Paramount Pictures would allegedly only agree to let Gibson direct the movie if he starred in it.
10. Gibson didn’t have actors read lines when they auditioned.
Instead, he sat down and talked to each actor over tea.
11. Gibson brought in actual members of the Wallace clan as extras.
They’re standing around Wallace during the opening shots of battles.
12. There’s a subtle Shakespeare reference in the film’s most famous speech.
William Wallace’s famous “Freedom” speech was heavily inspired by King Henry’s “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” from the Shakespeare play Henry V.
13. The distinctive face paint—called “woad”— is actually an anachronism.
It was never worn in battle at the time the movie takes place.
14. Gibson’s woad went through some revisions.
Gibson originally wanted to have St. Andrew’s Cross (a symbol of Scotland that appears on its contemporary flag) as the woad design on his face, but the film’s makeup artist, Lois Burwell, suggested the now iconic half-face-covering design. Good call by Burwell – she won the Oscar for Best Makeup for Braveheart.
15. Some of the warriors were real-life soldiers.
The production used reserve soldiers from the Irish territorial army as extras during the battle scenes. To save money, the same group played both Scottish and English forces and simply changed costumes depending on the angles Gibson wanted to shoot.