When Mel Gibson plays soldier, he goes all out he studies war strategies, fortifies his castle, paints his face like a Celtic native, and orders up 1,500 troops. That's what it took to make Braveheart, in which Gibson stars as the Scottish hero William Wallace, who led a band of ragtag countrymen against the English army in 1297 during the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
The reported $70 million war drama, due out Memorial Day weekend, is Gibson's sophomore directorial effort (following 1993's The Man Without a Face), and he tried to stay close to history during the 105-day shoot on location in Ireland and Scotland. ''We did a lot of research, particularly with how the film looks,'' he says.
The moviemakers did, however, take poetic license with the story: ''When history got in the way of making a good film, we sort of bent it to our own devices.'' Lending authenticity to the spectacle were Irish army reserve troops who manned the battlefield as extras: ''They weren't Boy Scouts. (But) they were really well-behaved. They really made the battle scenes work.''
In the end, the only thing Gibson couldn't control was the weather. ''When the engines are running, you just go. You shoot in the rain, in the hail, in the sun. And sometimes it looks miserable and it is,'' he says. For a story full of what Gibson calls ''skulduggery and double-dealing,'' the darkness made the film's atmosphere seem somehow more medieval. ''It looks like it's from another century, which is nice,'' he says. ''I'd film again there in a heartbeat.''