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Neil Jackson Discusses Life on the Set of "Alexander"

Neil Jackson on Working with Oliver Stone and the Story of Alexander the Great


Alexander Colin Farrell

A scene from "Alexander" starring Colin Farrell

© Warner Bros. Pictures

What's your role in "Alexander?"
My role was a general called Perdiccas. He grew up with Alexander. They were schooled together; they went to school with Aristotle. When Philip, his father, got killed, Alexander took over as the regent. He brought his generals that were lower generals in the rankings up into being the foremost generals in his army. So Perdiccas went up into being the general of the infantry. He looked after all the foot soldiers. He was there prominent in Alexander’s campaigns, decorated, and was there up until his deathbed, a close friend and companion.

It sounds like you really know this character. Did you do your own research?
The script is so intense. It’s an unbelievable script. It’s been 10 years in the making for Oliver, getting there, so he’s had a lot of time to work and hone. He had some of the best people, the best historians, working on the script with him to make sure it was tight. The script is incredible so you wouldn’t need to do much more, but I did a lot of research. I went to the British Museum where there’s a whole exhibit on Alexander, read several books – Robin Lane Fox’s book, the foremost one - and researched it as much as I could.

A lot of the research actually happened simply by doing the work. The way that it was shot and the group of people that we had was as close as we could get to the way that Alexander was with his group of men fighting together, working together, drinking together, socializing together, campaigning, planning… So I got as close to it as I possibly could, I think.

There have been very few films dealing with the subject of Alexander. Why do you believe that is?
They did it before with the Richard Burton thing, which was a bit of a flop and a bizarre film. I think the problem with its scale is that it is such an epic story and it’s so big, a lot of people have been fearful to touch it. It’s much like Troy. Troy’s a huge story and to try to tackle such an epic story that’s in everyone’s hearts and minds, and try to contain it into a 2, 2 ½ hour film, takes a lot of guts. And you have to be completely passionate about what you’re doing. You have to have a good crew and a good story and a good idea in place. So I think a lot of people have been fearful.

The irony was the fact that there was a lot of other projects [at the same time]. There was Mel Gibson’s Alexander the mini-series. There was Baz Luhrmann’s Alexander. A lot of people came out of the gate with the same idea at the same time, and Oliver beat them to the punch. This film has beaten them to the punch and scared them away. And I think if any other film was made of Alexander, they would still pale. He’s made the definitive one, I think. He’s captured everything from harsh reality. It’s not a beautiful, glorious, Hollywood epic. It’s dirty and it’s real. You see the man for his brilliance and for his flaws. And I think that’s the way it should have been told.

Thinking back on filming, was there one defining moment on the set that stands out?
There was one day where we walked onto a set in Pinewood and it was when Alexander has just defeated the Persians and we’ve taken over Babylon. Babylon was the greatest city that’s ever been created, and we’ve walked into this place and never seen it before. I mean, the direction that we got from Oliver was we’re rednecks who’ve just come back from the farm to see a city for the first time. And it’s very true. He had skyscrapers, thousands of people, a ticker tape parade, and we walk into this Babylonian palace. The set was – it cost 5 million sterling to make – and it was incredible. Hand-carved doors, plants that had been imported with irrigation systems, a massive amount of people, there were maybe 700 extras. And standing on this huge, huge set with this glory around you was just, “This is incredible. This is mad.” I mean the scenes that we saw and the scenery that we saw in the three different countries that we shot in were amazing, but I think that one set kind of capsulated everything. It was expensive, glorious, impressive, audacious…

Would you do something of this scale again?
I’d love to. Yeah, at the drop of a hat. The friends that I’ve made as a result of it, all the guys that were in the movie and the crew and the cast, we’re still good friends. I went to one of their weddings. We stay in contact all the time. So that alone would make me want to do it again.

Although it was hard, everyday was rewarding. You were coming back exhausted, having a pint with the guys, sitting down drinking, discussing the day and it’s so surreal. It’s so surreal to think that you’re sitting there in battle armor, scars, hair down to here, you’re living a life that was 2400 hundred years ago. It was insane and I’d love to do it again.

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