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Duel in Sherwood Forest : Fox Network Gets the Jump on Big-Screen Production of 'Robin Hood'

May 12, 1991|SUSAN KING | Times Staff Writer

Patrick Bergin firmly believes it was written in the stars that he play the legendary romantic no bleman-turned-outlaw in Fox Broadcasting's action-adventure "Robin Hood," premiering Monday night.

"Dare I say it?," Bergin said with a soft chuckle. "It was fate and destiny."

Actually, it was a blow on the head. "I love to tell this story," Bergin said, "but no one believes me. Everybody says, 'Sure. Right.' "

Even before he learned of the "Robin Hood" project, Bergin was browsing through a bookstore in London last year when a book fell out of the stacks and landed on his head.

As fate would have it, the book was about the famous resident of Sherwood Forest.

"I wasn't going to buy the book," Bergin said. But after destiny stepped in, he did.

Fox's "Robin Hood" originally was developed as a feature film for Twentieth Century Fox. But Morgan Creek Productions and Warner Bros. were first out of the starting gate with a big-screen "Hood," signing Kevin Costner late last summer to star in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

Costner's "Hood," one of the most anticipated summer movies, opens in mid-June. But Bergin's "Hood" is beating the Costner film to U.S. audiences via Fox and is opening in England this month and elsewhere internationally in June. Bergin, a ruggedly handsome Irishman, wasn't widely known in the United States until this year when he scared the wits out of audiences as Julia Roberts' abusive husband in the box-office hit "Sleeping With the Enemy."

Bergin met with "Robin Hood" director John Irvin early last fall. Bergin was in Atlanta filming the upcoming thriller "Love Crimes," in which he plays a sex offender.

"John and I got tipsy together and had a lot of fun," Bergin said in a phone interview from Montreal, where he is filming the World War II romance "Map of the Human Heart."

Irvin ("Raw Deal," "Dogs of War") said he knew he found his Robin after seeing Bergin as the dashing explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton in last year's "Mountains of the Moon."

"I thought he was the right scale for Robin," Irvin said. "He is a leading man and also had the added advantage of being British."

Bergin, Irvin said, also possesses a lot of the same qualities as Errol Flynn, who played the most famous screen Robin, in the 1938 classic "The Adventures of Robin Hood."

"I think the Errol Flynn movie is masterful," Irvin said. "It's a hard act to follow, but I think our version is lots of fun and it's fast and it's funny. I think that Patrick has a lot of the charm of Errol Flynn."

After playing film brutes, Bergin said, he relished the chance to "be Errol Flynn and have a smile on my face."

Both Bergin and Irvin say this "Robin Hood" strives for realism. Bergin is not outfitted in Robin's customary green tights. "My girlfriend is really disappointed," Bergin said, laughing. "I look great in tights."

"That was a precondition that I do the movie," Irvin said. "No funny hats and no tights." Robin and His Merry Men still live in Sherwood Forest in this version, but now reside in caves. "I thought it was more visually interesting," Irvin said.

Bergin said he believes the Robin Hood legend has endured over the centuries because "the heroic warrior character is always appealing. When you combine that, with dare I say, a Christian message of robbing the rich and giving to the poor, you compound your interests in the story.

"The fact that the character gets to romp around in the woods with all sorts of interesting characters and gets the girl is just endlessly appealing."

"Robin Hood" was on location this winter in England and Wales. "There was a lot of mud, blood and gore," Bergin said.

"The English winter is not an ideal situation to make a location film," Irvin said. "But you only get one shot at doing 'Robin Hood' and therefore you give it your best shot."

Bergin takes great pride in the fact he quickly mastered the bow and arrow. "You won't believe this," Bergin said, "but I actually did splitting. We don't actually split the other guy's arrow (with your arrow), but we split a piece of wood. It was only about an inch across and it was 100 yards away. I stood up and on the third go, I did it. The crew couldn't believe it. The rest of the Merry Men didn't believe it. I could barely believe it. I was really impressed with myself."

Though "Robin Hood" was physically demanding, Bergin said playing a lighthearted character made it easier.

"It was a bit of a lesson," he said. "When you do something (demanding), have a smile on your face."

Before turning to acting, Bergin taught truant children and youngsters with learning disabilities. He said he had a just a few lean years as an actor, toiling in repertory theaters in England and then doing a short film, "No Man's Land," for the National Film and Television School.

Bergin began to laugh. "Robin Hood" opens on a double bill soon in Japan with "Sleeping With the Enemy."

"What a combination! I think it's the most extraordinary thing in the world. I am just thrilled. I don't often get a double bill. It's like a mini-film festival! An all-nighter! A retrospective!"

"Robin Hood" airs Monday at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 11, 8 p.m. on Channel 6.

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