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Little John, big role

A decade ago Kevin Durand was a struggling actor, one of thousands in Hollywood looking for bit parts in shows like the Outer Limits and ER .
Kevin Durand, Russell Crowe and Scott Grimes are shown in a scene from "Robin Hood."
A decade ago Kevin Durand was a struggling actor, one of thousands in Hollywood looking for bit parts in shows like the Outer Limits and ER.

Flash forward a dozen years and the Thunder Bay thespian is headed for Cannes, where his latest film, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, opened the world’s most prestigious film festival earlier this week.

In between he’s pocketed dozens of increasingly high-profile roles, playing the Blob in last year’s X-Men Origins, Gabriel in 2010’s Legion and even finding time to take on the part of Martin Keamy in TV’s hugely successful Lost.

But it’s his take on Little John, Robin Hood’s legendary first-lieutenant and a role made famous by Alan Hale Sr. (whose namesake offspring played the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) in Errol Flynn’s 1938 standard, The Adventures of Robin Hood, which has Durand’s popularity riding at an all-time high.

It’s a role he relishes.

"I play this great big character from Scotland. He’s a big roguish soldier, along with Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) and Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle) and Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes). We’re all at war fighting for King Richard. It’s almost kind of like an origins tale of Robin Hood," Durand told CKPR’s Laura Zaina in a phone interview from Los Angeles earlier this month.

"We’re actually seeing probably the most historically accurate telling of the story. I mean, it’s a legend, but in terms of geography and history, I would definitely say it’s the most accurate you can get."

The two-hour and 20 minute epic whisks the audience back to 12th century England, where Robin, is a soldier in the King Richard the Lion Heart’s crusade army. After the good king is slain in battle, Robin and his troops are on their way home when they encounter Sir Godfrey, charged by the King of France to assassinate King Richard.

After chasing him off, Robin assumes the role of nobleman, and accepts a plea from dying soldier Sir Robert Loxley to return a sword to his father Walter (Max von Sydow).

When Robin reaches corrupt Nottingham the elder Loxley convinces Robin to assume his late son’s role to prevent family lands from being taken by the overtaxing King John, Richard’s younger brother. It’s there Robin meets and courts Sir Robert’s widow, Lady Marian (Cate Blanchett), who rebukes his advances at first, but warms to him when he stands up to tax collectors.

As the movie reaches its climax, a war with the French ensues and events in the battle lead King John to declare Robin and his band of merry men outlaws of the crown.

Durand, 36, said he first auditioned for the role of Little John two years ago, found out he was director Scott’s first choice, but then the lines of communications dried up.

"Three months went by and I didn’t get an offer. Then I just decided if I was going to play a Scotsman, I can’t be hanging out in L.A.. So I just packed my bags and went to Scotland on my own accord and lived there for a couple of months. I found the accent, I found the character.

"Then I didn’t get an offer for the movie for about five or six months after that."
Though he’s played in blockbuster’s before, Durand said he was still in awe when he took in a recent screening of the film.

"To see myself in a movie of that scale, is fantastic. But the character is so different for me, I didn’t really have a hard time watching it and saying, ‘Wow, that guy’s kinda crazy," Durand said.
But what to do for an encore? Thanks to Robin Hood, it wasn’t easy choosing what to do next, he said.

"Robin Hood was almost like a hangover. It was such an amazing experience that any other job that was offered to me after that just seemed like a downer. So I just decided not to take anything and I kind of fired and rehired people
on my team.

"I found some amazing, powerful agents and we’ve been reading scripts. There’s a lot of really great stuff out there, and I’m just trying to make the right choices."

Durand is next scheduled to appear in a pair of 2011 productions, starting with the sci-fi thriller I am Number Four. He’ll also be reunited with X-Men co-star Hugh Jackman in the boxing drama Real Steel.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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