The Interview with Mr. Will Lyman
Held on Sunday the 15th of August 2004, USA and followed up by email.
How long did it take to film one episode of Crossbow?
One week. Monday to Friday
What are the shooting locations of Crossbow that you liked?
Especially the places that we were living, in Les Baux des Provences, also Palais des Papes, Fort St. Andre, Villeneuve les Avignons
Did you have fun shooting the series?
A lot of fun. Most of the fun looking back on it.
Are you still in contact with some of the other cast members or crew?
With Nick Brimble, John Otway, Andy Bloch, Robert Guillaume, Robert Forrester, Guy Rolfe (passed away last year), Morgan Sheppard, George Mihalka. Some more than others, but I run into them from time to time.
Will you ever go back to shooting locations of Crossbow in France?
I've been back already, to Les Baux and Avignon (and Paris, though that wasn’t a location) just for vacation.
How was that going with the horses? Were there stables on location and how were the horses transported?
The horses were stabled on location and transported from one location to another by trailer.
What is your favourite episode?
Episode 25, "The Nightmare," with the poisoning of Matthew. The actor who played the beggar, with the moustache that falls off was a very funny guy and we had a lot of fun together. And I think David (Barry Gray) and I got somewhere with that one, as we did with that nice scene in “Nemesis.” Episode 8, “The Dukes of Zharingen,” stays in my memory because it was the first one we shot. It was a pretty stressful shoot, but working with Robert Morley was a thrill.
Where there any funny bloopers while recording?
No real funny bloopers, some bloopers were made on purpose, but that's why they were not really funny. We almost had a problem shooting episode 18, “The Four Horsemen” or, maybe it was “The Citadel”. We were going to use the old well in the center of Villeneuve Les Avignon as the sacred well in the Citadel. It was a big scene with tons of background actors. My living quarters were right there on the square and I woke up the day of the shoot to the sound of chainsaws. The groundskeepers were there to prune the trees the way the French do, which is right down to the nubs. I ran out in my underwear and, with my fractured French, got them to stop long enough for someone to come and explain the situation properly. It was a good thing I was living there.
Did you suffer any serious injury while filming the series?
A stuntman broke his leg in episode 36, “Exit the Dragon.” But aside from the usual dents, dings, sprains and backaches, the only thing that happened to me was that I had a horse fall on my leg. That hurt. It happened in the episode in Boulbon castle (“Handmaiden”?) where I put a (crossbow) bolt in a charging Black Knight. Before the shot, Mario Luraschi, the well-known stunt rider, told me not to move when I shot him and he would drop his horse right in front of me. I don’t blame Mario; he only missed by a few inches, but the armour on the horse’s head left a nice long scar on my leg.
How was the working schedule for a season?
For three seasons, we shot from June until Christmas. We didn’t shoot in winter except for season one when we had to go back in January to finish 3 episodes around Senanque (Possessed, Rebirth and Handmaiden, I think.) The area got a huge snowfall that month, and all of Europe got a severe cold snap. Nick Brimble got a call from home in London saying a pipe had broken in his front hall and his stairs were covered in ice.
Why did they change the colour of your hair in season 3?
Probably because of a film I did in Canada with George Mihalka, “Hostile Takeover.” I had lightened it just a bit, but when I went back to France for Crossbow, they liked the colour and then I depended on French hair colour products. They were a little bit different from the ones in the USA. That’s a long story made short."
Don't you think that Crossbow belongs on DVD?
Why not, can't understand why they haven't done that yet. A lot of other similar series are on DVD already.
What are your personal feelings about season 3? It was so different than season 1 and 2.
Total trash (he said that with a smile). I changed a lot of the scripts in season 1 and 2; in fact I was a very bad boy about that, because I wanted to improve the storyline. I knew it wasn’t my job, but I was very strong-willed and took it all personally. So I rewrote some stuff, well, okay, a lot of stuff. At the beginning of season 3, it was pretty clear to me that was making a lot of people (writers, producers and directors, not to mention fellow actors, pretty unhappy. So I vowed to stop and just do what they wrote. Season 3 is what it was. The budget got drastically cut each succeeding year and by season 3 I was riding (in ‘The Gods’) a little Maroc horse, very thin and in bad shape, quite a switch from the beautiful Lipizzaner: ‘Napolitano’. That was a design decision, we were in “The Wasteland” after all, but “The Wasteland” was a budgetary decision. Fewer actors and less beautiful costumes. I was not fond of the storylines. The direction that the series took in season 3 made the Christian Broadcast Network, our only buyer in the U.S., decide not to run the third season. They objected to what I imagine they regarded as a rather cavalier comparison of the resurrection of William Tell to the resurrection on which they base their faith. I remember suggesting that possible outcome to the producer at the time we were shooting.
In episode 70 we see Tell being confronted with his past and in episodes 71 and 72 we don’t see Tell anymore, we only see Gessler in prison haunted by his bad deeds. We don’t know for sure how it ends with Gessler and how it ends with Tell. Are Tell and Gessler dead or not?
Were you happy with This end of the series?
I was happy with it at the time, because it cut two weeks off my shooting schedule, and I was tired and ready to go home. Once again, it was a budgetary decision. They were able to shoot two episodes on one interior set (the dungeon), and half of that was pulled from previous episodes. In retrospect, I think it would have been nice to have some cool wrap-up episode, maybe years later “as I lay dying” kind of thing like Cyrano in Act Five. But that clearly was not going to happen. As for your plot question, I can only say that when we had just begun shooting, my wife drove onto the set and was stopped by one of the gendarmes from going into the restricted area. She said, “I’m with Guillaume Tell.” The gendarme looked at her and replied, “Guillaume Tell is dead.” And so he is.
How was auditioning for the series?
I auditioned directly for the role of William Tell. Then I heard nothing for what seemed like about 10 months. Then they called me to go in again and three days later I got the part. I think I had about two weeks to get ready to leave the country for seven months. I was the only one who had to be in France all the time during shooting, because I'm in every episode. Duh!
When did you learn to ride a horse?
my mother gave me my first experience with horses by buying me riding lessons when I was 8 or 9. I was mesmerized by horses as a child and, I’m sure, talked about them all the time, at least within the family. I don’t remember sharing that with my childhood friends. I don’t know why. My mother probably rode a bit as a girl, and, very early, I remember her going on a trail ride with me, but, I think, after her back operation, she no longer found it comfortable. It was the best birthday ever until I discovered much to my horror how uncomfortable riding was. Of course it gets better, but the beginning was quite a shock. I kept it up over the years, but not fanatically, and then, when I started acting in films, it was around the American bicentennial, so there were a lot of Revolutionary War characters on horseback, and I always made sure the film companies paid for more lessons.
How did you become an actor?
One of my favourite childhood events was the dress rehearsal (the last one before opening night) of the plays my parents did in their community theatre. I don’t know exactly why I only ever saw the dress rehearsal, but perhaps that was an additional plus, because it was still obviously part of a process at that point. Any way, I loved it and they were my inspiring.
Have you ever had fear of failure with so may people on a set (camera, crew etc), did you lose your lines for example?
Yeah, of course, that happens now and then. It’s a peril of the trade. We all hope it’s only now and then. It's different how that works, because when you're shooting a movie you can do the scene once again, or again and again... just as long as it takes to get it right. But that can be a nightmare too if you’re on one of those “death spirals” as I call them, and you end up without a clue as to what these words mean that you’re saying or which order they’re supposed to come out of your mouth. You have to nip that in the bud before it happens, or you are in serious trouble. When you're doing a play, you have a lot of rehearsals, and that makes you more confident with the memorization, but failure isn’t usually a memorization problem, but a concentration problem. An audience can give you a lot of support. If you trust them and stay honest, they’ll carry you through the rough spots. I got out of a total blank doing Prospero in “The Tempest” by looking at the audience and saying I didn’t have a clue where I was. They laughed, somebody fed me a line and off we went. It was fine.
What projects are you working on now?
In the past summer, I have completed work on three films: “Our Fathers” for Showtime Television, about the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, in which I play Cardinal Bernard Law’s lawyer; “Mattie Fresno and the Holoflux Universe” (Comedy), produced by the man who was the First AD on “Floating” and “Turntable,” written and directed by my friend Robert Patton Spruill.
In addition, we have begun the Frontline (documentary) season with The Choice about our two presidential candidates.
Thanks for the nice interview, Mr Will Lyman!
You are most welcome.