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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# extras
Here's what it was like to be part of Braveheart's epic army
Hundreds of members of the Irish Defence Forces played William Wallace’s army in the 1990s battle movie.

IN 1994, A massive film production arrived in Ireland.

They were in search of an army to stand behind and fight with Scottish warrior William Wallace in a war of independence against the English crown.

So, who better than 1,000 Irish soldiers?

Reserve members of the Irish Defence Forces were signed up to become extras and hundreds of young men worked long hours over the eight weeks of filming and got to watch an Oscar-winning movie being created.

One of these young men, now a little less young twenty years on, spoke to recently about his experience as a soldier in Mel Gibson’s army. Lar Joye, an Army Reserve Captain and a curator at the Collins Barracks museum, said letters were sent asking members if they would be interested in being extras.

“I was just out of college and I didn’t have a job so it suited me perfectly to do the eight weeks,” he said.

During an intensive two week period of filming, there were almost 2,000 extras from the Defence Forces involved. After that the number was closer to 500.

I mean nowadays you don’t need this because you just take a film of a hundred people and you multiply it in your computer and you have a crowd. But in those days, that kind of technology wasn’t there. So you did need at least a couple of hundred people to fill out the shots.

Joye was 23 at the time and said that would have been the average age of the men involved.

“The pinpoint for a lot of them was the money, the reason they were doing it was for the cash,” he said. “For a lot of people at the time it was working six days a week, it was a lot of cash, and for those who were students, it was taxfree so it was a huge benefit to them.”

Though the money had a lot to do with it for many, Joye said the experience was “amazing” and as a film buff himself, he found it fascinating to watch a group of professionals making a huge Hollywood movie.

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. For the extras, it was an early start every day and there was a lot of waiting around.

The men were broken down into groups of 50 and every morning they were part of a “conveyor belt” to get their costumes on, their wigs attached and their makeup done – and fit in some breakfast inbetween – before making their way on set.

They were given specialist training in sword handling and fighting and Joye said the extras were taught special techniques by the stunt men that would make the fighting look more impressive. They also showed them the best way to avoid taking someone’s eye out, as the weapons were sharp.

We challenged Joye to a sword-fight on the day of our interview but he said he was still recovering from the shock of realising it’s now twenty years ago since the film was made.

If you’re interested in learning more, watch part one of this documentary made by the Defence Forces behind the scenes of the filming and watch out for the short shorts…

DFMagazine / YouTube

We’ll have part two next week, which will feature an interview with Mel Gibson and some behind the scenes gossip. 

Pictures: Irish Defence Forces personnel vote in Election 2014 … from Mali>

More: These 15 photos by the Air Corps show just how breathtaking Ireland can be in the summertime>

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