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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
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Mel Gibson thought his Irish Braveheart extras were a bunch of smartasses
He might not have been wrong either…

They’re terrific, you know, they’ve been really good, really professional. Like any group of young men, they’re probably 75% smartasses but they’re okay. They’re having fun I think.

THIS IS WHAT Hollywood actor Mel Gibson had to say about the 1,500 members of the Irish Defence Forces who played his army in the Oscar winning battle movie Braveheart.

As part of our series on the 20th anniversary of the film’s production in Ireland, last week we showed you what it was like for the extras on set every day. This week, we’ve got some insights from the high-profile actors from the movie themselves about the filming in Ireland as well as a now retired Colonel who was charged with taking care of the soldiers and keeping them in line.


In an interview with, Colonel Pearse McCorley said the young men who took part in the film were “really great” and came from all over the country and from a variety of different professions. “They had a difficult time – it was hard work, they were up early in the morning, working long hours and it was boring for them at times.”

You may be wondering, if they were so great, why did Gibson think they were a load of “smartasses”? McCorley explained that early on in the shooting, all the men were lined up for some shooting.

He walked past them and was making remarks about things but you know what a group of young Irish lads are like – they were quick with the repartee and he wasn’t quite capable of handling it and he walked away. You see that in his interview, he refers to them as smartasses – that’s because he didn’t know how to handle them

He might not have been wrong, if the interviews with some of the extras are anything to go by.

This lad is definitely our favourite:

I’m enjoying myself anyway. I’d stay here the whole time, I might leave altogether, you know, I might be Mel Gibson’s bodyguard…

Best extras ever

Despite their messing, several people involved in he film have commented on how well disciplined the extras were, including actor Alun Armstrong, who played the Earl of Mornat:

These must be the best extras I’ve ever worked with, they should have an award for being extras. They’re just so self-disciplined. You look at the hillside and there’s nobody there and you turn away for a couple of minutes and chat and you turn back and suddenly there are 1500 guys there, it’s just unbelievable.

Though there was just a handful of injuries on the set, there were a number of small issues that Colonel McCorley had to work through on behalf of his men.

“Initially, it was very hot and there were a few fellas who suffered from dehydration – though maybe one or two of them had decided to go out the night before,” he said. “So, we actually opened up facilities at the Curragh Rugby Club to make something available. We also started organising water to be brought out.”

There were some issues with showers and with the men being hungry during the long days of shooting but the Colonel said there were meetings every night where any issues could be brought up with the production team and they were quickly addressed.

During the filming, one cause of tension among the men was the terms of the contract as the men were led to believe they would have some weekends off but the nature of the filming meant shooting often ran over.

“It was a result of that that I marched them off the set once,” McCorley told “I said to Mel Gibson: “Look, we’ve given you a number of times to finish this and I turned around and gave the order and 28 platoons marched off the set”".

Mel Gibson’s mouth dropped. He couldn’t say anything.

But in hindsight, he said he can see now the immense strain the actor must have been working under during the filming, as there were rumours the initial rushes from the film were not being well received in Hollywood.

“He was under a lot of pressure,” he said. “He had invested his own money and he was producing – he was under severe strain.”

Full frontal

Another issue a small number of the young men had occurred on the day McCorley decided to bring his wife on the set, not knowing which scenes were being shot that day.

I was wondering why all the ladies from wardrobe were around that particular day. On my way to the set I saw seven or eight fellows lingering and I called the sergeant major and said “Get them back on set, what’s wrong with them?” He came back to me and he said “Sir they are conscientious objectors, they won’t expose their arses”. He explained to me what the scene was and I said if the didn’t want to do it that was fair enough – the majority of them did obviously.

The men who were involved were not going to let Mel Gibson get away with it so easily, however. When he decided to sit in the director’s chair for the full frontal kilt lift, the extras started shouting at him to come down and join them, which he eventually did.

“The only reason hew was in that scene is because the lads got onto him about it,” McCorley laughed.

If you’re interested in learning more, watch part two of the Defence Force’s documentary behind the scenes of the filming and look out for the noble attempt at a pyramid.

DFMagazine / YouTube

The documentary is being released online to mark the 20th anniversary of the film’s production and we’ll have part three next weekend, with a focus on the importance of Braveheart for the Irish film industry. The IFI will also be screening the film on 31 September

Read: Here’s what it was like to be part of Braveheart’s epic army>

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