Merry Man

Alan Doyle is in Atlanta when we speak, touring with Great Big Sea to promote their next album, Safe Upon the Shore, but for the past while, the singer-songwriter turned actor traded in his band of musicians for a legendary band of merry men. This month he’ll be appearing as merry man minstrel Allan A’Dayle in the Ridley Scott re-imagining of Robin Hood, alongside Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.

Were you very familiar with the legend of Robin Hood when you took the part?
I was probably a bit more aware of the longstanding legend than most people in our generation. I come from a folk music background, I’m aware of the old folk ballads and tales that gave us the first legends of Robin Hood, some of which are a thousand years old. Whereas most people born after 1950 really have this cartoon iconic image of Robin Hood that’s cemented by television and film.

I’ve heard you talking about that idea of getting farther and farther away from that cartoony portrayal. What’s the appeal of getting to the truth behind the legend?
If somebody told a story about Robin Hood in 1200 AD, and someone else told another story about him in 1600 AD, they weren’t the same story. But if someone turns on, say, Oliver Stone’s JFK in 1995 and then again in 2005, it’s the exact same movie. Because we’re about a hundred years or so into television and film, people are coming to realize for the first time that we’ve kind of solidified interesting characters in people’s imaginations. I think that’s what happened with Robin Hood, and what we’re trying to do with our movie is provide, for the first time in film history, an honest to God possible explanation of how a guy like Robin Hood could have started. What are some actual historical events he could have been involved in that might have lead to the legend as we know it today? How could this man have been created?

Well, that’s certainly a more honest idea of Robin Hood than, say, Errol Flynn swooping in with his pointed green hat. Did you watch any of those other films when you were preparing for the role?
No. In my gut, I didn’t want my Allan to be like anyone else’s. I wanted Allan A’Dayle to be like the guy in my mind. It’s such a unique opportunity to get to play one of these iconic guys, I didn’t want to play someone else’s version of him.

You’ve done the modern minstrel in your everyday life, and now you’re playing a medieval minstrel. Were there any perks in going medieval?
Definitely less gear. That’s it, one lute, the whole show. Just think, in 1190 AD, if you had one lute, you have 5000 times more gear than anyone else did. There might be a stick or something around, much less a guitar. With a lute, I was practically the Internet.

How has the switch from performing in front of thousands of screaming people to performing in front of the camera lens been?
Film teaches you something about stillness. When you sing on a stage for a living, you’re rewarded for being gregarious. But with a film, you’re rewarded for being internal.

So you’ve obviously touring with Great Big Sea now. What’s next for you guys?
Great Big Sea’s new record comes out in early July. It’s called Safe Upon the Shore. It’s the next little stop in the Great Sea journey, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.

Well, that’s very exciting.
Yes, it is. It’s a big year for Alan Doyle, isn’t it?