Sunday 12 May 2019

Celebrating 35 years of Robin of Sherwood: Exclusive Guest Interview — Mark Ryan. #RobinOfSherwood @markryan243

Nothing’s forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten. 

Celebrating 35 years of
 Robin of Sherwood.

Exclusive Guest Interview 
Mark Ryan

Nasir, played by Mark Ryan. Robin of Sherwood Series 3 Herne's Son Part 2.

Outlaws. Misfits. Friends. The story of Robin Hood brought us some truly memorable characters. These stories have been passed down through the generations. They had been taken from the pages of whispered stories that perhaps was once told by travelling bards. In the 1980s this story was to take a new and fabulous twist. Richard Carpenter took something very old and breathed new life into the account. Not only did he do this, but he also added a uniquely wonderful new character into the story. I am of course talking about the Saracen, Nasir.

Today it is with the greatest of pleasure that I welcome actor, author, swordsman, fight director and voice actor, Mark Ryan, to the blog.

Hi Mark, welcome to Myths, Legends Books & Coffee Pots. I have been so looking forward to talking to you about Robin of Sherwood and the iconic role that you played in the series. So, without further ado, let’s begin!

Growing up in Doncaster, how aware were you as a child of the Robin Hood legend?

Well, I grew up in the middle of it. Sunday afternoons, during the summer, were spent in Clumber Park, wherein resides The Major Oak. As a child, we grew up playing Robin Hood, and back then we used to hide in The Major Oak, of course, you can't do that now. I actually have photographs of my mother, my aunty and my grandmother all standing in front of The Major Oak, so it wasn't just me who grew up playing in Sherwood Forest, but my family did as well. We also went to Scarborough, down to Robin Hood's Bay during the summer holidays.

But it wasn't just Robin Hood that we grew up with, down the road is Conisbrough Castle, the castle from Ivanhoe which was written by Sir Walter Scott.  So, not only did we grow up with the legends of Robin Hood, but there was also Ivanhoe, King Arthur, and of course Celtic mythology — because Doncaster was a Celtic settlement before it was a Roman town. As a child, you just absorbed all of this history and legends in the natural daily interaction of life.

How did the role of Nasir come to your attention?

I was in the original cast of Evita in the West End. I initially played Magaldi, and then I cheekily asked if I could play Ché, which I did for another two years — which made four years in total. Ian Sharp came to see the show. He was doing a film at the time with Lewis Collins which I ended up being cast in called Who Dares Wins. 

Who Dares Wins: Lewis Collins, Ingrid Pitt and Mark.

After that film, I was talking to Ian about his next project, which so happened to be Robin of Sherwood. He said, "I may have a part for you in this. The character is called Edmund the Archer. There is not a lot of dialogue if, any dialogue at all. But, it is something I need a presence part for. Would you be interested?"

 I said, "Of course, I would."

I found out they were shooting in Bamburgh Castle and Alnwick Castle, again places I knew — we had visited all of these locations on the Northumbrian coast as children. I then got a call to do some training with the boys, which we did at Steve Dent's farm.

On the first day of shooting at Alnwick Castle, Terry Walsh and Ian came over. Terry was looking at me and looking at the swords, and he realised that I knew what I was doing with them. He showed me the swords he wanted me to use.

There are some pictures of me somewhere with these reverse swords, they were like Gurkha Kukri Knives, but they were three feet long — very unwieldy and dangerous to work with. I said, "Terry, these are dangerous. I can't control them."

He then said, "How about using two swords?"

I said, "Okay, not a problem. How long have I got?"

I think he said, "About two hours!"

 So, as all actors do, I said, "Yeah, um, no problem."

"He said no, no. You have got about a week to rehearse! Also, how do you feel about not being Edmund the Archer but Nasir the Saracen instead?

I felt it was a bit of a jump from Edmund the Archer to a Saracen, but I said, "Alright!" So Edmund the Archer became Nasir the Saracen.

Paul Knight said to me, "You seem to be enjoying this, the lads all like you, did you want to stay with the show?"

I said, "I'd love to." Although I wasn't too sure how they were going to incorporate my character. Actually, it wasn't until the boys ran in after the sword fight with Michael — they were supposed to plant arrows in my back and save Michael — that they said, "No, no, we are not doing that today. We are not killing him."

Kip called me and said, "So, listen we have this Saracen character as part of the merry men, there is no dialogue per se but have you got any thoughts on what you would like to do with the character?" — This kind of thing would not happen today. You would not get a writer, a creator of a series calling an actor and asking if he had any ideas!

I said to Kip "I have just finished reading Steven Runciman's History of the Crusades, and I said in this series of books there is a well-detailed relationship between the Knights Templar and the Cult of the Assassins and the Old Man of the Mountains." I then explained what I had learnt.

Kip was fascinated by this, and he asked me if I would like him to put that in. To which, I said yes. "The only thing," Kip said, "Is that I have written the first two episodes and I have no dialogue for you, and I don't even know what dialogue to give you."

I said, "Kip, I don't care about the dialogue. It is television. It is a visual art. Give me the action. Give me the swords, the knife throwing, the archery, that tracking, the horse riding. Give me all of that stuff, and I will make it work, and I will speak through that. The character will present itself through the action."

 So, that is how it came about.

I actually took some advice from Sir Anthony Hopkins. I was walking down through Soho, and I bumped into him, and I said, "You don't know me from Adam, but I just wanted to say you are the best screen actor of your generation. I have studied what you do (I was still doing Evita at the time). Sir Anthony talked to me for around 20 minutes about the difference between stage acting and screen acting. He gave me a piece of advice, which I used in Whose Dares Wins and Robin of Sherwood. He said, "Be still. Let the audience see into your mind. You don't need dialogue to do that. Be the character and let the audience decide what they make of you."

I didn't want Nasir to be a mindless killer. He had a sense of humour, a sense of honour and a sense of reverence for spirituality, even though it wasn't his spirituality. He understood that Herne the Hunter was seen as a spiritual character and he duly gave that character the respect it deserved. That was the little subtle elements I tried to bring into his character without using any dialogue.

I have spoken about Richard Carpenter a lot during this celebration and of course rightly so. But you also worked with some other fantastic writers as well, one of whom was Anthony Horowitz. I am sure many of my readers will recognise Anthony Horowitz because he is the author of the fabulous Alex Rider series. What was it like working with him?

Anthony Horowitz certainly had a tough act to follow.

Kip used to come out with us, go to dinner with us, go to the bars, and sit with us and chat with us. One night I remember asking him, "Kip, why are you here? What are you doing? What is going on?" and he said, "I am watching the way that you interact. The chemistry between you. I am going to write these characters the way you naturally interact with each other."

For Anthony Horowitz, coming into the show must have been a steep learning curve, but he got it, and he wrote some of the best episodes that we did.

In "The Sheriff of Nottingham" (Season 3 episode 6) your character Nasir comes face to face with his past, and it is seemingly the first time, despite everything that he has been through, where Nasir is not so sure of an outcome to a fight. Sarak, played by Valentine Pelka, was indeed a formidable opponent for Nasir, but what I would like to know is who was your favourite villain in the series and why?

Valentine Pelka and I are re-enacting that fight at The Hooded Man event on May 18th!

As for my favourite villain...

I thought Lewis Collins portrayal of Philip Mark was brilliant. I genuinely thought that they would not kill his character off. After all, you need really good bad guys. But as Paul said, "In every episode, the Sheriff of Nottingham escapes, Guy of Gisborne gets away. We have to kill somebody!"

But you really have to give "Best Villain" to Anthony Valentine for his portrayal of Baron Simon de Belleme. Belleme was fantastic. Anthony played him with this deadpan quiet stillness, and of course, the audience understood that there was something darkly menacing about him because of that stillness.

When Nasir had a sword in his hand, it sounds a little crazy, but it was kind of beautiful to watch. I can only think of one other actor who has pulled the same thing of as well as you and that was Mads Mikkelsen, who played Tristan in Antoine Fuqua's 2004 film King Arthur. I want to come away from Robin of Sherwood for a moment and talk about a few of the other things you have done since then. For those who don't know you were the Sword Master and Fight Director for King Arthur. The fight scenes in that movie are amazing; they so well choreographed — especially the battle at the end, which is so atmospheric. For many of us, we watch these fantastic movies and don't even think about the hours of work that goes into creating them. As an author, I have an idea of how I want a battle scene to go, but I don't have to get anyone to perform it physically. Where do you even begin? And how do you make less abled swordsman look like professionals?

King Arthur, his Knights and Mark: (Left to Right) Sean Gilder, Pat Kinevane, Ray Winstone, Ioan Gruffudd, Mark Ryan, Joel Edgerton, Clive Owen, Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Ivano Marescotti and Ray Stevenson.

It is always a very complex endeavour when trying to put a battle scene together. You need a certain amount of knowledge and understanding to pull it off. Firstly, you need to work out how to get from A to B, and I do this by mapping out strategically with sketches and drawings.

In King Arthur, there is this huge battle scene at the end. I remember talking to Antoine Fuqua about the final battle. The plan was to dig a trench right across the middle of the battlefield and set it on fire. Well, I walked around the actual field and studied the land, and I saw a dry riverbed on the right-hand side of the field. I realised that we didn't need to dig a trench, we could use the riverbed. I suggested we set up what is called an L shaped ambush and let the land do the fighting for us. An L shaped ambush is when you draw half of the opposing army into the fight. The archers, who were led by Keira Knightley, would then set fire to the riverbed blocking their escape. Trapped, they can neither go back, because of the fire, but at the same time, they are facing a wall of arrows. The Knights can then attack the remainder of the army without the fear of being hit by the crossfire from their own side. And that is precisely what we did.

Antoine Fuqua and Mark

Mark with Keira Knightley.

It is funny that you brought up Mads... When I assess someone's abilities with a sword, I get them to do a little sword kata. This gets them used to not only the power and the physical energy of the sword but also how it flows. When I saw Mads working out at Steve Dent's farm, just doing this kata, I was reminded of this old Celtic saying:

 "Never give a sword to a man who can't dance."

I went to Mads, and I said, "I have a daft question for you — did you train as a dancer?"

He said, "Yeah, I did."

I said, "What did you do?"

He replied, "I trained for ballet, but I was too tall. How did you know I had trained as a dancer?"

I said, "Because I am watching the way that you move your body and you shift your weight. I am going to come up with something different for you which will be very stylish and artistic. I want it to appear that you intuitively know where the angle of attack is coming from before your opponent even knows. So, you are going to be able to parry and cut and then turn to the next guy even before he knows he is coming in." I wanted him to have this almost 360º feel, which is why the hawk was there, so it is almost as if he is looking at himself in an out-of-body experience.

Mads Mikkelsen with the Japanese Yang-Ling blade.

I had Mads' sword custom made as they wanted his sword to have a different look — it is actually a Japanese Yang-Ling blade. The blade was made for us by Tommy Dunn, who now works on Game of Thrones.

Mads character dies in the film, and I wanted to make his death as emotionally traumatic as possible. There is virtually no blood in the scene, no continuous violence. It is a simple fight, and when he is dying, he looks up and watches his spirit, in the form of this bird, fly away. Simple but very effective.

You also asked how I made less abled swordsman look like professionals. When I did First Knight, I worked with Bob Anderson. I heard Bob say once that a sword fight is a conversation in steel. It is not an action sequence; you are actually doing dialogue with somebody else. Stellan Skarsgård came to me and said, he had never done a fight on screen in his life. I told him about the Bob Anderson conversation I had, and I told him to trust me. Stellan trusted me to make it work, and I was very honoured that he did.

I have to ask you about Transformers. You are the voice of Bumblebee, Jetfire and Lockdown in the multi-million grossing Transformer series. How did the role of Bumblebee come about and what was it like working with the director, Michael Bay?

I’ve had ten years of ground breaking film making, working with some of the very best talent Hollywood has to offer, both on and off the screen and worked on the set of all 5 Transformer movies. It’s a test of fortitude and flexibility but also an honour to have worked with everybody from Frances McDormand, Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro and of course, Mark Walberg. I did the dialogue with all of them on the set, which was obviously a great experience, and various character voices survived into the finished films.

On location, Alnwick Castle  — Transformers 5: The Last Knight.

It came about because they were looking for someone to do these voices on the set and work with the actors. They also wanted someone who could technically understand the movements of the camera and the action as well as do the voices of the robots.

In the original film, Bumblebee didn't speak, but once when we were working in Michael's offices in Santa Monica, he said, "Say these lines." So, I said those lines, not really knowing or understanding how they were going to be used in the film. I had not seen the entire script. I only saw the bits of dialogue that I was doing as a robot with Shia. They used the lines in the first film, so I am now forever associated with Bumblebee. I like to think there is a bit of my personality that shines through Bumblebee's character as well because he is always positive no matter what happens to him. He gets battered and broken up, but he still goes back for more!

Mark with Michael Bay.

As for Michael, there is no doubt in my mind that he is a creative genius. He is in a class of his own. But don't take my word for it. While on set, Sir Anthony Hopkins said to me something along these lines,

"Michael really is a genius, isn't he? I have worked with a few directors, and I have never seen a director do what Michael can do. He can pick up any camera (of which there were half-a-dozen or more), he can pick up any lighting effects, he knows about stunts, he knows about editing, he knows how to work every piece of equipment on the set. He could probably do every job on this set..."

Michael is always 110% immersed in what is happening with the movie.

Mark with Sir Anthony Hopkins .

As I said, I did the voice for the character robots on set. — Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, everyone. I also played Lockdown and of course the glory of Jetfire. A couple of weeks of doing Jetfire's voice in the studio Michael asked me, "Who is that voice you are doing?" I said, "It is a mate of mine called Ray Winstone!"

When the film came out Ray rang me up, and he said, "Marky, you cheeky bugger, I've just seen the film – you nicked my voice. I have been all kinds of things in films, and now I am a giant alien robot – you owe me a beer!"

So, that is how my involvement with Transformers came about. It evolved on the set as it was shot.

You are also known for your interest in tarot, and you have your own tarot deck which readers can buy on Amazon. Where did your interest in tarot start and what prompted you to create your own tarot deck?

I bought my first tarot deck in Los Angeles — it must have 1981 — in a shop called The Bodhi Tree. I was actually looking at mythological books but came out with the deck. I didn't know anything about tarot, then. I had looked at runes before but they never really spoke to me, and neither did tarot. I think that was because a lot of tarot decks are based on Kabbalah and I don't speak Kabbalah, and Kabbalah does not speak to me. I did get hold of a Rider Waite deck which was a little more accessible even though it was still based on Kabbalah.

I came to understand that the Major Arcana Tarot is a map of the human psyche — there is no magic in the cards. The imagery is just different fractions of the types of personality that live in a person's head. So, for example, when you go to work you put on this character, sometimes when you go to the bar you put on that character, and so on. We have fractions of these different people which we put on in different situations. As an actor that is what I do for a living, anyway. I draw from an emotion to build a part and to play a character, so the Major Arcana Tarot didn't sound unusual to me.

What I couldn't get into was trying to understand the nature of synchronicity and why the reading of the cards and the placing of the cards seemed to work. I wanted to know why, how, they worked. That is why I studied quantum physics to try to understand the nature of how our consciousness interacts with the "greater consciousness" or the "universal consciousness."

To cut a long story short, after Robin of Sherwood, Chesca Potter asked me if I was interested in doing a Robin of Sherwood tarot, but I thought that although the archetypes were certainly there for a Robin of Sherwood tarot, it was a little limited. So, we started to explore the whole mythos of the Greenwood as the basis of a tarot deck.

We laid out a Rider Waite tarot deck on my floor, and we realised that the Wheel of the Year system was actually easier to navigate and more accessible than the Kabbalah system. We evolved the system together. We did a lot of research, including going to mythological places such as Avebury to try to tune in and understand what part of that related to the tarot mythos itself. It took almost four years to put it all together, but what made the Greenwood Tarot so ground-breaking was that it fitted naturally around the Wheel of the Year.

Back to Sherwood. All the actors that I have spoken to have said what a fantastic atmosphere it was like on set. Clive Mantle mentioned that Ray Winstone, who played Will Scarlet, was your social secretary and in charge of japes and wind-ups. What was the most memorable wind-up that you were involved with?

I just want to start by saying, this would never happen on a set today!

We had a young stuntman/horse master called Steve Dent, who is now one of the top stunt coordinators in the world, but back then he was just starting out, and he was very gung-ho and up for anything.  So, Ian wrote in a scene where we catch a Norman soldier by his foot, and he is left hanging in a tree. Ian also gave Steve some dialogue.  You ask any stuntman, and they will all say they are terrified of dialogue. Steve was no exception! Steve went to Terry Walsh and said he didn't want to do the dialogue. Terry told him that he had to as it was in the script!

Well, this went on for almost two months! Steve would be seen walking around the locations practising his lines, a look of concern upon his face.

The whole thing was set up to happen on Steve's birthday. We all gathered around for the stunt, and when he was hanging from the tree, they wheeled in a giant birthday cake, and that was when Steve realised he had been set-up!

We spent a lot of time shooting outtake set-ups by Ray or Nick. We probably shot enough outtakes to make an episode! Nick was a big one for setting up these jokes with Robert Addie, and that along with the atmosphere, the humour, and the camaraderie, made the show what it was.

Robin of Sherwood had a little bit of everything. It was a love story, as well as story of the deepest of friendships. There was the good vs the evil theme running through it as well. The difference between Christianity and the pagan religion was also documented and let's not forget the whole mystical feel of the story. Here we are 35 years on, and we are still talking about the show. Did you, have any idea just how popular Robin of Sherwood was going to be? And are you surprised that it has stood the test of time?

Clive and I did discuss this very early on in the first series. We realised there was something very special about what we were doing. Clive said something like, "We are the young lions, and what we do with this is going to echo throughout all of our careers. And for however long this goes on for we have to make the most of it."

I think it is fair to say, that we all felt that. I don't know if we knew the interest was going to last for 35 years when I look back now. I used to think there should have been a big battle, and we should all have died to bring finality to the characters' lives. But now I think it is more fitting that it is left open to people's imaginations.

Thank you so much Mark for the special insight into Robin of Sherwood, King Arthur, Transformers and the tarot.

*All images are copyright protected. Mark Ryan has kindly granted permission to use the said images for the purpose of this blog post only.

If you would like to find out more about Mark Ryan and his extraordinary 
life, then pick up a copy of his biography:

Hold Fast: A Hollywood Pirate's Tale

It would be virtually impossible to invent Mark Ryan. In his life he has been a secret soldier, a West End leading man, a cult TV icon, a Hollywood actor, a licensed private investigator and an advisor to the L.A. Police Department. He has written two books about the history and psychology of tarot, taught intelligence officers how to uncover secrets and actors how to use a sword, as well as working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Here, in collaboration with New York Times bestselling author John Matthews, a long time friend, Mark tells his amazing story.

If you would like to learn more about The Wildwood Tarot:

Wild Magic
 The Wildwood Tarot Workbook

Want to delve deeper into the concepts that made The Wildwood Tarot wildly popular? This workbook further explores those powerful ancient traditions.

Wild Magic invokes the power of the Wildwood—the Green Man and Green Woman, as well as all the living archetypes of the forest, such as Herne the Hunter and Robin-i-the-Hood. Journey across time to the pre-Celtic world where primal forces, in the guise of animal, bird, and fish, roamed free and opened doorways into the otherworld of the Ancestors. With chapters on the Lore of the Wild, the Wheel of the Year, shamanic methods of examining the wild, and meditations designed to enable personal encounters with Wildwood archetypes, as well as newly crafted rituals enabling readers to celebrate festivals such as the Midsummer and Midwinter Solstices, the book takes a fresh and informed look at a set of ancient traditions applied to the present.

Mark Ryan

British born Mark has been combining his acting, singing, writing and action direction talents in an eclectic and successful international career ranging over 30 years.

Touring with US Eric Idle
Mark performed in several major musicals in London's West End, spending four years in Andrew Lloyd Webber's smash hit Evita originating the role of Magaldi and then playing Ché under the direction of Broadway legend Hal Prince. He left Evita to play Mac in the classic SAS action film Who Dares Wins.
He originated the character of Nasir for the cult British TV series Robin of Sherwood on which he worked for three years, and has appeared in dozens of films and television series, both in the US and UK.

He won critical acclaim for the title role in the musical Elmer Gantry at London's Gate Theatre and followed that with a national tour of the hit show Guys and Dolls, playing Sky Masterson. He returned to the West End to play Neville Landless in the Tony Award-winning musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood and toured Europe playing Figaro and Leporello in Mozart's Figaro and Don Giovanni. He toured the US in Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python with original Python; Eric Idle, performing at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl and is a published author with both the classic Greenwood Tarot and the bestselling Wildwood Tarot. His biography Hold Fast will be released in the US in Dec 2015.

Mark has also worked with such acclaimed directors as Antoine Fuqua on King Arthur, JJ Abrams on the series Alias and Christopher Nolan in the feature The Prestige and he can be seen as Quartermaster Gates in Starz's most watched original series "Black Sails", produced by Michael Bay.

Mark has enjoyed working on all five of the hugely successful Transformers movies for legendary director Michael Bay as the on-set voice of the Autobots and voiced Bumblebee and Jetfire for the franchise. In 2013 Mark again joined the Transformers franchise, voicing Lockdown in the fourth instalment, Transformers: Age of Extinction. In 2014 the film broke worldwide records earning over $1.08 billion in box office receipts. Ryan was nominated in 2015 for the award for best vocal performance in a supporting role in a feature film by Behind The Voice Actors.

To learn more about Mark visit his official website, click HERE! 


  1. Multi-talented actor and sword maestro, great book! And I'm not saying that because he is my cousin... :)

  2. Really great interview... Thanks!
    Kelly Braun

  3. Mark was PERFECT as Nasir. He said more with no lines than some actors do with pages of dialogue. I really loved this interview. Thanks for sharing.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx