Costing $185 million, Troy (Warner Bros, 2004) took months to make in four different countries. It was criticised for misrepresenting Homer’s The Iliad and for running for more than two-and-half hours. Despite its detractors, Troy went on to make over half a billion dollars.
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, the production employed thousands of extras, hundreds of stuntmen and, most importantly, scores of horses from Malta, Madrid and Mexico. Chief wrangler was Raliegh Wilson – whose life would make an interesting documentary in itself.
Born Roland Wayne Wilson in Montana, the 68-year-old horseman was a world champion bareback bronc rider before becoming a Marlboro Man, appearing in advertisements, television productions and commercials and founding Stunt Grunts Inc, comprising a group of stunt performers dedicated to bringing scripts to life. He also opened a studio in California with a “green screen” (a facility that allows different backgrounds to be added to foreground scenes).
POLO PLAYERS AS EXTRAS
For Troy, he first selected 15 Andalusians, importing them from Madrid to Malta, the location for the walled city of Troy. (The wall fell down in a hurricane and had to be rebuilt at enormous expense). Wilson also sourced 30 thoroughbred types from Malta where local polo players worked as extras in the fight scenes. Being able to wield a mallet made it easy for them to carry a shield.
One stunt required liberty horses to jump through a ring of fire – the flames were propane-powered and very carefully controlled, and the horses were protected from head to toe with fire-retardant gel.
Others selected by Wilson were used in four chariot teams. They were trained to pull vehicles made of aluminium which would flip over more easily, and the horses wore breakaway harnesses.
Thankfully, Troy’s footage did not replicate the sickening scenes in Ben-Hur, made in 1925, when over 150 horses were killed during the chariot race. Several film historians have claimed there were also animal and stuntmen fatalities during the making of the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston, but this was denied by the producers. One will never know the real truth.
Two of Troy’s stars, Brad Pitt (Achilles) and Orlando Bloom (Paris) had to learn to drive the chariots, although both were skilled as riders. Bloom, especially, had done a lot of riding when playing the warrior elf Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, a role which had propelled him to heartthrob status around the world.
Eric Bana (Hector) had been cast early so had time to get fit and practice both riding and sword fighting. “I had many months of preparation back home in Australia before leaving for London,” he says. “It wasn’t so much about gym work, it was about learning the skills, because if you weren’t on top of it you were either going to fall off a horse and hurt yourself or get whacked with a sword. Brad and I didn’t have any stunt doubles.”