Melrose Place Hunk Hides in the Forest
Even when he's not playing a legendary hero on The New Adventures of Robin Hood, John Bradley comes across as unapologetically old-fashioned. "I'm a fan of any family-oriented show with a great message," says the actor, a father of two with a philosophy degree. "The things I'm most proud of are my family and my wife. My role model is Michael Landon - not only did he stand for the right things, but everyone who ever worked with him said he was just a great guy."
It's therefore not a surprise that the former Cornell University grad student plays Robin Hood less as a swashbuckler than a man of justice...though the entertainment value of riding a horse every day through "Cleavage Forest" isn't lost on him, either. "This guy is the ultimate underdog, fighting for a cause he really believes in, but he's having a great time!" says Bradley. "He's living in the forest with his buddies. It's adventure, women and money; it's just a lot of fun."
The New Adventures of Robin Hood, syndicated throughout the U.S. and Europe, strives to be considerably more historically accurate than many previous filmed versions of the legend, but that hasn't stopped the producers from some Xena-style self-parody. In one episode, a village that had once gotten some money from Robin Hood renamed itself Robinville in gratitude, and was holding its annual festival in tribute. "There were all these Robin Hood lookalikes: one looks like a dead ringer for Errol Flynn, and we had a guy in a white Elvis suit with his hair in a pompadour in the background, just for the briefest glimpse," Bradley laughs. "It was totally out of time and place, but it was fun! At the same time, we try to adhere to a historical reference - for instance, the giant in one episode is a Fomorian giant, based on a Celtic legend about these giants who were a warrior race. We have respect for the legend."
Bradley, who has read many adaptations of the Robin Hood story and grew up a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and Mars adventures, believes the character of Robin Hood "is universally appealing because this guy is fighting for the underdog, and he wins." While he laughs that "the whole idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor appeals to most people, or at least everybody who's not rich," he also thinks the idea of riding a horse to work and not having to answer to anyone strikes a universal chord.
"I think that the essence of Robin Hood is basically a ten-year-old boy living in the forest fighting for something he really believes in, and he's doing it with his friends - Little John, Tuck, Marian - and he's having a good time. There have been a bunch of different movie versions, but the one that appeals to me is the original Errol Flynn version, and I'll tell you exactly why: Errol Flynn had the ability to smile in every scene. Whether he's eating or negotiating or fighting, the guy's got a smile on his face, because he's having a good time. The other versions all took themselves too seriously, including the Costner version - the mistake some of the recent versions have made is they've made it too serious. That's not to minimize the fight for preserving England until King Richard can return from the Crusades, but I think it loses something when you lose the essence of the childlike character."
Bradley describes the pilot, "First Love," as a somewhat mature, Casablanca-like storyline, but thinks the second episode, "The Giant King," probably had more appeal for kids. "We had a 65-foot giant, so we built miniature sets, and it turned out great." Bradley enjoyed the humorous "Sword of a Samurai," which features a mystical sword recovered by a Japanese warrior who unknowingly steals Robin's horse. "You can't play it tongue in cheek, you have to play it serious, and it comes off funny because the circumstances are funny," the actor explains. "We have post-production facilities in Paris to bring in some mystical, fantastical elements with special effects - that sword levitated a girl who was falling off a cliff, Robin threw the sword and it gently carried her down to earth."
In the recent "Vanishing Act," the guest star was David Soul of Starsky and Hutch, while martial artist Richard Norton and Acapulco H.E.A.T beauty Alison Armitage made appearances in later episodes. Because the series films in Lithuania, an hour and a half from London by plane, the producers plan to fly in some of the talented British actors available to them. But Bradley insists that "to keep people's interest, and this holds true with any of these shows, you have to start with a good story. I think one of the things we need to do better next year is to establish more sexual tension between Robin and Marian. The love story has survived centuries, the myth has grown, and been romanticized for a reason, and we've got to honor that, we've got to do more with that, no matter what we bring in every week."
It's possible that the producers fear Moonlighting syndrome, which posits that the faster you bring two characters together, the closer you are to dooming them and the viewers to boredom. "I don't buy that," says Bradley, though he quickly adds, "I don't necessarily mean that we have to see Robin sneaking out of her tent at four o'clock in the morning! But we've got to see them look at each other with love in their eyes. Right now we're just kind of two warriors in the forest, and we're giving up that element. They could tease each other - 'Boy this bath is nice, want to join me?' I don't think he's going to commit, but I think his ultimate love is Marian, and we need to do more of that."
Bradley hopes this series can establish itself with an audience like that for Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, because it has a similarly appealing historical muth. "I know Kevin Sorbo well, he's a buddy - we've played golf many times. Kevin has a great character and great producers behind him. I think that, long-term, our show has more potential, because the myth is so romantic and so adventurous, to bring that out than some of these other shows like Conan and Stargate. So I would like to see the show develop in that direction."
The actor also stresses the values of the show, which were a big draw for him to leave his family in the United States and film in Europe for several months (next year he intends to take his family with him). "I like to think that we have an opportunity in the media to influence culture and thinking, like authors used to - the people who were writing novels 110 years ago would be writing screenplays today. That's a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to shape the culture, so it's a blessing for me to be in a position to play a character who stands up for the right thing each week. One of the aspects I absolutely love about him is that he's self-examining. He doubts himself sometimes, and questions what he's doing. He's not a blind hero. He's constantly assessing and re-assessing to make sure that what he's doing is the right thing."
In one episode, Robin Hood sought help from a wizard to help save the life of a little boy, and the wizard asked him to vouch for the boy's character. Tuck warned Robin away, but Robin insisted that he would do anything to save the boy. "It turned out to be a mistake - the boy had bad character, and Robin said to Marian, now I'm going to make it right. And he goes back and he turns the boy around. This Robin Hood doesn't just go slamming through the forest imposing his will wherever he goes. He's questioning what is just, what is right, in a world that's disintegrating. I like to think that anybody watching the show, just about every week, we leave a subconscious message that has a relevant moral theme to it."
The central Florida native has waxed philosophical from a young age: after receiving a B.A. in philosophy from Florida State at 19, he attended graduate school at Cornell, thinking he might get a law degree. "But I didn't know if I would be happy," he noted. "So I said, I'm going to take some time off to travel, see the world and get some perspective." In that time he was introduced to an agent who was interested in sending him on auditions, so he decided to give it a try.
"The first big thing I got was a Neil Simon movie, with Academy Award-winning director Hal Ashby, The Slugger's Wife," Bradley explains. "It wasn't successful, but for me it was a really huge experience - I got to work every day for three months and see what this was about. I had a very small role, but I rode to work every day with Neil Simon. This was so much more exciting than law or philosophy! I thought, I've got to try this for a couple of years, and a couple of years grew into ten."
While he doesn't want to direct Robin Hood "because I'm too close to the other actors," Bradley would like to produce and direct his own material - including family-oriented entertainment which would appeal to his own four- and two-year-old. Bradley and his wife brought home a nanny to the U.S. with them from Lithuania, for the summer, and plan to stay in Europe longer next year. "They're too young to be separated from me for that much time," he explains. "It was brutal. I told the producers, 'You're not paying me to play this character, I'll do that for nothing; you're paying me to be apart from my family."
Lithuania, however, was fascinating to the actor. "It's a tiny country, the size of West Virginia, three million people, but it has a real sense of history and identity. They've only been independent for nine years. They've been occupied or oppressed five different times this century, but they always retained their own identity and language and a fierce independence. I've never seen a group of people work any harder - we work twelve hours a day, six days a week, and these people don't complain. They appreciate the idea of free enterprise where you get rewarded for your hard work." They shot 13 episodes over five and a half months, and are scheduled to do the same next year, but if the ratings and the weather hold out, they may film more. "Domestically, the first three weeks showed a significant improvement each week, and we're not losing anybody on the quarter hour. All those trends are good, but it's still early - we've got to continue to write good stories and execute them well. We'll go back next year with all the stuff that we learned this year and do it even better."
Bradley, who had some experience shooting arrows but who trained with the swords and the horses and works out with a personal trainer for the series, was initially offered the role two years ago when the first pilot was underway, but he was working on Jeff Foxworthy and his wife was pregnant, so he couldn't accept the role he so wanted to play. "I've always made decisions in my career based on the character, not the money, but at the time the logistics just didn't work out, and I thought it was gone." But this January, the producers decided to replace the Robin Hood they had cast, and came back to Bradley. "The timing was right, and the physicality, my own energy - everybody jokes about how I wake up every day with my hair on fire. I had to convince the people at Warner Brothers over some of the bigger names, ex-Baywatch people and whatever." Bradley has been on Melrose Place which he jokingly called "the most important show of our century - talk about influencing the culture - in a bad way!", playing a bungee jumper who convinces Billy to jump off a bridge.
"I'd really like to be on Magnificent Seven. I'd love to do a Western," he concludes. "But I'm barely on the radar still, and I've got to take what I can get. There's seven months in between our shooting seasons, and I'm scrambling just like every other out of work actor. My ambitions are broad - I would love to work with some of the people I really admire, Rob Reiner, great writers - and then see in my fifties if I have anything to contribute. But I've got to get in that company. I've already worked with Roland Emmerich and Tim Burton, I need more of that. The more I can work with great directors and writers, the better off I'll be down the road."