It’s been 30 years since Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander introduced us all to its world of Immortals, Quickenings, and Scottish swordsmen who talk like mumbling French robots. (Not to mention Egyptian Spaniards who sound exactly like Sean Connery talking in his normal brogue.) To commemorate 30 years of decapitations and Queen, The Guardian has put together a quick oral history of the film, with Mulcahy and star Christopher Lambert filling in the details of the movie’s apparently whiskey-soaked shoot.
“It was my first time in Scotland,” said Lambert, who was fresh off his first English role—in 1984’s Tarzan adaptation Greystoke—when he got the part of immortal heartbreaker Connor Macleod. “Insurance people completely forbid drinking on set, but try that up there and you’ll get shot. I’m not saying Scottish people drink all the time, but if they drink, they drink. It’s not a sip of wine, it’s a quarter of a bottle of scotch. There were 1,000 extras for the battle scenes and they went at it for real. After each shot, the cries went up: ‘Doctor!’ ‘Nurse!’”
Connery—who played Macleod’s mentor, Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez—contributed his own share of booze to the proceedings, according to Mulcahy: “On the plane up, Sean brought out a bottle of homemade scotch a friend had given him. ‘C’mon, laddie,’ he said, ‘have a nip of this.’ It blew my brains out.” Speaking of potential head injuries, Mulcahy also discussed an incident in which a misaimed sword blow from Clancy Brown almost launched wooden shrapnel into Connery’s face, and his method for producing the giant sparks that accompany every strike of the movie’s big sword battles. “For the fights, we strapped car batteries to the actors’ legs and wired them up so they’d spark when a sword struck. After about three takes, the sword handles would get really hot and we’d have to stop.”
Safety concerns aside, Mulcahy’s harshest words are for the movie’s American marketing, which featured a black-and-white poster of Lambert’s face, shot with all the resolution of a half-obscured Bigfoot photo. “It looked like he had acne,” Mulcahy notes. “You thought: ‘What the fuck’s this about?’ But at the premiere in France, there were 30-foot cutouts of Sean and Christopher all the way down the Champs-Elysées. The audience went apeshit. It became an enormous hit in Europe.”