William Hobbs

Fight Direction, For Stage and Screen







I have frequently watched him create a swordsman by convincing the actor he was far more adept than he was and then miraculously making him better. He stimulates and encourages his pupils to work harder, longer and to keep giving that extra added bit more of themselves until they perform to his required standard. I admire his patience as well as the fact he never allows less than the best. Well, almost never. I remember during Pirates, I kept pestering him on how Walter Matthau was getting on. I wanted the best of him and for him. Bill was caught in the middle, because I knew Walter was pleading 'not too much work' and subtly mentioning again and again his triple-by-pass operation. 'We won't tell Roman' Walter conspired. Bill completely understood what was required and designed a few simple routines which worked for the film and did not terribly tax Walter. But I knew all along what was happening between the two of them, and had enough confidence in Bill not to worry.

I recall another occasion on Macbeth when Bill was not only Fight Director but also playing as Young Siward. I needed a fine fighter for the less than demanding dramatic role. One day, Bill overslept and arrived late on the set to see me climbing into his armour. He was never late again, and fortunately I did not have to test myself as his double. I personally try to stay fit, but I would never truly imagine myself capable of fighting up to his uniquely high standard. He can stage fights, teach them and fight them better than anyone.

When Bill asked me to add a few words to his book, my first reaction was to decline because I felt Lord Olivier had already expressed all that I could ever say in his brilliant foreword. I try not to repeat myself in my films and I don't want to be redundant here. I learned that I would be expected only to update Bill's extraordinary work. He has accomplished so much since Larry passed away. Some of his credits during recent years are more eloquent testimonials to his skill than I could every say. Dangerous Liaisons with Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu, Mel Gibson's Hamlet and Rob Roy with Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange.

What I can say without fear of contradiction is that William Hobbs has revolutionised swordplay on the screen. There is little in common between the swashbuckling bravura of Errol Flynn or my own Macbeth or Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers and Ridley Scott's The Duellists.

In all of those films, Hobbs achieved a new reality which evolved out of character and situation. He vitally contributes to the story telling with his precisely imagined action rather than plonking scene-stalling, sword waving action in the middle of a movie. Swashbuckling sword-whacking with little or no understanding of character continues in films today, but not in those in which Hobbs has been the Fight Director. He is an artist and I am proud of the work in the films we have done together. I am looking forward to future collaboration.

Roman Polanski

A&C Black/London-1995; ISBN 0-7136-4022-7


I have enjoyed working with William Hobbs twice. Both occasions were truly memorable. His contributions to Pirates and Macbeth were impressive, adding reality, dramatic tension and visual excitement. I often think of the fights in armour he staged for Macbeth. Although one critic compared the scene to being like Nervo and Knox in tin cans, Hobbs gave me a completely new effect - a thudding blade and body bashing reality - something that, strangely, had not been done before.

Bill and I had agreed from the start on the look of the fights for Macbeth. I didn't want anything theatrical. The reality of period sword fighting was more like a brawl in an alley. I liked to see snarled up, contorted bodies in unusual positions. He once suggested and we used an upside down victim lifted up with his legs over the attacker's shoulders.

I recall Bill coming to visit me in London to discuss Pirates. He asked me how many fight scenes would be in the film. I could not resist teasing him. I answered 'one, the whole film is one long fight'.

The William Hobbs sword fight sequences which have graced so many films are the result of long and complex activity. While he is noted for inventively choreographing exciting and dramatically credible action, he is also responsible for training the actors and the stuntmen who have to perform his choreography of mortal-appearing action. Behind the scenes he is a gifted teacher, a psychiatrist and a coach. He instructs with the same finesse he brings to his duelling. He charms, coaxes and cajoles toward steady improvement.