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Exclusive! TNWU Speaks with Hollywood Pirate Mark Ryan

Photo Credit: Tom Korbee
Photo Credit: Tom Korbee
You many not think you know Mark Ryan, but it’s a safe bet that you do. Whether it’s for his stage performances, singing, action direction, writing, television series such as Robin of Sherwood and Black Sails, and many movies, such as The Prestige, King Arthur, The Thirst, Special Ops: Delta, and of course most famously for his work on the Transformers franchise, voicing fan-favorite Bumblebee.

Mark was born in Doncaster, England, and sang in high school musical productions. He decided to try his luck in the West End and found himself in the role of Che Guevara from 1978-1981. He then did a feature film, which landed him a role in Richard Carpenter’s BBC production, Robin of Sherwood. In creating the character of Nasir, Ryan unwittingly changed the whole Robin Hood mythos – almost all current productions of Robin Hood feature an Arab/Muslim Merry Man.

Musically, Ryan toured the States with Monty Python alumni, Eric Idle, and performed at the Hollywood Bowl as well as Carnegie Hall. Ryan has also starred in 1776, the musical, and has written a six song musical EP based on Wuthering Heights.

As a writer, Ryan has created two Tarot decks, the Greenwood Tarot, which has morphed into the more recent Wildwood Tarot, one of the bestselling decks of all time. The new Wildwood Tarot has an interactive app you can download either through iTunes or Google Play. Mark has also penned his autobiography, called Hold Fast: A Hollywood Pirates Tale, which features not only information about his multiple careers but about his days as a private investigator. As one Amazon review puts it, “It would be hard to invent Mark Ryan.”

Currently, Mark is finishing up a major motion picture, getting ready for Transformers 5, and most specially, providing vocals for his beloved character Nasir, as Robin of Sherwood returns after 30 years as a radio play due out this June. Talk Nerdy With Us was honored to interview Mark about his work, life, the universe, and everything else.

You are doing two new projects. One called Street, and one called Any Bullet Will Do? What can you tell us about those:

I did a film late last year which came out in 2015 called Street, about MMA, and it was great fun to do, Beau Casper Smart is in the lead and it’s about mixed martial artists and underground fighting. I play a Russian gangster called Uri, a gangster with a heart of gold. He basically runs an underground fight circuit, and he gives this kid a chance played by Beau Casper Smart. We had a lot of champion fighters involved in it, if you go and look and IMDB you’ll see the names that we had. Directed by Bradford May really good director, some lovely actors, Quincy Brown, John Hennigan, a reword champion, WWE Intercontinental Champion, he played one of the fighters; there were some talented guys in it like Arnold Chon, and the fight scenes look absolutely fantastic. The actual fighters made it look so real, it looked like they actually clobbered each other. Matt Mitrioni, who is also a world champion is in it, and the fight scenes look tremendous.

Is it available for release in the US?

Yes, actually it’s available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s a good little film and I’m very proud of it.

It’s great that you’re so active still!

(laughs). I’m not fighting, I’m just playing a gangster. I leave all that running around now to those young boys. I let them knock the crap out of each other.

If there was one of those deadliest matchups between Adrian Paul and you, who would win?

Oh without a doubt I would. He’s a lovely guy, we did a little sword demonstration at the last convention we were at together and it was very funny. Adrian was being all serious with his katana and everything. He’s a good swordsman. Let me tell you something about Adrian which I was told by Bob Anderson. Bob Anderson always rated Adrian Paul as one of the best swordsmen he’s ever worked with. Bob has worked with a lot of people, and he said Adrian was one of the best he’d worked without a doubt, not just as a martial artist but as a swordsman, he thought Adrian was right up there. And he is, he’s very good. But you see, I cheat. He may be immortal but I cheat. I tickled him. He thought I was going to stab him and I just tickled him. He couldn’t believe it.

Your other film, Any Bullet Will Do?

Any Bullet Will Do is a western we just shot in Montana and I play a character called Bill Gage it’s about two brothers, one hunting his brother up the hill and I play a tracker, and the bounty hunter that is hunting for this fellow, I don’t really like. I don’t like Bounty Hunters. My daughter is involved, I won’t give the whole plot away because I haven’t announced any of this yet. She helps track him through the mountains. It’s very gritty, very cold, and really good cast of characters, Directed by Justin Lee, an up and coming young director, with Meg Foster, Bruce Davison, Yuri Lowenthal, Kevin Makely is one of the brothers, Hollis, and he’s good, very good. My daughter is played by Jenny Curtis, she plays Rose. Jenny and Kevin are names to watch out for, up and coming. It’s not out yet, later this year. It’s in the post-production phase now.

Did you do a western accent?

I did. I did a little bit of Southern, a little bit of sort of kind of Southern, a little bit of northwestern, Montana (demonstrates). But I get to break bottles over people’s heads, things like that, it’s great. Breaking bottles over people’s heads I can do.

Obviously, you have so many irons in the fire, your biography, HOLD FAST. It’s incredible; you’re like a true Renaissance Man.

Do you have the Kindle version or the American version? The American version we retooled it a little bit for the American market, in the way it’s presented. There’s an American version from Amazon. The British version is on John’s (John Matthews) publishing company in the UK, called Mythwood. I’m sure you have a lot of questions. Most people do. Suffice to say there’re two versions out, an American version and a British version. (Let’s leave it as Ryan, Mark Ryan, International Man of Mystery).

You have the app of your Tarot Deck, the Wildwood Tarot out now?

That’s been very successful. I met with the publishers in London, they are ordering more of the Wildwood Tarot right now, and I’m very proud to say it’s probably one of the best-selling tarot decks ever. I know we’re up there in the numbers and I’m very proud of it, in my life and career that has been a very successful project. It was a labor of love, and it’s been very successful. And the app is great as well, it’s very useful. I was at a talk with John (Matthews) somewhere and …a chap brought it on his iPad, and I hadn’t seen it properly on an iPad, and we actually used it to project the pictures on the wall, and the images are 6, 7 feet tall. When you actually see the cards that size, projected, the detail, that Will (Worthington) put into each ipicture is astounding. The detail is fantastic, and I’m very proud of it. Without a doubt, Will’s artwork takes it into a class of its own really. The app is great, and the deck has been very successful.

You had a Tarot deck before, a different deck?

The Wildwood was actually the based on the Greenwood. The Greenwood was actually originally called the Wildwood Tarot but the then publisher thought that Wildwood was too sexy. I don’t know where that edict came from, that Wildwood was a bit too raunchy, but the Greenwood was much more toward the middle of the market. And so Checsa Potter artist and I both just swallowed it, and it became the Greenwood Tarot. As you know now it’s a card collector’s deck and if you go online decks of Greenwood go for $2000-$3000. Every now and again an unopened deck will arrive online for that

I saw in your credits that you worked on The Prestige, with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman.

I was in The Prestige, I played the captain of the prison, who takes Roger Reese up to meet Christian Bale. It was supposed to take a day to shoot, and we knocked it out in two or three hours. It was fantastic. Christopher Nolan was great to work with, his cameraman was fantastic, and Roger and I knew each from doing 1776 here in Los Angeles, in 2001. Roger and I had great fun. We made each other laugh. It was fun. It confused the American crew a little bit, they thought we were just bitching at each other. But we were just joking. I have one line “If I let him out there, they’ll eat him alive.” Or something like that.

Are there going to be any more Transformers? Is Bumblebee going to rise again?

They haven’t announced it but they are going to be shooting Transformers 5 during the summer and I believe Michael’s (Bay) directing it which is great, but it hasn’t been announced yet. I have to be careful what I say. Because I say something online the next thing I know in 48 hours it’s all around the world, which just happened. All I can say is I do know there will be a Transformers 5. It is supposed to start shooting this summer, and Michael’s directing it; and I’m really pleased he’s directing. Michael’s one of the cleverest, most dedicated directors I’ve ever worked with. I’ve done four films with him now, including Black Sails which he produced. Michael’s very talented and he’s been nothing but very generous and loyal to me. I enjoy working with him; he’s a true visionary and auteur.

Where you a part of The Transformers ride/attraction at Universal Studios?

Yes, I voiced those. It’s great to be associated with Bumblebee, it’s fantastic. He’s a worldwide recognized figure, it’s cool. …

So you have been on stage, and you have been in musicals which means that you sing….

Yep.

So where are the CD’s?

(laughs). You know there should be more CDs. I’ve always been thinking about this the other day, I should do something else musically. I wanted to for a long time I just haven’t been offered anything. Or nothing’s come up, that yeah, I could do that. I was in 1776 and Monty Python, so I sang in both of those shows. And I wrote a musical version Wuthering Heights, so it’s out there, and you can go to CD Baby and purchase it, there’re about five or six tracks on it. I need to go back and re-record and finish off the project, but I get dragged off to do something else. I made a conscious decision when I was in the West End, doing Evita, which would you believe it was 1978, and I think I left the show in 1981. I spent nearly four years in that show. But I made a conscious decision, that if I stayed in musicals it would be difficult to transition to straight acting because people then tended to put you into boxes. So I went against my agent’s advice and turned down more musicals, and I waited for a part to come along, and I did a film called Who Dares Wins, and then along came a show called Robin of Sherwood, same director Ian Sharpe, who I owe a large debt of gratitude for both Who Dares Wins, and Robin of Sherwood. And that show changed my life, with the history it now has, groundbreaking, Richard Carpenter’s writing, and direction, the way the whole show was formulated. Which is why it’s come back to haunt me now, 35 years later to record a new episode.

That’s happening for sure?

Oh yeah, I fly myself into London on the 21st, to join the cast to record Knights of the Apocalypse, which was a screenplay that Kip (Richard Carpenter) wrote but never made into a film. There were several attempts to make this into a film and follow-up shows but for some reason, it just never happened. Barnaby Eaton Jones just got the rights to record an audio. All proceeds will go to preserve Kip’s Woods in Sherwood Forest. But it’s on. It’s happening. It’s got a great cast. Let me tell you about the cast…

So is everyone from the original cast coming back?

Sadly as you know, Robert Addie (Guy of Gisbourne) passed away, so did John Abineri (Herne). The cast at the moment is Jason Connery as Robin, Judi Trott (Marion), Scarlet (Ray Winstone), Little John (Clive Mantle), Nasir (my good self), Much (Peter Williams), Friar Tuck (Phil Rose), Nikolas Grace as the Sheriff, Phil Jackson as Abbott Hugo. Steve Fox is Gisborne which is great casting, and Herne is being played by Daniel Abineri (John’s son). The old prisoner is Terry Malloy, and the main bad guy is played by no other than Anthony Head. We start recording at the end of this month. 35 years later Robin of Sherwood returns! June 1st!

I was telling my editors about this show, with all the new fandoms, ship wars and fan wars that eats fandoms from the inside. Robin of Sherwood never had that. Most of us are all still friends 35 years later. What do you think the show’s secret is?

You get the odd rumblings because any show has people who are very big fans and they get very into the show but I always made a point of saying I don’t want what happened to other fandoms that I was aware of to happen to Robin. Robin was a great family experience for all of us, the Merry Men, we are all still friends to this day, Clive, Ray, Jason, myself. We still speak to each other on a regular basis. We don’t want that to happen, and for the most part, it hasn’t. You get your Michael Praed fans and your Jason Connery fans (each played a different version of Robin) all of that stuff but for the most part, everybody treats each other with a great deal of respect, and that’s the way it should be.

You’re probably not going to tell me, but I’m going to ask anyway, does Marion get her happy ending?

(laughs). Well she’s in this, so you could work out from there what happens, but I don’t want to give away any of the plot but she’s in it, so I would only imagine she probably she does! This one is set is not so long after the series ended, when Kip wrote it, right after the show ended with Jason. There have been attempts to make the show 10-20 years later where we all come back as aging Merry Men, which we all agreed to do, but it never went through, Paul couldn’t get it to happen. So this is the best way it could happen, you’ll hear us but we haven’t aged!

Is this going to be available in the States or am I going to have to fly to London to buy a copy?

No no, I imagine it will be available to download it online. If you go look up Robin Hood and the Knights of the Apocalypse it’s got a website. Originally they were trying to raise 10,000GBP because making an audio now is quite an expensive thing, make discs, hire a studio, and they actually raised 10,000 GBP in one night. (The Indiegogo is still open, there are a few items left, but it’s truly almost run out) I think the money they actually made so far is 28,000 GBP. Which is about $ 35,000, to cover all the expenses, the cast and recording expenses. Of course a lot of us are volunteering to do this, I’m flying myself into London, I can’t wait to be there with the boys again. You will be able to buy a copy and the money will go to Kip’s charities.

The last time I was in England, I was with a dear friend of mine – someone I’d met through Robin of Sherwood, and on our tour we stopped at Sherwood Forest. The rest of the group ran off to the souvenir shop, but my friend and I crawled through the woods and did the “Herne Protect Us” ritual.

There were so many beautiful ideas in it, people still say it to each other today, when we write to each other…Ray (Winstone) did the forward for my book, and at the end of it he wrote, Nothing is Forgotten, Nothing is Ever Forgotten. And we all believe that. I believe that somehow the universe has a memory and everything that happens is still out there, people’s essences, people’s memories, emotions are still somehow floating around there in the ether. Nothing is forgotten, which Robin of Sherwood has proven to be true.

Did you realize when you and Kip (Carpenter) created the character of Nasir that you would completely change the Robin Hood mythos?

I’m glad you asked me that because I want to clarify something that I’ve seen various people write, about Nasir the bit part, the non-speaking character. I just wanted to say that the story that I’ve told in the past is Kip literally calling me and asking me what you would personally want to do with this character. Because the character wasn’t in the original story that was written and accepted by Showtime. Originally the character was called Edwin the Archer and he didn’t speak and he got killed off at the end of that first hour. Then they decided to call me Nasir the Saracen and that was on the first day of shooting. I ended up staying with the show so they had to come up with something about him. And I had read three histories of the time period ….and I was fascinated by about the relationship between the Knights Templar and the cult of the Assassins. So Kip and I talked about that a lot, about the back story, and I said as long as I have something to anchor me…I don’t have to talk, just give me the action. And I’ve got the swords, I’ve got the bow, whatever you want me to do with it, tracking or knife throwing or whatever. It’s a visual medium so as long as the visuals are there I don’t need the lines. I’ll find a way to make it work without that. Kip and I talked a lot about that, so I do kinda …take semi-credit for that part of it, so when you say you originated a role, it means you were the first person to play that role…I’m very proud of that fact that I originated an Arab character, a Muslim character in the Robin Hood legend which has survived into modern mythology. And it’s mostly due to Kip, and the way he wrote the shows. I was glad to bring my personal history into it and flesh it out. We did talk a lot about it and Kip and I remained friends for many, many years after Robin Of Sherwood. Kip and I did many conventions together as you know, and we went to many events in America, and we would sit for hours. He was one of my magical mentors, my philosophical mentors. I enjoyed his company tremendously. He was a brilliant writer. As you know he passed away not that long ago. It’s a tremendous loss. What a legacy to leave behind. Everyone who has sent in money for Knights should know it’s Kip’s daughter managing that. She is going to make sure her father’s memory is well looked after. And we all treasure that.

What makes Robin of Sherwood so special?

What Kip did, bringing back that brand of magic, subtle in that primordial way with British mythos back into it, was brilliant. Of course, it brought back true elements of that story, that Robin was possibly the product of the English people, of people living in the forest, along with fairies and goblins, and demons, which came out of that medieval Green Man foliage face. It’s all around in monasteries and churches to this day. There was this bridge to understand modern humanity and our consciousness or nature. I talk about Fountains Abbey and there’s a Green Man hanging on this Cistercian Abbey. So at that time, there were a lot of questions about human consciousness and in nature. And that’s what I think Kip hooked into, in this show. Somehow that linkage, that primordial respect for nature. And nothing like that has been touched on since, with the depth that was in that show, and that’s what it’s alive to this day.

I heard there’s another Robin Hood coming out in 2017.

I heard there’s about six or seven. The time is probably right to do another one. And Kip’s approach was so subtle and so subliminal and yet so primal and that’s why it’s endured. It was a lucky mix of people, writing, talent, style and has the music of Clannad. Robin Hood is interesting, like King Arthur, it’s ingrained in the psyche in the English and European people, and all over the world. It’s an archetypal story. We need those.

A little bit about Black Sails?

There’s competition to go as far as you can go on television right now, in terms of sex and violence. Black Sails was fairly risqué and violent and shows all the violent realism of sea battles and people being injured and killed. I thought it had gone as far as it can go. (Mark played Mr. Gates, to say anything more about his part would be a spoiler.)

You’ve done so much in your career, stage, theater, singing, film, fight and stunt coordinating, and television…. What would you say your defining moment was?

Defining moment. It’s a question I’ve been asked before and I have to split it into three or four because to me as a kid it never occurred to me that I wanted to be just a singer or just an actor, I’ve always been ambitious to achieve things not to make money, be famous, whatever but to live life and be able to try and do as many things as I could, taking my father’s advice, just throw it in the universe and see what happens. In terms of my career, obviously, Evita was a huge turning point for me, both from the galley and then as Che. That was a role meant for me to play. Vocally and everything, that was a turning point in my career. Obviously Robin of Sherwood, introducing Nasir into the Robin Hood mythos, was amazing opportunity. It was an amazing part of my life and the friendships that I got out of that and still retain to this day that was a huge turning point. And writing the Greenwood, now Wildwood Tarot in my writing career, in terms of the effect it’s had on people around the world. I was in a brewery down the road and a woman came up to me and asked, “Are you the bloke that wrote the Wildwood Tarot?” I said, “How the hell did you recognize me?” And she had bought both decks and bought more than one, for friends and family. So I have to say, Wildwood Tarot is also a huge turning point in my creative life, publishing something as successful as that. Mr. Gates (Black Sails) was a turning point. I’ve been so fortunate, with every step I’ve learned from. That is the process. Life is a learning process and you take what you learn, and even though it doesn’t work out exactly the way you wanted it to work out or you don’t get what you wanted out of it, take what you have learned and apply it to the next situation. That was my father’s advice to me as a young man and that’s something I live by. What can I tell you, four Transformers films later, I’m now associated with Bumblebee, and the whole franchise, which is incredible. It’s what I came here to do, it’s what I wanted to do, be on a large Hollywood set…. And be attached to something is mostly beyond my wildest dreams. Defining moments! Life is so precious, and you must make every day count. Do something important and do something important with it. It all comes out of imagination and if you can step forth and imagine it, and you push and you work and you keep throwing yourself at stuff, doors open.

Written by Arlene Allen

Hello, my name is Arlene Allen, and I love all things nerd: genre tv and movies, books, loud rock and roll music, kittens, conventions, books, graphic novels and superheroes, RPG and tabletop games, and did I say books? Oh, yes. I spent 25 years as a librarian (nerd) mainly working with youth (creating nerds), a number of years as a teacher (more nerd indoctrination). I have my own spawn, leveled up to 22 and my partner in nerdiness. As a nerdy writer, I have found a home at Talk Nerdy With Us.

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