Mark Ryan played the role of Nasir in the popular British television series Robin of Sherwood. Nasir was the first Muslim member of the Merry Men - a concept that carried over to later productions such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the 2006 Robin Hood TV series and the 2018 Robin Hood film. He also co-wrote a Robin Hood comic book story in DC Comics' Green Arrow, and he has designed the Greenwood Tarot and Wildwood Tarot which use some Robin Hood imagery.
As an actor, Mark Ryan has appeared in many plays, TV shows and movies. He was in the original production of Evita. Most recently, he's found fame as the voices of Bumblebee ,Jetfire and Lockdown in the Transformers movies and as Quartermaster Gates in the 2014 TV series Black Sails. He has contributed to the Arthurian legend as an assistant sword instructor and actor in First Knight. He was also the swordsmaster on the Canadian TV series The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne and the 2004 King Arthur movie starring Clive Owen. You can learn more about his screen adventures and real-life exploits in the intelligence field in his 2015 autobiography Hold Fast.
This interview was conducted over the phone in March 1998. I'd just like to add that while Nasir almost never said a word, Mark Ryan is a delightful conversationalist whose comments are often punctuated by rich laughter. [When he was in Toronto in June 2000, I went to dinner with him and some other Robin of Sherwood fans. Back when I first did this interview I said Mark would be the perfect person to meet in a pub -- I was right. He's very friendly and a superb storyteller.]
In 2016 and 2018 Mark Ryan returned to play Nasir in new Robin of Sherwood audio adventures released by Spiteful Puppet. The original 1998 phone interview has been supplemented by an email interview in December 2018.
AWW: I guess I'll start at the very beginning. I understand you grew up in Doncaster.
MR: I was born in Doncaster. [Yorkshire]
AWW: Which is right near Barnsdale.
MR: It is indeed. Just up the road from Barnsdale, and of course one of the places that was reputed to be one of the hideouts of Robin Hood, and one of the villages that Robin Hood is supposed to have visited and Little John is supposed to have visited and all that kind of stuff.
AWW: So, did you play Robin Hood at all when you were a kid?
MR: Indeed. In fact, in Sherwood Forest. In fact, in the Major Oak itself. There is a tree called the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest which they reckon is about 1200 years old. So, it's an old hollow oak tree, and they reckon it was one of the hiding place for Robin Hood. Or he used to hide his money in there. I think in truth the tree itself wasn't old enough when in reality there was a character called Robin Hood running around. I think there probably was. Because the whole thing I discovered about Barnsdale is that there was a whole tribe of Hoods living in and/or around that part of Yorkshire at the time, around 1190 all the way to about the 1230s. And we used to play in Sherwood Forest as kids. We used to go a lot down to what is now called Clumber Park which part of Sherwood Forest just north of Nottinghamshire and south of Doncaster.
AWW: I remember when I was in Sherwood in 1993 and saw the Major Oak, it was fenced off.
MR: That's because some idiot decided to light a fire inside the tree some years ago. In fact, I used that very analogy at the beginning of my book The Greenwood Tarot. On a bench, there's a photograph of all the work that's been done on the tree and what the tree used to look like. When I was boy it looked completely different. It had these big iron rings on other branches further up that were holding up the lower limbs. And now they've put these wooden things to hold the limbs up. On that plaque which explains the history of the tree, there is a photo of the Robin of Sherwood boys. Which is kind of odd. Kind of nice, but kind of odd.
AWW: So, how did you first learn about Robin Hood?
MR: It was just very much a part of the local history, For example, there is a place outside of Scarborough called Robin Hood's Bay. Wherever you go in Yorkshire, and obviously in Nottingham but more so in Yorkshire and further north, there's Robin Hood's Well, Robin Hood's Bay, Robin Hood's Cave. Wherever you go in Yorkshire, Robin Hood is literally all over the place. So I grew up with it in my psyche.
AWW: How did you end up playing a character in the Robin Hood legend?
MR: I was doing a show in the West End [London's theatre district] 20 years ago. June 21, 1978 we opened a show called Evita. And I played Magaldi in that show and I went on to play Ché. A director called Ian Sharp came to see me play Ché. And when I left the show he had me do a movie called Who Dares Wins. In America, it was called The Final Option. It was about the Iranian embassy siege. I was working with another writer called Ranald Graham on an idea. We were all pals and Ian came over, and he happened to say to me that he was working on this Robin Hood series. And we talked about and I didn't think any more about it. Then as he was leaving he said to me "would you like to do something in it?" And I said, "what?" He said "it's just a character. It's not a big character; there's no dialogue or anything. But I need someone who can really look mean." You've got to have a good bad guy to make your good guy look better. And this character is called Edmund the Archer. And he said it was being filmed up in Bamburgh Castle -- another place I spent a lot of time as a kid -- and various castles and back to Bristol. And I said, "Sure, Ian, if you want me to do something, no problem." And I forgot all about it.
And they promptly forgot all about it. About a week before they decided to start filming, Esta Charkham, the casting lady, rang up my agent and said "Look, Ian has just told me that Mark's playing this part. And we haven't got anything in the budget for it, we don't know how we're going to deal with this, but the reading is at Pinewood Studios tomorrow, and we start filming on Monday." So, my agent said, do you want to do this? And I said "yeah, I promised Ian I would do it. No problem, I'll busk it. I'll go and see what happens."
So, I did the reading and everyone drove up to Bamburgh on the Monday. The first day on set, I'd literally just arrived on the set and Ian came up to me and said "There's been a bit of a change. He's not Edmund the Archer, he's Nasir the Saracen." And I said okay, fine, that seems reasonable. And he said, "Oh, by the way, how are you with two swords? Can you do a two-handed sword fight?" I said "we'll find out."
I had done a bit of sword work. And Terry Walsh [stunt co-ordinator] and Michael Praed [who played Robin Hood], God love him to his ever-lasting credit, went round the back of the tents where everyone was having their lunch and we worked out these routines. For weeks. That sword fight in the first episodes.
About halfway the first couple of weeks filming the producer, Paul Knight, came up to me in the bar in the hotel and said "Are you enjoying this?" And I said "Oh yeah, it's cracking, absolutely wonderful." He said, "Good. Would you like to stay on?" I said "Of course I would. It would be terrific, wonderful." Ray, Clive and the boys -- we had all by that time struck up a very strong friendship. [Ray Winstone -- Will Scarlet, Clive Mantle -- Little John.]
We had been driving around in my car and I was playing Clannad. We suggested to Paul Knight that Clannad should do the music for the show. That's how Clannad got the gig, because everyone was listening to "Harry's Game" in my car. [A hit song by the Irish band Clannad.]
Anyway, I forgot all about it [being asked to stay on]. We got to the day to where they were filming the big sword fight with Michael, and I thought "Oh, that's it. They've forgotten. They're going to kill me off." They were just about to stick arrows in me back, and Ian [Sharp, the director] said "We're not doing this now. We don't want to kill him." So, I just turned around to the camera and off they went. And that was it. I was left sort of hanging at the end of the episode.
Once they got me in, they didn't know what to do with me. Kip [Richard "Kip" Carpenter, series creator] came to me "I don't know what I'm going to write for you. Have you got any ideas? Can you go away and do a bit of work?"
So I went away and I researched. I read Runicman's History of the Crusades which has got a lot of stuff in it about the assassins, Knights Templar and all that kind of stuff. I talked to Kip about it and we decided that was the way to go with it. And we both agreed he shouldn't be given many lines. I wasn't interested in the lines. I just wanted to do action stuff, do a lot of running around, killing Normans, that kind of thing.
And that was it. From what was going to be a week or two's work and get killed off turned into a three year job. And adding what can only be said is another little fractal of the picture of the Robin Hood mythos, namely Nas or the Saracen or the Stranger from the Strange Land, got added into the legend. So, as far as I'm concerned, it was wonderful. One of the best times of my life.
AWW: How do you feel about being the first new permanent member of the legend since Alan a Dale was added? In that the Arab character has shown up several times since you've played him.
MR: Well, I know of a couple. If you know of any more than the Morgan Freeman and something else, then tell me because I'm fascinated to know whether he has become a permanent fixture. If he has, that's extraordinary.
AWW: Well, of course, the Morgan Freeman one [in Prince of Thieves], I'd class Barrington the Rastafarian from Maid Marian [a British comedy] as being in the black/Arab tradition, the one in Men in Tights [Mel Brook's send up of the Costner film]. And in the new series, they have a character called Kemal. [historical note: the new series at the time of the interview was The New Adventures of Robin Hood. Since then a female Muslim member of the band, Djaq, appeared in the 2006 Robin Hood TV series and Jamie Foxx played a Little John as a Moor in the 2018 Robin Hood film..]
MR: You're joking!
AWW: He's a black, martial artist -- a black, Arab kickboxer.
MR: I haven't seen it. Is this the one shot in Romania? Never seen it.
AWW: People who have visited my website were completely amazed that the Arab Merry Man only dates back to the 1980s.
MR: Well, the interesting thing is, Allen, that probably the more you delve into this that there is a tradition, and I only found this out after I had done the show, that the Crusaders, particularly the Templars, came back from the Crusades with a lot of Arabic influences. They did all kinds of deals and trades with the Assassins and the members of the Muslim sects. And they actually brought back Arabs with them to Britain. There was actually a small colony of Arabs living in Staffordshire at one point, and I believe the British people called them Baillies. They were thought of as being gypsy/Arabic blood lines. They were in little groups of villages almost called bailees. Again there's the Arab/Jewish influence in Ivanhoe. So, in reality, there probably was, although it wasn't common, a substantial Arabic influence. Particularly on the Crusaders and particularly on the Templars. So all we did really was rediscover it. We brought something out that probably existed already.
AWW: Did you have to learn archery for Robin of Sherwood?
MR: I'd already done a bit before. I did a bit of riding, a bit of archery, a bit of swordplay before we started. But we all had to go off down to Stephen Dent's farm. The Dents are probably the most well-known stunt rider, film, equestrian place in Britain. And we all had to go off and ride and prove that we could ride, and sit on horses for days on end getting our arses sore. So, all most had done a little bit before, none of were experts. By the time we finished, we were pretty good. As with the swordplay and everything else.
For the archery we had a guy called Gabe Cronnelly. He was the archery coach on the Costner movie. And Gabe was an Irish open Olympic archer, I believe. We all got coached although we had all done a bit before. I actually did have a bow before I joined the series. We were all made to spend hours chucking arrows about. It was great preparation. It saved a lot of money on the set.
AWW: I understand you went on to teach sword fighting in the Sean Connery Arthurian movie, First Knight.
MR: Yeah, I assisted a guy called Bob Anderson who did Highlander and Star Wars. He choreographed the movie. But for every day for five months I fenced with Gere [Richard Gere aka Lancelot], Ben Cross and anyone else who wanted to have a sword fight, including the stunt boys. It was great. That was one of the nicest jobs. It's interesting that they chose an actor to assist a stunt guy. And there was some consternation among the stunt men regarding that. But Bob and I got along so well; he's such a good guy and we had a lot of fun. I was free to go off and do other things while I did that. I did an episode of Peak Practice and a thing called Harry. As long as I came back to the studio and fenced with everybody, it was okay. But I really enjoyed it. It was terrific.
AWW: One of the things that really makes Robin of Sherwood stand out is the chemistry between all the actors.
MR: It's still there. In fact I spoke to Michael [Praed, the first Robin] this morning. I spoke to Clive [Mantle, Little John] last week. I saw Jason [Connery, the second Robin Hood and son of Sean] last Friday. We are all still very tight. It's almost the same as going to college or something. We went through so much. It was a labour of love going through that show. 'Cause it was hard work; it was gruelling. It's like living as a family cheek by jowl. And you get up in the morning at half past six and get on the set. Sometimes the weather wasn't good and we all got wet, and disgruntled and pissed off. And other times the weather was wonderful and glorious, and we were riding around and chopping up Normans. It was just three years of bliss. That's all I can say. And we are still to this day very tight.
AWW: I understand you got up to a lot of mischief. In particular, I remember a story about a bed or something.
MR: Yeah, the bed in the river. Oh my god. We got famous for what are called the out takes, and that is all the things that go wrong on the show. At one time we had one of the best funny reels that had ever been seen. Because the boys would set things up to pull a stunt on somebody. And sometimes it would take a week of setting these things up, including adding pages into the script and stuff like that.
The show became famous for being fun. And people did it because it was fun. We got the stars we got to do it, because somebody would come down and it was our mission to take them out and get them as drunk as possible on the first night. There were stupid little gags. I mean we used to have mud ball fights and cream bun fights.
You'd see the guest stars going "You're completely insane. you people. You're completely bloody mad." But you could see they were having a ball. They absolutely had a ball. That bit of mischief on the set really made the show crack along. Not just on the set, but off the set. We were even worse off the set than we were on the set.
The story about the bed, which was one of the occasions when we all got into trouble for emptying Terry Walsh's [the stunt co-ordinator] hotel room of every object that could be removed including the light fittings and the light sockets. We just took everything out of his room and hid it. Unfortunately one of the things that we removed from his room which we couldn't really hide very well was a large bed, which we pushed into the car park. And pushed then over a mound which turned out to have a canal on the other side. So, the bed was never seen again. We ended up paying for that. We were doing it all the time. It was great fun.
AWW: How did you put extra things into the script?
MR: Well, Kip was excellent about that kind of thing. If anybody had an idea or an objection, we were free to bring up ideas, chuck in ideas, move things around. We used to go into a huddle with the dialogue. Well, the boys did. I would just hang around and watch most of the time. If they had dialogue to do, they'd go into a little huddle, work out what they were going to do, say the lines. If it didn't work, they'd change them. That kind of stuff.
Kip again, to his credit -- this is the sign of a good writer, he came out and socialized with us a lot, and he got to learn our personalities and how each of us functioned. And he wrote for us. He said very early on, he said, "You guys are going to know these characters very quickly much better than I do. You're going to know these people. You're going to be doing it. So, you're going to know these people and I'm willing to listen to anything you've got to say about it."
I think there was only one occasion when I actually said "You know, I don't think that's right. I don't think Nasir would do that. Or I don't think this is working." And that wasn't a Kip Carpenter script. It was when Anthony Horowitz came on. And Anthony turned into a very, very good writer -- in fact, one of the most famous TV writers we've got in Britain right now. But it was complex show to get hold of, and what he wrote which just was improbable regarding what was happening within the Merry Men. We all turned around and said "We wouldn't do this, Anthony." And he said, "Okay" and he rewrote it. (laughs)
AWW: What was he having you do?
MR: It was "The Pretender". It sticks out in my mind, where Reece [Dinsdale] came in and was pretending to be [Arthur of Brittany, Kings Richard and John's nephew, supposedly murder by King John], basically takes over the band. You know, he outfights everybody and wins Maid Marion's heart. And we just said, "it's improbable. These people live in the forest together. They fight together; they are on the run together. It's improbable that somebody would turn up and they would just follow this guy because he's better at everything than Robin. It just doesn't make any sense. That he would be able to win that." Then he comes in and does a two-handed sword fight with me. I mean he beats everybody. He beats up Ray [Will Scarlet], he has a two-handed sword fight with me and he beats me. He basically bested everybody at everything. And we all said "This just isn't working. This doesn't make any sense." So, we worked it out that best thing to do was -- I think it was our suggestion -- that if we're going along with him to find out what he's about, that makes more sense than us turning against Robin, abandoning Robin for this guy. And then Robin then coming back at the end proving that he is really the good guy after all, that he really is the best Robin Hood sort of thing. So we had that kind of input.
AWW: Since the series, you've done a lot of work on mythic themes. Did that start with Robin of Sherwood or was it something you were interested in before?
MR: Mildly. Mildly. I can't say it was something I knew a great deal about. Growing up, you kind of. Although I knew a lot about the Arthurian legends, Robin Hood and all that kind of stuff, it never struck me as being something that was new to me. It was just something I knew about. But I never went into it to the depth I did later on. No, my experiences before that were mainly musical theatre. I'd done two shows in the West End before that. One being Evita and one being a show called Dean. And my experience before that was recording and that kind of thing.
AWW: And how did you get into the mythic themes from Robin of Sherwood?
MR: Oooh, I guess it was people asking me questions. (laughs) About the show which I didn't know that much about. I'd done some reading about the whole thing, but people kept asking me questions at conventions, like fan conventions in the US, to which I didn't really know the answers. I started getting intriguing by some of the images myself in the show. Although we were aware of the show at the time in terms of some of its themes and some of its imagery. It wasn't till a few years later when people kept coming up to me and saying "Have you any idea how symbolic and how important that show was in terms of the effect it had on the Pagan community?" And about bringing forward some of the ideas like Herne the Hunter that people were hungry for. It was extraordinary the power that that image had for people. And that's when I started to get interested. And you know I had to go back in a way and backtrack to my childhood memories and say "Oh, I see, that makes sense. I see where that fits." So a lot of stuff grew out of Robin of Sherwood. I'm not saying it's totally responsible for that. But in my own life what it did do was reawaken stuff I already knew, had it my head and obviously opened up new things that I was not aware of at all.
AWW: What sorts of mythic themes do you see in the Robin Hood legend?
MR: Oh god, in the legend or in the show?
MR: I think the show itself has touched on so many different complex areas. But I'll bring up two. One was the Templars, the idea of the Knights Templar. The other is the whole concept of a man living in the forest who is not necessarily the only man that takes on the mantle Robin Hood or Robin i'the Hood, and that he is seen by the people as a semi-magical character who fighting against Norman, Christian oppressive class system. I think that probably is near as damnit as is truthful. That was the situation. I mean you can go from there where you want. I mean within the Templars and the whole knights' chivalric orders and the Plantagenets and John's history with the Lionheart. I mean there is so much. It is rich in history and with symbolism.
Within the old legend itself, my personal belief is that there are historically several real Robin Hood characters who were actually remembered in the pipe rolls, which are the royal household lists of people who worked the royal households. And there was actually a Robin Hood who worked for Edward, I think it was Edward II, who was arrested for stealing wood from Sherwood Forest. Not for killing a deer, but for stealing firewood. He was either going to be sent to prison or he could fight for the king. So he decided to fight for the king and became a very famous warrior. And the king offered him a place in the household and he became a gamekeeper. He lived as a gamekeeper for the king for about a year and then he got bored with that and vanished, and apparently went back into the forest from whence he came. So there are several real Robin Hoods dotted around history. I believe probably people took the mantle of Robin Hood because they were highwaymen, robbers living on what was called Watling Street or the Great North Road which runs up the spine of Britain from London to York. And York was where the Exchequer was kept at that time. London wasn't where the money was kept. The money was kept in York. And around York there are nine Knights Templar preceptories; so whatever they were guarding, they were guarding it seriously.
So, the layers within the show are multiple. There's all the legend of the Green Man and nature and nature in man and man in nature and all that stuff. There's all the stuff to do with bows and the mysticism of archery and the symbolism of archery. It's so deep, it's so rich, we could go on about it for hours.
MR: I got interested in tarot some years ago. And I actually bought a deck for a then girlfriend of mine. She wasn't really that much interested, but I found the imagery fascinating. And didn't really think about it anymore. But wherever I went, particularly when I came to America, I went into a bookstore, somehow they are more readily available here than they were in Britain. Or I had never seen a variety in Britain that I've seen here, particularly the Bodhi Tree. I was just looking, and I got interested in the imagery and the cultures and what speaks to people in the imagery. And I bought two or three packs and just played with them, toyed with them, didn't do any reading with them, per se. I was interested in the imagery. I found them very pretty, and I was trying to grasp the psychology of how this works, what these things symbolize. So, I read a lot about that, and I began to see what it meant: how the Major Arcana stand for 22 states of personality or the human condition within a person. And I began to get into the Jungian side of it. I began to understand the psychology of it, the symbolism and the history of the symbolism. So I was quite interested in all that kind of stuff.
And Chesca [Potter, co-designer and illustrator of Mark Ryan's Greenwood Tarot Deck] was living in my house at Streatham [in South London] at one time when she was homeless and she was house-sitting for me. We sat talking about tarot and Robin Hood and all the Greenwood legends and stuff like that. She says I said it, and I say she said it, but we both said at some point it would be very interesting to a Robin of Sherwood tarot. There already one called Robin Wood or something which it was interesting but I didn't really think got to the depths of this stuff, got right down into it. Because there's a whole, again, mythos to do with animals and shamanism and all kind of stuff. We were talking about that. I said "Well, I'm fascinated by that idea. It's an interesting idea. But if you base it on the Qabalah [Jewish mysticism], which is one of the systems that is mainly used for tarot, I don't understand it. I don't get it. It's not a European tradition, Qabalah. It's interesting, but it's too intellectual for me. It's not instantly assessable."
And she said, "Well, there is the wheel of the year." We talked about the Wheel of the Year, which I knew a little about it, but not a lot. We took her deck, which I believe was the Rider Waite deck and laid it out on my living room floor in Streatham. In the wheel of the year, using her cards. And lo and behold, it literally fell onto the floor almost. We aligned the lovers in balance with Beltane and we put Death and the Devil with Samhain. We looked at it when we laid it out and went "Wow, that is very interesting. That must have been done before. Somebody must have done this before. They must have put these images and these states at this eight-spoke wheel of the year." Because it's so obvious it must have been done before.
I ran up a couple of people we knew and so did Chesca. We talked to John Matthews [writer of many, many book and designer of tarot decks] about this. We said "John, can you relate to this?" We explained what we had done and how it worked, and he went "God, I wish I'd done that." (laughs) And he said "No, no one's ever done that." So, we rang a couple of people and somebody put us in touch with a publisher. We had a publisher that instantly wanted to take it, but they didn't have the resources to do it the way we wanted to do it. We went to see HarperCollins. And HarperCollins immediately said well, "Yes, this is a breakthrough. This is never been done before. We've never seen it done like this." And it's extraordinary because it's a rediscovery, it fits it so well. And we grew into the whole thing about the Shaman and the animals and changing the Minor Arcana a little bit and changing the Major Arcana a bit. But yes, we got the nod, and God know, that was about 1991 or 1992. It took three years then to do the research and put it all into some kind of system that works.
But it works. I have used it and people know are using it, and it's a system which is very easily assessable.
AWW: I found it interesting that you say it's used more meditative purposes than predicting the future.
MR: Yes, I don't believe in predicting the future. There was a whole section in the book about quantum mechanics and a lot of stuff was chucked out of the book, because they wanted to get the little book into that cardboard thing. So, a lot of stuff is missing out of that little book. But one of the chapter was on quantum mechanics and possibility and probability, and why I say you cannot tell the future. You know, you cannot say somebody is going to get hit by a bus. What you do is get a snapshot of reality, psychologically and physically at the moment you do the reading. But as soon as you look at the reading, you've changed everything. You've changed it because you may get a card, and go "Hmmm, then I won't do that then," or "I'd better look at that." So, nothing's fixed. It's all a fluctuation. So, I don't believe you can tell the future and say absolutely this is what's going to happen. I don't think the universe functions that way.
I think what happens is that there is an infinite number of possibilities and probabilities, and what tarot does is reflect your inner state and the elements in the question you've asked that you should look at. It does that extraordinarily accurately. And that is because of synchronicity. Synchronicity means you will always get a meaningful reading or a meaningful reflection of the situation. I don't like to read for people I know. I tend to read mainly for people I don't know, sometimes I don't even want to know their names are and I don't want to know what their question is. I recently did it at a con in San Francisco, and people were going "Oooh." I don't want to know. Because I think sometimes it can muddy the water if you read for somebody and you know too much about them. You tilt one way or another. Where I don't like to do that. I like to say "Look, this is what you've got." And without a shadow of a doubt, it is usually extraordinarily accurate. I had two people that day who went "That is bizarre.", and these were both complex questions involving couples and I read for two couples back to back. Both of them went "that is extraordinary."
AWW: What sorts of images from Robin Hood do you think are helpful to someone, like in the Wheel of the Year?
MR: Well, it's a journey. I said this in the book, the Greenwood Tarot is a journey. None of these things are a fixed points. You start in the centre and you move around. And I believe that the Major Arcana cards stand for all of the emotions and the people that we as individuals can be at any given time. You sometimes put the fool into bat if you're going into a job. You know, that leaping off into the void. And as an actor, I continually walk into voids. I am continually joining somewhere, I don't know who's going to be there, what's going to happen, I don't know what it's about. But I've just got to take my guts in my hands and walk into the void and see what happens. And if I put in the fool, the fool loves that playful side of taking the blind step off the cliff edge. And that's part of my fool type things. Other times I've got to be Strength. Other times I get to be the Green Man. I get to be sitting at my table, you know, with my feast and goblet of wine and all that kind of stuff. We all are those people, both male and female. They live in our psyche to one level or another. And it depends on whether those particularly suit who you are, suit your culturally view of the world. That's why there are all different kinds of packs. Because people look at a certain pack and go "I really relate to these pictures. I see. I get them, I understand it." And depends on where you've been brought up, what your background is, what you find personally interesting in tarot. But eventually people who are into tarot find a pack that accurately represents them. The people in the pack are people they recognize in themselves. So all those cards are bits of people's personalities. In the Major Arcana anyway.
I couldn't pick out one card and say, "These are empowering cards." I could say that the journey itself is empowering. I use this again as an analogy. If you find there is a part of your personality that you really have problems dealing with, like the Hanged Man, or the Blasted Oak as we put it. If you don't like being in that situation of not knowing, of being hung upside down and having to wait for fate to move or the universe to move -- if you don't like that, there's no point in pushing that part of yourself away and locking it outside the house. Because it's like a poltergeist. It will sit outside the window, tapping on the door, saying "Let me in. I'm part of your personality. You got to deal with me." And eventually you've got to bring this guy in, and say "Okay, I've got to learn to be patient. I've got to learn to deal with just waiting." That journey, I think, is the most complete journey that anyone can take. To realize that they have all these different facets of their personality, and they can make them all work positively for them, if they understand them all, not reject them. That's why I emphasize the whole thing about going on the meditation.
AWW: Besides designing a tarot deck around Robin Hood themes, you actually wrote a Robin Hood story in a Green Arrow annual [about a comic book hero who uses fights crime with a Robin Hood motif]. And as a comic fan, I'm on a mission to mention comic books on my website as much as possible.
[This was Green Arrow Annual #4 from 1991, the 50th anniversary of the superhero. In the comic, Green Arrow and his girlfriend the Black Canary visit Nottingham. Dinah, the Black Canary, buys an old magical necklace which places her mind in the body of Maid Marian in a fantasy adventure. The characters often sound like their Robin of Sherwood counterparts with one of them being Rassan, a mostly silent Saracen based off Nasir.]
MR: I spoke to Mike Grell [writer and sometimes artist of Green Arrow when Mark Ryan worked on it in 1991] this afternoon. We've got another project we're trying to get organized. Mike's a busy man these days. But yes, Mike Grell -- we'd been pals for two or three years, and he asked me if I'd be interested in writing this 50th anniversary comic. And I immediately said yes, obviously.
And that was great fun because that was based on a book, some of the adventures I had with a guy called Andy Collins. Andy wrote a book called The Seventh Sword. He had a group of psychics which did what they call psychic questing, which was basically finding lost objects by remote viewing. I went out with these guys several times on some of their adventures. It was great fun and very interesting. A lot of that stuff to do with Ellen. Ellen was a real old British goddess, a guardian goddess of sacred trackways and wells. [In the comic, Ellen of the Wells is Maid Marian's spiritual mentor.] And a lot of that was based on Andrew's adventures. One of his books actually is called the Black Alchemist, and I nicked his title. He was supposed to get a credit on the comic, and he never did.
AWW: Ellen struck me as a Herne for Maid Marian, her empowering figure.
MR: Well that is what Ellen is. Ellen is basically the Greenwood archetype of Herne. [Robin's mentor in both Robin of Sherwood and the comic book.] She would be the Greenwoman in the tarot deck. She is the female, polaric deity to Herne.
AWW: When you were in Toronto some years ago, you mentioned ---
MR: I love Toronto! Let me say to all people in Toronto, first of all, that I think Toronto is one of the nicest cities I've ever been to in my life. And I don't know why nobody's ever invited me back. I must've upset somebody. (laughs)
AWW: When you were in Toronto, you were mentioning about doing a comic series with Mike Grell called The Hooded Man using the Robin Hood legends.
MR: Yeah, that's right. And unfortunately, DC [Comics, publisher of Green Arrow, Superman, Batman and other heroes] really messed us about on that. They decided that Robin Hood had been overdone that year, and they held off for quite a while. And we never got it off the ground. Which is a shame because I thought it was a nice idea. But again, we have another idea which I came up with; so, we're looking at doing something else. We've just never got round to doing it again. We've talked about this for six years, about doing something else. We know have an idea that we both really like.
AWW: Could you please tell me about some of the things you had planned for the Hooded Man?
MR: It was basically sort-of Robin of Sherwood with a much darker, more magical aspect. This figure really was a spirit of the forest. There was a lot that was not quite human about him. He wasn't Swamp Thing, but he was the spirit of the animals and the wildlife and the trees basically. And he was the avenging angel of the forest. That was the original concept.
AWW: I think you said there was going to be a lot of Templar lore in it?
MR: Yes, there was a lot of Templar stuff, regarding the history of the Templars and particularly Yorkshire and England. The Templars were going to be the bad guys on this particular occasion.
I think everybody had been burned out on Robin Hood. [This was at the time of the Costner and Bergin movies and Robin Hood-inspired science fiction comic by DC Comics.] They said "we like the idea", but after about a year they said "No, we can't do this." And by then, it was too late to get anybody else interested. We may revisit it. I may go back and have another go at it.
DC has all changed so much. I mean our main guy there, Mike Gold has left, Dick Giordano's left. We everybody we knew that was a player there seems to have bailed out shortly after this all became rather confusing about what direction they were taking. So, who knows?
AWW: I've heard that there might some mystical connection to Robin Hood coming up in Green Arrow in the near future.
MR: Oooh. I cannot answer. I don't know about the direction they are taking the character in, unfortunately. When we speak at the moment, Mike's got a script in LA. that we talk about. And I've got a script that he's helped me with that is getting interest here in Hollywood. We haven't talked about Green Arrow for months.
Longbow Hunters [Mike Grell's 1980's revamping of Green Arrow] was absolutely terrific.
AWW: I saw a lot of Robin of Sherwood imagery in Mike Grell's run on Green Arrow.
MR: He's a great guy -- Mike. He's one of the nicest people I've ever met as well as being a very interesting character. We're very good pals. He's a top man.
AWW: You were actually a character in one of his comics for one panel if I'm not mistaken.
MR: In fact, I'm probably in more than one. In fact, Mike has a habit of putting people in. If you tell me the one that you think I'm in...
AWW: It's a golf archery tournament in Green Arrow: The Wonder Year. There was a group of archers that Green Arrow was with, and one looks a lot like you.
MR: (laughs) There are other characters in other of his comic books. He's used not only me, but various other characters. But I'm not going to tell you which they are, your readers will have to guess. He puts people in. I won't tell you who they are because I'm sure some of their professions in reality reflect what they do in the comic books. I know a very close friend of mine who is in one of the comic books who physically not only looks like the guy Mike drew but does exactly what he does in the comic book. It's kind of like "Oh, that's bizarre." Unless you know these guys, you wouldn't know. But if you scour Mike Grell's work you'll see all kinds of characters that are really people he knows.
AWW: One of my friends just bought your comic book. She didn't know you had done one.
MR: I pop up all over the place occasionally. I like that variety. I like being able to keep writing and acting and singing. All that kind of stuff.
MR: I'm going down in April to do a play in San Diego at the San Diego Globe. Which I'm very honoured and very excited about. It's a play called Neville's Island which ran in the West End of London. It's the first time it's been done in California. It's a four-hander about four British blokes who get stuck on an island in the Lake District on an outward bound course. It's very funny and it's very dark. We start rehearsals in April. We open at the end of May and we run all the way through June and into July.
And I'm supposed to go back to the UK to do a movie called Legionnaires which there's been a lot of talk about on the Internet, particularly in Britain. Legionnaires is a big science fiction project with Walter Koenig [Star Trek's Chekov and Babylon 5's Bester], Jason Connery [the second Robin on Robin of Sherwood], myself and my wife, Robin. [Robin Curtis, Saavik from the Star Trek III and IV and Mark Ryan's wife at the time of the 1998 interview.]
AWW: I saw you doing a bit on Frasier a few months ago.
MR: Actually, it's just been repeated, I believe. I had an e-mail today from somebody in Upstate New York that it was being repeated again tonight. There's talk about doing it as a regular spot, the pub spot. But whether they will or not, we don't know. [Mark played Winston, the bartender at a British themed pub.]
And I did a Conan the Adventurer as well which was interesting. There were lots of swords about, but they didn't give me one. Well, they gave me one, but I never got the chance to get into it. I was hoping to get a sword fight with Red Sonja, but we never got around to it. It was all a bit rushed. It was great fun to do. Great cast, very funny. Nice guys. How they get through that stuff in a week, I don't know. It was shot down in Mexico.
AWW: How long did it take to film an episode of Robin of Sherwood?
MR: Two weeks. We had two weeks to do an hour.
AWW: When you did the third series of Robin of Sherwood, did you break it up because it was twice as long as the others?
MR: We started filming in February. And we started filming very early. Those early winter scenes in some of those episodes -- my God, I tell you, the old wind whistles through the black leather, there's no doubt about that. All wearing thermals [long underwear] underneath our stuff, it was bloody freezing. You know, there's one scene where we walked up a river. I think it was one of the first episodes. It was the one where we were being impersonated by a band that look exactly like us. ["The Betrayal"]. We walk up this river after these guys, and there was ice floating in this water. It was extraordinary. Yes, we started filming in February and we finished sometime in September. We were all physically exhausted. Exhausted. Hard work.
AWW: I should let you go, but I was wondering if you could please talk about the legacy of Robin Hood. Why has it lasted over 600 years?
MR: I think the legend is an archetypal legend. We have all got a bit of Robin Hood in us. This is what it's about, I believe, is that Robin Hood is the part of us -- and sometimes it's the best part of us -- that doesn't want to see oppression. That doesn't want to see the big bully beat up the weak person. Doesn't want to allow greed and avarice to be in control. And will stand up and say "Whatever risk in myself to this," stand up and say "this is a moral stance I have to take, and this will not do." I think Robin Hood is part of each of our psyches, the idea of living with a kind of group of people fighting a huge monstrous machine, like the Norman machine was, against all odds and for the right reasons.
The human condition hasn't changed. We may have faxes, we may have the Internet, we may have cars and jets and God knows what else, but internally emotionally, we haven't changed a great deal for the last five thousand years, probably twenty thousand years. We still go through the same emotional processes that we did 20,000 years ago. So all these things are still with it. We've got much more stuff now. We've got more knowledge about the universe. But internally, we're still on the same emotional journey.
And Robin Hood is linked deeply to the part of us which is about justice and about rebellion and about standing up for the weak against the poor. And that is why it endures. Like the Arthurian legend, it speaks people to people on deep, core, emotional level that we still don't really understand today. It's that important.
AWW: Thank you very much.
And so ended the 1998 interview. But Mark Ryan returned to play Nasir in Robin of Sherwood audio dramas for Spiteful Puppet in 2016 and 2018. And so, he agreed to answer a few more questions.
AWW: Were you surprised to return as Nasir over 30 years after Robin of Sherwood ended?
MR: Actually, not really! The show has found a whole new audience around the world and holds up incredibly well because of the production values and quality of the story telling. The whole show was shot with a lot of love, good humor and genuine enthusiasm for the production, so it came as no real surprise when the show had a renaissance a few years back and the first audio version of KOTA [Robin of Sherwood: The Knights of the Apocalypse] was recorded.
AWW: How did you find the transition from TV to audio drama? Did you find doing the voices for the Transformers movies helped?
MR: Having done 5 movies, both on set and off, with Michael Bay and Transformers, helped me see the action in my imagination and aided the delivery of the lines and emotions, without doubt. Being involved with action for a decade that you actually cannot see, most of the time, certainly helps sharpen those creative tools!
AWW: Back when we first talked, you mentioned how the actors on the Robin of Sherwood TV series were invited to make suggestions and contributions to their characters. I understand that there was some element of collaboration when planning the Knights of the Apocalypse audio. [The original 2016 audio drama was a charity production based off a Richard "Kip" Carpenter script for a proposed Robin of Sherwood film.] Did you offer any ideas into how Nasir should be written?
MR: Not really. I always trusted Kip to come up with gritty, meaningful moments for the cast. As it was a large and very talented cast we sometimes felt like we were sitting around a lot while the guest stars got the dramatic meat, dialogue-wise but the story lines were pretty evenly spaced and paced, if you look at the character arcs overall. Playing a character with few or no lines at all, I was dependent on the action scenes to flex my characterization muscles in the original show. This was obviously more of a challenge with audio only scripts but I'm not complaining and I'm very comfortable and pleased with the new life that these audio versions have breathed in to the series and the legacy of the whole RoS ethos. I would obviously have preferred to make the script Kip originally wrote into a film but that was sadly never going to happen.
AWW: Tony Lee's script "The Trial of John Little" gave us a few insights into Nasir's time with Belleme -- and his shared experience with Little John. Is there anything you'd like to see explored in future audios?
MR: Tony did a great job with his script and it rang true to the unique spirit and tone of the original show. It also explored some of that history in more depth, which was very nice to play after all these years. As for future 'Nasir', material, I've been personally researching and working on a novel for the last couple of years, based on an Arab character, stranded in Britain during the time of the First Barons' War and after King John's death. Considered a heretic in the land of his birth and an outcast in his adopted homeland, he makes the arduous and dangerous journey back to his deceased father's fortress, with a rather special sword, to be kept for safekeeping until it is required to be returned to its rightful owner in the forbidding forest of Sherwood...
AWW: I've just started watching Black Sails, and your role of Gates is such a memorable and enjoyable part of that first season. Is there a favourite memory from your time on that show?
MR: I have many wonderful and beautiful memories of Black Sails. Working with the entire cast and crew was a wonderful experience and the sets and production values were of mega proportions and quality. I worked very closely with Toby Stephens, of course which was an honor and we had a close and hilarious relationship on set. Watching the clouds roll over Table Mountain and driving up the Western Cape coastline are memories I will treasure for the rest of my life, as was standing on the beach with the Penguins in Betty's Bay. Sitting at the same outdoor desk where Nelson Mandela wrote 'Higher Than Hope' is indelibly etched into my soul and I use the picture of that hotel room view as my desktop image to this day.
AWW: What projects do you have coming up? Is there any chance you'll continue The Pilgrim comic you satarted with Mike Grell? I wish it were more accessible for me to get a copy. The premise sounds fantastic and Mike Grell is one of my favourite comic book artists.
MR: We've looked into getting it back into publication a couple of times and Mike is one one of my closest pals, besides being a total legend in the comic industry. We were the victim of the last market crash and IDW were very supportive and wanted to continue publishing but we never completed that story cycle. The story would now need to be updated and revamped, as the world has gone beyond where we were with the original concept but I wrote three separate follow-up story-lines, so it's very doable. If you know anyone who owns a graphic novel publishing enterprise, we're always open to offers! [In 2020, a revival of The Pilgrim was funded on Kickstarter -- with a publishing assist by Jeff Messer. You can read more details about it in Jeff's interview. And also please visit the official Facebook page for The Pilgrim.]
AWW: Thanks again. You were one of the first people I interviewed for my site and part of the reason my site's been able to stick around for so long.
In 2015, Mythwood books published Hold Fast: A Hollywood Pirate's Tale, Mark Ryan's autobiography (with John Matthews) in e-book format. It does not focus on his time in Robin of Sherwood, but you'll still learn about his time on the show and his relationship with cast and crew. Also, Mark Ryan details his own real-life adventures.
Black Sails Season 1 features Mark Ryan as Mr. Gates, quartermaster on board the pirate ship Walrus.
Buy Black Sails: Season 1 on Amazon.com
Black Sails: Season 1 (UK, PAL edition) on Amazon.co.uk
Mark Ryan appears in Robin of Sherwood audio dramas by Spiteful Puppet
These only can be ordered directly on the Spiteful Puppet website.
The first one is the charity production The Knights of the Apocalpyse and it is cleared for international release. It features a script by Richard Carpenter and stars Jason Connery, Mark Ryan, Ray Winstone and the other surviving members of the TV series cast.
The licensing for the subsequent releases only allows them for sale in the UK and Ireland.
Mark Ryan appears two of the four stories on Robin of Sherwood: A New Adventure boxed set. In these episodes Michael Praed plays Robin of Loxley.
All four adventures in this set are also available individual as digital downloads, as well as other special Robin of Sherwood audiobooks featuring other cast members. Check out Robin of Sherwood on Spiteful Puppet for all options.