LOS ANGELES – In high school, screenwriter Bob Cochran was fascinated with Attila the Hun. So when his agent called years later with the chance to write a four-hour miniseries on the man called the Scourge of God, Cochran jumped at it.
His ”Attila,” a two-part miniseries on the USA Network reminiscent of ”Gladiator” and ”Braveheart,” airs Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 30-31, at 9 p.m. EST.
While Cochran takes historic liberties with the story, the result is a grand epic production that has something for everyone _ romance, jealousy, greed, betrayal, sex and, of course, huge, bloody battles.
”The challenge was capturing the mythic proportions of Attila and the history of Rome, and at the same time capturing the story of the two men at the center of it all,” Cochran said.
The story follows Attila (Gerard Butler) and Roman general Flavius Aetius (Powers Boothe), two men who represent their respective worlds in the fifth century.
Often cast in history as a mindless plunderer, Cochran’s Attila is a visionary who sees more in his people the Huns than they see in themselves. While the Huns are content to plunder and extort from surrounding nations, Attila looks beyond to the possibility of an empire to conquer and a new world order to establish.
Aetius, on the other hand, represents the best and worst of Rome before its fall. He plots to kill the emperor because he believes he’s the only man who can save Rome. But to accomplish his task he must give up the thing he loves most his daughter to save his country.
The collision of their two worlds is at the heart of the miniseries, which climaxes at the Battle of the Chalons, the outcome of which helped decide the fate of Western Civilization.
It was Cochran’s approach that attracted both Butler and Boothe to the script.
”I just thought it was a story that hadn’t been told before, an epic of that magnitude anyway,” said Boothe. ”It’s a story that really poses a lot of questions. What would Europe look like if Attila had won? What would the people look like?”
Boothe, whose recent work includes the film ”Men of Honor” and the miniseries ”Joan of Arc,” said the scale of the production, filmed on location in Lithuania and using thousands of extras, gave him a new perspective on the era.
”I finally understood what Roman spectacle meant,” he said.
For Butler, whose films include 1997’s ”Mrs. Brown” and ”Dracula 2000,” the additional appeal was the story of the personal relationship between Attila and Aetius.
”There’s art in the relationship of these two men. … These are two men who love and respect each other and are destined to destroy each other,” he said.
Both Butler and Boothe shine in the miniseries’ small moments.
When Attila loses his true love to childbirth, he falls to his knees at her grave in the rain a broken man.
Boothe’s scenes with the emperor’s mother, with whom he’s at odds over Rome’s future, evoke memories of his 1980 Emmy-winning performance in ”Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones”: He’s a believer in his actions no matter the consequences.
But it’s the big moments that make the miniseries from the Huns’ brutal attack on a helpless village to the battles against the Romans.
In one memorable scene that pits Attila against his brother for control of the Huns, the two take to horses in a running bow-and-arrow battle scene.
It’s a scene, the actors and director say, that took days to complete.
”When you have a hundreds of people in a scene, they can cover up mistakes. But when you have two people, it has to be right on,” said Butler.
Copyright 2001 Associated Press