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Love Hurts for 'Tristan & Isolde'

10 January 2006   |   Written by Hanh Nguyen

LOS ANGELES – For the legendary lovers in “Tristan & Isolde,” it was love at first sight — even if one of them had their eyes closed.

In the Kevin Reynolds-directed Dark Ages drama, Isolde is an Irish princess whose father, King Donnchadh, terrorizes the disjointed tribes in England. When Isolde comes upon Tristan, a wounded English warrior, on the seashore, she nurses him back to health while hiding him from the Irish.

“Kevin said to me that as soon as you see [Tristan] on that beach, he has you before he even says hello,” says Sophia Myles, who plays Isolde. “He had me before ‘Hello.'”

James Franco, who plays Tristan, believes in love at first sight, but not in the cliche “all you need is love.”

“There must be something between two people that just fits, even before they know each other,” he says. “There is chemistry between people, but Romeo and Juliet got married and they died the next day. Relationships take work.”

Tristan and Isolde’s relationship has more than its share of obstacles. Through a cruel twist of fate, Isolde finds that she must marry Tristan’s mentor and adoptive father Lord Marke for political reasons. Not only will the marriage create an alliance between the warring countries, but it will serve to unite England under one ruler.

“It’s very much like Lancelot and Arthur,” says Franco. “The noblest love of all the tales of chivalry is the love from afar when a knight can’t be with the one he loves. What ultimately makes Tristan noble is he has to sacrifice his personal desires for a larger good.”

After the marriage, Tristan and Isolde discover that they can’t stay away from each other and begin to meet in secret. For the actors, the timeless tale of star-crossed lovers wanting what they can’t have still applies to today’s romantics.

“It’s that grass is always greener syndrome,” says Myles. “When something is unattainable, it’s attractive.”

“A love story is always great when you have an obstacle,” adds Franco. “The idea that we want what we can’t have is human. We are never satisfied. For myself, as soon as I have something, it’s like, ‘What’s next?'”

Even though their affair puts the nation’s peace in jeopardy, Tristan and Isolde can’t seem to help themselves. Like his character, Franco understands the allure of doing crazy, ill-advised things in the name of love.

“What I did was I would try to create drama when there is none and stupid things like climbing through people’s windows when they weren’t expecting you,” he confesses. “It didn’t work out well for me. It was borderline stalker behavior. Fortunately, I was young enough that I didn’t get into too much trouble, but I didn’t win the girl. You have to have a girl that reciprocates your feelings.”

While Franco learned a real-life love lesson, Myles believes that the film also has a valid message about love, despite its tragic ending.

“When love comes your way just ride it till the wheels come off,” she says. “Love is fundamentally what we human beings all crave and wish for. It makes the world go ’round. It’s what it’s all about.”

“Tristan & Isolde” opens nationwide on Friday, Jan. 13.