Living the Braveheart Life: Finding the Courage to Follow Your Heart

Living the Braveheart Life: Finding the Courage to Follow Your Heart

by Randall Wallace


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“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”

—William Wallace, Braveheart

More than twenty years ago Braveheart captured the hearts of moviegoers around the world. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five. Now, for the first time, author and screenwriter Randall Wallace shares the journey that led him to the famous Scottish warrior and how telling the story of William Wallace changed the direction of his life and career—from that surprising first moment in Edinburgh, Scotland, to selling the script to a major Hollywood studio.

Part autobiography, part master class, Living the Braveheart Life invites us to explore five major archetypes in Braveheart that resonate not only in Randall’s life but in the modern-day lives of both men and women: the Father, Teacher, Warrior, Sage, and Outlaw.

Join blockbuster film director Randall Wallace on the journey of his creative and personal life. Discover why thousands of moviegoers continue to say Braveheart is their all-time favorite film and how its creator and architect came to believe that he must write as if his life depended on it.

Living the Braveheart Life is a challenge to all of us to engage in the greatest battle of all—the one inside the human heart.

“I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it . . . a prescription for what ails the contemporary soul.”

—Steven Pressfield, screenwriter & author of ­The War of Art

Front Flap

During his prolific Hollywood career, Randall Wallace has amassed an enviable body of work. Films such as The Man in the Iron Mask, We Were Soldiers, and Secretariat have become box office standards. Yet no film defines his life and career more than Braveheart, written from a well of deep personal passion, steeped in years of reflection.

With roots in small-town Tennessee, Randall’s hunger for adventure and unlimited horizons leads him to Duke University. ­There he sits under the tutelage of Thomas A. Langford, whose infectious love and learning and faith light up a classroom and a young man’s vision of life’s possibilities.

A decade later, while on a trip to Scotland, Randall is introduced to an unfamiliar statue with an inscription that bears his last name. After hearing the first fragments of the Scottish hero’s tale, Randall recognizes the seeds of a truly great story.

His William Wallace and his band of warriors forever changed the way we view love, war, and freedom. Living the Braveheart Life is a personal narrative of how an epic feature film came to life and breathed life into its author. It is the kind of book that will change the way we approach our internal battles, creative or personal.

Welcome to a master class in storytelling from the consummate storyteller.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718031473
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 759,486
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Randall Wallace is a screenwriter, director, producer, novelist, and songwriter who rose to prominence through his original screenplay for the film BRAVEHEART. His work on the movie earned him an Oscar® nomination for Best Original Screenplay and a Writers Guild of America award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. In addition to BRAVEHEART, he is the writer and/or director behind THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, WE WERE SOLDIERS, PEARL HARBOR, SECRETARIAT, and HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, movies which celebrate the value of faith, courage, and honor. He graduated from Duke University and put himself through a year of Divinity School by teaching karate. In addition to his work as a filmmaker, he has authored nine books, is the founder of Hollywood for Habitat for Humanity, and is the father of three sons

Read an Excerpt

Living the Braveheart Life

Finding the Courage to Follow Your Heart

By Randall Wallace

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2015 Randall Wallace
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-3147-3


A Father's Stories

On a late summer day in the early 1920s, not long after the First World War, a strong young Tennessean named Jesse Wallace was hunting through a woodland near his family's farm. The forests were thick with pecan trees and oaks. The leaves were lush in mid-July.

Jesse carried a shotgun. His new father-in-law, Jake Rhodes, could knock squirrels out of the treetops with a .22 caliber rifle, but few men, even Tennesseans, were that quick and accurate with a light rifle. Jesse preferred the decisiveness, the quick pull and bang of a 12-guage shotgun. He liked strolling the woods, and he enjoyed providing the meat for dinner.

He shot easily and calmly and deliberately, never wasting a shot. He had enough squirrels to fill his game bag when he turned for home. He was warm from the hunt and the walk, and he was thirsty too. So a couple of miles from the farmhouse he knelt down and lapped a cool drink from a spring.

The next day he came down with typhoid fever. He speculated with his family, before he became delirious, that the fever must've come from that stream; there were no other cases of it in the family or among immediate neighbors. His family was worried, of course, but none was as concerned as Jesse's new wife, Lena, who was just seventeen, a bride for barely a year.

The nearest town was called Henderson, and the doctor who came out to the Wallaces' farm treated typhoid in the accepted practice of the day, with purgatives. The doctor dosed him with something called ipecac, which caused him to vomit. He grew so weak the treatment was suspended. He began to grow stronger — strong enough to resume the treatment. He died, probably of dehydration from the vomiting.

Lena was two months pregnant at the time of Jesse's death. She may not have even been sure she was expecting when she became a widow.

The child in her belly was my father. She would name him Jesse Thurman. The Wallaces would call the boy Jesse, in memory of his father. But Lena, when she moved back to live with her Rhodes family, would call her son Thurman. To even speak the name Jesse broke her heart.

So my father grew up without a father. And how he became the greatest of fathers is one of life's great marvels for me. Daddy — Southerners of my vintage call their fathers "Daddy" throughout life — would drive me to the graveyard whenever we visited the area of his birth, and we would stand at the stone with the name Jesse Wallace cut deep into its surface. Daddy seldom spoke at those moments, one of the rare times when he was silent about anything. After five-minute eternities of such quiet, when the wind would whisper through the trees and grasshoppers grated in the grass at the cemetery's fringes, he would lead us back to the Oldsmobile, and we would drive back home. A mood, not sadness exactly but something like longing and loneliness, would cloak him like a morning fog. But the rumble of the Rocket V-8 and the Olds dancing down the swaying road would bring the sunshine back to his eyes, and he would tell me stories as he always did.

* * *

In our family we loved stories. everyone always said the Wallaces were good at telling them.

My Mother's family had a story too — a massive mystery, never mentioned, never hinted at — a secret hidden through generations, one that ricochets through my life even now.

But that is a story I am not yet ready to share — largely because it is a story I still don't know enough about and may never understand. My Mother's family knew how to maintain a great Silence on personal matters, meaning everything pertaining to family. She was as inward as my Father was outgoing. And in this she taught me a powerful truth: the most potent stories contain the mysterious, and Silence can be loud.

* * *

Years after Jesse Wallace died, a young writer traveling in Scotland would first encounter a legend about another man named Wallace — the same name the writer carried. The writer's name was Randall Wallace; grandson of Jesse, son of Thurman. Yours truly.

I was about to become a father for the first time. I had married a woman who knew the exact counties in Ireland where her father's forebears had been born. Her mother's people were Mormons, and they could trace their ancestors back for centuries.

All I knew of my Father's people was that they came from Lizard Lick, Tennessee. The men in my Father's family were Alton, Elton, Dalton, Lymon, Gleamon, Herman, Thurman (my Daddy), and Clyde. They called Clyde "Pete," and nobody knew why. (I am not making this up.) But they were all on the Rhodes side of the family. The history of the Wallaces that I knew of hit a wall at the death of Jesse, my Daddy's Daddy.

There were three great disconnects for me in knowing my ancestry — one general to all Southerners, and two highly specific to my family and profoundly mysterious to me. The general disconnect is that the American South, both ethnically and culturally, is largely Scottish. The reason for this (being mostly unknown) is that the great Scottish migration to North America began long before there was a United States. Warrior clans of the Scottish Highlands, starved by the encroachment of the rising empire controlled by the English, saw opportunity in the new colonies of the New World, and they came as soldiers, sailors, and indentured servants. Pioneers and Indian fighters like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, as well as a great swath of presidents, including Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, have Scottish ancestry. But from the beginning the Scots coming to the New World did not hyphenate their heritage as others did; they were not Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans or Jewish- or African- or Japanese-Americans; they just called themselves Americans. I grew up completely unaware of my Scottish roots.

But the other two disconnects in my knowledge of heritage were far more specific. They were the death of my Grandfather before my Father was born and the mysterious Silence of my Mother concerning her own lineage.

I decided to search for my own roots so that I could share my side of the story with my new son who was on the way. The term roots had taken on greater meaning because of the spectacularly powerful and successful television miniseries first broadcast when I began dating the woman I would eventually marry. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, a brilliant woman who had quit a job as a social worker to launch a career dancing on television and in movies. Like most Californians, she saw the South as a kind of hillbilly cartoon, where we stopped watching Professional Rasslin' and TV evangelists only long enough to eat grits and spit through the gaps in our teeth. She also, however, seemed to think that some Southern boys were studs. I was crazy about her.

Roots was such a powerful experience that it captivated America, and in the days before people could record television shows and view them at any time, we would all gather to watch the new airing of each episode. I was in my future wife's apartment with her brother and sister when Roots reached a climax: the central character, Kunta Kinte, had tried to flee captivity, but slave chasers captured him, and in one horrific moment they took a hatchet to his foot and severed its front half so he could never run again.

We all sat watching this in silent horror, sitting around a television set in Sherman Oaks, sipping white wine — until the slave chaser lifted his hatchet and chopped into Kunta Kinte's foot.

In that moment I realized that all three of the Californians in the room had turned, silent and appalled, to stare — at me.

* * *

I would later hear that members of my family had fought on both sides of the Civil War. (But that's another story.) When I went to Scotland, my only clue of any ancestor beyond my Grandfathers, both of them dead before I was born, was from a cousin who had gone to Europe while in the army and had returned to report that he'd heard somebody named Wallace had come from Scotland.

So it was to Scotland that I headed, my pregnant wife in tow. (To be honest, I was the one in tow; she could plan anything and loved to travel and organize.) We went to Edinburgh, the most picturesque of British cities, and walked into the castle there, simply because I loved castles and history and windswept pinnacles like the one where the castle sat.

We'd just started through the main entrance, an archway into the courtyard of the castle, and I stopped short. Flanking the entrance were two bold statues. One was Robert the Bruce, Scotland's most famous king.

The other was clearly a warrior, clad in armor. The inscription at the base of the statue just said "Wallace."

I grabbed my wife's arm as I pointed to the statue and said to a passing guard, "This Wallace ... who is he?"

The guard was a member of the Black Watch and wore a kilt made of the tartan unique to his regiment. He was short and stood with his feet spread wide, looking as if you could slam his head with a sledgehammer and drive him into the flagstones like a spike, whole and unscathed. In a Highland burr he answered, "That is William Wallace — our grrrreatest herrrrrrro!"

Greatest hero! Wallace! I glanced at my wife to see if she was as impressed as I was.

She wasn't.

"So this William Wallace ..." I asked Mr. Black Watch. "His dates overlap Robert the Bruce." I knew from my lifelong fascination with history that the Bruce was Scotland's greatest king, renowned in poetry for his courage and persistence. "Were Wallace and Bruce allies in fighting the English?"

"No one will ever know for sure," he said, magic words for any writer, "but our legends say the Bruce may have been one of those who betrayed William Wallace, to clear the way for him to become king himself."

I can see that moment now, my wife and I standing in the gray castle beneath a gray Scottish sky, our first son growing in her belly. I can't say the colors grew brighter or that I saw them as suddenly deeper, but something changed. I had discovered something — something that had been there all along. It was clearly a treasure, buried in the dark earth of time. Here I was, an American named Wallace, hungry for history, especially the stories of heroes and rebellions in the fight to be free. Here I was, and I had never heard of William Wallace.

How could this be? How could the story of Scotland's greatest hero remain untold and unknown to someone like me?

And what the Black Watch guard had told me about what would never be known for sure — what only the legends said about Robert the Bruce and his possible involvement in the betrayal of William Wallace — I knew none of the details of such legends, and yet the first hint of their echo in my life struck me as if I'd been told that Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter were the same individual.

I began instantly to wonder, What if there was something in the life and death of William Wallace that had the power to transform Robert the Bruce from a plotting, cowardly betrayer to the greatest king in his country's history?


For as long as I could remember, I had been fascinated by the question of meaningful change in any human's life. Here was a story that encompassed the most profound Transformation. One man, Robert the Bruce, was born to be a king, but he didn't know what a true king really was. A man born a commoner, William Wallace, was the one who showed him how to become not just a king but a great one.

I had found a story. But it would be many years before I had the courage, and the skill, and the desperation to sit down and write it.

The title Braveheart was ten years away, and even then it did not occur to me as the name I'd give to William Wallace's story until I was halfway through writing it.

But the question arose: What does it mean to live with a Braveheart? That question had led me through life like a ghost carrying a candle through catacombs, leading me toward Heaven, or Hell.


The Father

The story begins when the Father dies.

From the moment I had first learned of William Wallace, I'd carried the sense that it was a tale full of depth and meaning for me and that I would have to grow in order to tell it. By the time I did sit down to attempt it — understanding that it would be a win-or-die attempt, like an assault onto an enemy's beach — I had been a professional writer for more than a decade.

All the craftsmanship I had acquired in that time told me that the story should begin with William Wallace as an adult. But in the early stages of my striving to live a Braveheart Life, I had learned something vital already:


I was spared the first should by circumstances. There is a cliché of writing instruction that says, "Write what you know." I wanted to write about William Wallace and quickly discovered that almost nothing that could be considered a proven fact was known about him. The Encyclopedia Britannica's entry on him was tiny, and even in the sparse mention the authors of the encyclopedia used vague phrases, such as "born in or around" and "possibly." Years later I would discover that Winston Churchill had mentioned William Wallace in his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and there he declared that almost nothing is known of William Wallace, and yet the legends of his life have inspired the Scottish people for centuries.

Since there were no accepted historical facts to fall back on, I was freed from the notion that research into such facts — which are, in fact, a historian's own perceptions of what is significant — is required to yield a true story. I decided to tell the story that was true for me.

The codes of narrative writing I'd learned from many teachers told me to avoid a slow beginning, or one that would contain characters who weren't directly a part of the main plot. I knew that a movie about William Wallace would require a famous actor to play him, and I anticipated that any large chunk of story that had a child portraying the future hero would end up deleted.

But the legends said that William Wallace's father and brother had died fighting for Scottish independence, and that aspect of his life — for reasons I'm only now beginning to examine — struck me as worth exploring. And after years of waiting, like a man staring at a wide body of water he knows he must someday try to swim across, I had decided to wade in — but I started timidly, at what I first thought was the shallow end.

In my first day of writing, trying to follow what I took to be the broad outlines of William Wallace's life, I came to the point when his father and brother are brought home by their neighbors, dead.

My heart broke for the boy who faced that situation.

* * *

Young William Wallace stands alone at the fresh graves of his father and brother. His mother, long dead, lies in the same ground where the new graves are. A priest intones a burial chant in a language the boy does not understand. He is surrounded by neighbors, none of whom know how to ease the boy's grief. He is utterly Alone.

The adults around him know that if they move to the boy with any gesture of comfort, they will be obliged to take possession of him, so none of them move. Another boy, his best friend, tries to help but has no words.

It is a girl, even younger than young William, who finds his isolation unbearable. She picks a wildflower and carries it back to him. Then she, too, leaves him to his loneliness and grief.

Suddenly a rider appears: a powerful figure full of commitment and purpose, riding in on a white horse. He dismounts and strides straight to the boy. "I'm your Uncle Argyle," he says. His strong hand reaches out to lift the boy's chin so he can study his face and stare into his eyes. "You have the look of your mother."

That night the boy sits beside the hearth with his uncle, in the same small house where young William last heard his father planning the raid that would take his life. "We'll leave tomorrow," Argyle says.

"I don't want to go," the boy says.


Excerpted from Living the Braveheart Life by Randall Wallace. Copyright © 2015 Randall Wallace. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface: Gathering Around the Fire, xi,
Introduction: The Freedom to Scream "Freeeeeedommmm!", xv,
Part I: Fathers and Sons,
1 A Father's Stories, 3,
2 The Father, 11,
3 The Men — and the Women — Who Made My Father a Man, 17,
4 A Calling, 21,
5 A Calling — and a Piano-Playing Pig, 27,
6 Bob from Afghanistan, 33,
7 Brothers and Sisters, 43,
8 Art and the Braveheart Life, 47,
9 Where the Finger Points, 55,
Part II: The Road to Braveheart,
10 Alpha and Omega, 69,
11 The Mother, 77,
12 Connecting: The Power of True Partnership, 81,
Part III: The Ways of the Warrior,
13 Never Stop Learning. And Never Stop Teaching, 87,
14 Lessons Are Sometimes Harsh, 95,
15 A Warrior Is Always Asking, "What Is a Warrior?", 103,
16 The Warrior and Love, 109,
17 The Braveheart Life embraces Mystery, 115,
18 A Warrior Believes, 121,
19 My Daddy's Gift, 129,
Part IV: The Holes in Our Armor,
20 In Defense of Fear, 137,
21 The Fears of Women, 145,
22 Fear's Greatest Lie, 149,
23 Losing Our Identity, 153,
Part V: Outlaw Christianity,
24 Huck Finn: The Great Outlaw, 163,
25 Jumping Jack Flash, 169,
26 Milano, 171,
27 Living the Braveheart Life, 179,
28 Where Do You Put Your Guns?, 187,
29 So Who Goes to Heaven?, 193,
Part VI: Victory,
30 Love Transforms, 199,
31 Ego, 203,
Notes, 213,
About the Author, 217,

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