There's a key saying in Robin Hood, "Rise and rise again until lambs become lions," which Russell says basically means "Never give up." The universality is what makes it so central to the movie, Russell says. "It's applicable to anybody in any pursuit," he says.
Watch Russell present Oprah with a special gift—the Lambs to Lions sword!
Russell has played tons of riveting characters, and he says that has perhaps contributed to the biggest misconception about him. "[People think] I'm an angry person. I'm not really," he says. "I played a lot of angry men when I was young. I played skinheads and disgruntled cops and all this sort of stuff. And, quite frankly, I think the problem was I'm not a very interesting person. I'm just not. I play interesting roles and I put a lot of effort into the roles and stuff, but I kind of left a big gap between who I really was and the characters that I was playing and, over time, that area just got filled in."
Being an empty vessel for the roles he takes on is one of the keys to acting, Russell says. "Anthony Hopkins, when I was a young fellow, he put it to me that, in fact, you come to the gig as a vanilla slice, and you don't say, 'What is it that's special about me that I can bring to the character?' You say, 'What is it that the character needs?'"