Friday 26 April 2013

interview: Christopher Eccleston

In June 2001 I interviewed Christopher Eccleston by phone about his role in Alejandro Amenabar’s horror movie The Others. At the time, the plot of the film was a closely guarded secret and there hadn’t even been a cast and crew screening, so this - and the other interviews I did on the movie for a feature in Fangoria, with Elaine Cassidy and Eric Sykes - were a real challenge. This interview predates the announcement that Eccleston was going to star in Doctor Who.

I haven’t had a chance to see The Others yet.
"No, neither have I."

You play Nicole Kidman’s husband, who is dead at the start of the film. So do you appear in flashbacks?
"I can’t give this away, but no, they’re not flashbacks."

Is it a big role?
"No, it’s a very small role."

But presumably crucial to the plot.
"I like to think so."

Were you working with Nicole Kidman?

How did you find her to work with?

How did you land the role?
"The director sent me the script. I read it. He came to see me on stage in London, in a play called Miss Julie, and he offered me the role. He’d seen a couple of other films I’ve done on tape."

So you didn’t audition for it?

What did you think of the script when you first read it?
"I thought it was very original, very interesting. I could see that, while having all the elements of what you would regard as mainstream entertainment, it also attempted to examine a family and human relationships. With intelligence, rather than just using them as a device for a lot of special effects, which is what the majority of big budget films do nowadays."

From your point of view, would you class it as a horror film?
"I wouldn’t really give it a classification. I hate to do that about anything. I think it’s very difficult to classify."

But do you think horror fans will enjoy it?

You had an English cast and a Spanish crew.
"It was a mixed cast: Nicole’s Australian, there were some Brits..."

Were there any problems dealing with a primarily Spanish crew?
"No, it was a very happy shoot, as is often the case when you’ve got mixed nationalities. It’s sometimes refreshing for everybody involved because people have to try that little bit harder with the language differences. It was a very happy set to visit and work on."

You’ve made British films and big budget American films. How does a European film like this compare?
"Very favourably."

Had you seen Alejandro Amenabar’s earlier work?
"No, I hadn’t. I just met Alejandro when he came to see the play. But you can tell a lot about a person from the script they choose, and you can tell even more when they’ve written it. Alejandro wrote this script as well as directing it. So I felt comfortable enough with his vision to commit to it."

Are your scenes character scenes or are they horrific?
"They’re character scenes."

Did you work with anyone else in the cast apart from Nicole?
"A brief scene with the children, but the majority of my scenes were with Nicole. But any horror element is as much psychological as special effects. I would imagine it’s a very, very frightening film, but it’s not special effects driven in that way. It’s more psychologically terrifying."

When you first read the script, was that unnerving in itself?
"The script was fascinating actually, and mysterious."

Does Amenabar write in Spanish and then translate or does he write in English?
"Yes, he wrote in Spanish then he worked with somebody on an English translation, which I thought was excellent."

When are you expecting to see the film?
"I’ve not heard from them, so I don’t know."

It was filmed in Spain but set in Jersey. Does it look like Jersey?
"Well, I only ever worked on interiors, and an interior is an interior. I don't know what they did about exteriors. I think one of the ideas of filming it in Spain is to encourage the Spanish film industry, and so that Alejandro could work in a way in which he was familiar, which I think is very important when you’re working with a big budget for the first time. He had familiar people around him. I think it would have been difficult for him to go anywhere else with it. I think it’s right and proper that the majority of people who worked on the film were Spanish, because Alejandro is and they should benefit."

He’s still very young but he’s on his third feature. Is he now an experienced director who knows what he wants?
"Oh, he certainly was an experienced director who knew what he wanted when I worked with him. He’s a great guy: very friendly and obviously very talented."

Did shooting scenes in semi-darkness affect the shooting?
"I think any DOP, when he reads a script where the writer/director has paid particular attention to the quality of light - it’s extremely rare, and a DOP would love that. Because the film-maker is actually saying, ‘The look of this film is very, very important.’ So I’m sure the DOP loved that."

Presumably he directs the cast in English and the crew in Spanish?

How long were you actually shooting for?
"I went out there for about two weeks."

Did you see any rushes? Did you get any idea of the visual look?
"I didn't see any rushes, and I don’t like to watch playback on the set. But being on the set, watching the way the camera is being moved and the way the light is being used, you do get an idea of it. It’s difficult to tell though because what goes down on film is different to what you see with the naked eye. I’m searching for a way to describe it. Very atmospheric and probably mysterious is how I would say it felt to be on the set. It felt just a little uneasy, the atmosphere that we were trying to capture. It’s a very strange story and it’s a very strange house."

Was it shot in a house or studios?
"Studios. Like what we did when we did Shallow Grave: huge studios with different parts of the house."

I was asked to ask you about eXistenz. How did you find Cronenberg to work with?
"Fantastic! He’s very democratic. He obviously loves actors. He loves to work with actors, which isn’t always the case with directors. It was a fantastic experience, albeit very brief for me. I didn't have a huge role, but I really liked him. He’s a very, very funny man, and he’s very relaxed, which I think always prompts the best work. It’s a very relaxed but very concentrated set. He’s very funny, he likes to have a laugh and a joke, and I think he feels that that helps the work move along. I love his films. Dead Ringers I think is a masterpiece. And I think he did the best ever Stephen King adaptation. There’s been some good versions of Stephen King stories, but I think that The Dead Zone is as good as any. As good as The Shining, as good as Misery: The Dead Zone, which was one of the very first. It’s a brilliant film. Mainstream but very intelligent."

Are you a film buff?
"I’m not, actually. Not nowadays. There are films I saw as a younger man - which I think always tend to form your taste. I don’t see a lot of films - I’m quite choosy - but there’s certain films that stick out and that’s one of them."

You mentioned The Shining: I’ve heard The Others compared to The Shining and Amenabar cited as ‘the Spanish Kubrick.’ He certainly admires Kubrick.
"Oh, that’s interesting. Kubrick fan, is he, Alejandro? I didn’t know that. I wasn’t aware that Alejandro was a Kubrick fan but it’s a very good sign. Although I would imagine that the last thing Alejandro wants to be doing is impersonating someone else. I think he’s far too bright to want to do that. I think Alejandro is making very much his own films, very individual films. Tom Cruise is now remaking one of his. Vanilla Sky, the film that Tom Cruise was going on to do, is actually based on one of Alejandro’s films, about somebody who is hideously disfigured. I think that was part of the deal actually."

What’s the current state of play with Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote?
"It was around about this time last year that I was getting ready to start it. I’d had the initial make-up and wardrobe meetings. Indefinitely suspended is the last thing I heard. The last thing I heard actually was when I was told not to get on the plane because of the problems."

What part were you playing?
"I was playing two roles in it: one in the present day and one in the world of the novel. I can’t remember the names. I’ve worked with a couple of actors since on different projects who are in the same position as me. Bill Paterson I worked with recently and I asked him and he said no, he’d not heard anything. I just feel really sorry for Terry. It must be heartbreaking for a film-maker to actually start something like that. And he’s such a great fellow, Terry, such a visionary of a director."

I understand one of the actors broke his arm which threw out the schedules.
"Yes, that and they also had some terrible, terrible weather problems. They had flash floods in Spain in high summer which is unheard of. So you start to think somebody was against us. I think they had a number of problems. And Terry, being loyal, didn't want to make the film with anybody except his original Don Quixote. You’ve got to admire that loyalty."

Which do you prefer out of films, TV and theatre?
"I prefer theatre. I think film and television are really a director’s medium, whereas theatre is the actor’s medium. I prefer British television in one sense because I still feel that the best-written scripts I get are for television. We still, to a certain extent, turn out very good television writers like Jimmy McGovern and Peter Flannery. Financially, the money is better in films and television. But in terms of acting, theatre is more rewarding for the actor. That’s where Alejandro saw me, as well."

You shot this at the end of last year.
"That’s right - in the late summer and autumn of last year."

What have you been doing since then?
"I did a television piece called Strumpet with Danny Boyle, who I did Shallow Grave with. And I just played Iago in Othello for a British/American television co-production. And I’m about to go to Liverpool to work with Alex Cox - of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy - to do a film called The Revengers Tragedy."

What’s that about?
"That’s a modern reworking of a classical play. The play is actually the originator of the figure that you find continually in spaghetti westerns, the Man with No Name. It’s about an amoral man who comes back to town for revenge. That play, The Revengers Tragedy, was the basis for Hamlet, which is about a man who is after revenge, and all those spaghetti westerns, and some Japanese films used it. Ambiguous, amoral figure - the Man with No Name. We’re using the original language of the play, but it’s set 10, 20, 30 years in the future after a nuclear holocaust."

So it’s sort of science fiction.
"It is, in a way. And it’s horror in a way, as well, because of the violence of those plays. Jacobean plays, before Shakespeare, were particularly visceral, and I don’t think Alex is going to ignore that!"

When are you shooting that?
"We start on 15th July. I’m playing the Revenger in it, so I’m looking forward to it.”

interview originally posted 25th March 2005

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