The McGann Library Forum Index The McGann Library
A place to celebrate the works of British actor Paul McGann
 FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   RegisterRegister 
 ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages   Log inLog in 

Killer Talent in Elle August 1992

Post new topic   Reply to topic    The McGann Library Forum Index -> From the 1990s
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message

Joined: 09 Feb 2006
Posts: 302
Location: Ontario Canada

PostPosted: Sun Feb 19, 2006 7:27 pm    Post subject: Killer Talent in Elle August 1992 Reply with quote

Killer Talent
By E. Jane Dickson
In Elle August 1992
Pages 18-21

Whatever you do, don't call Paul McGann handsome. 'I am absolutely not interested in being called handsome, hunky, sexy or cute,' he insists, arranging his fallen-angel features in an attitude of high seriousness.

Methinks perhaps, the laddie doth protest too much. But it is not just comments on his person that are banned. Paul McGann does not care to be described as a Liverpool actor, a working-class actor, a Catholic actor or a political actor. 'Just call me a messer,' he suggests. 'That should cover it.'

A messer is, by Paul's definition, 'a troublemaker; a marginal, vacillating, inchoate character'. Certainly his best remembered roles encapsulate these qualities. In the movie Withnail and I, he played an edgy, out-of-work actor drifting in the limbo between drama school and 'real life'; in the TV film Dealers, he wreaked havoc from the other end of the social spectrum as a driven and desperate whiz kid. But it was the BBC drama series The Monocled Mutineer that established Paul McGann as king of the loose cannon. As the amoral insurrectionist Percy Toplis, he was charming and chilling in equal measure, but far too handsome to be a thoroughgoing villain.

'I love playing troublesome shits. That's really where I'm at,' he says cheerfully. So far, however, he has specialised in the 'sensitive shit', the blue-eyed boy gone wrong. His latest role, as an imbecilic serial killer in the movie Alien 3, will, he hopes, earn him his colours as a full-blown bastard. 'This guy is a real dick-head,' he claims. 'Even the other convicts don't want to touch him.' And just for good measure, the studio shaved his head and fitted him out with a marvellously disgusting set of teeth.

The Alien role has also given Paul, now 32, his much-needed break into the big time. (It is after all, 10 years since he was heralded as 'Merseyside's Martin Sheen'.) For a performer weaned on British reserve, the Hollywood star system was an eye-opener.

'Over there, people seem to go mad for "stars", because star status is what everybody, not just the acting fraternity, aspires to. I've just spent three months in California doing the "horse and pony" show (i.e. touting round all the casting agents) and that was soul-destroying enough, but I heard an American woman say that in her lifetime she'd managed to save $40,000, and that she'd give it all for one night with her own show.

'In England, any interest that's shown in celebrities tends to be more salacious. Half your time seems to be spent looking for work and the other half trying to fend off the bad smells about yourself. But this isn't a problem for me because I'm not famous. The nearest I get to star treatment is when I'm mistaken for one of my brothers,' he says somewhat ingenuously.

The four McGann brothers, Paul, Joe, Mark and Steven, have never stepped on each other's professional toes. All are working actors but they only ever appeared together in a West End musical, Yakety Yak, which, for Paul at least, was an experience never to be repeated. 'You'd need to put a gun to my head to get me in another musical,' he says with a sudden shout of manic laughter. 'All that poise and campery just isn't for me.'

An aversion to camp not withstanding, Paul attributes his early interest in all things theatrical to 'running around in a long white dress' as an altar boy and chorister in the local Catholic church in Liverpool. As a teenager, his aesthetic longings were briefly challenged by his passion for sports. (He was the British junior triple-jump champion and played cricket for Lancashire.) On leaving school, however, he applied to RADA 'because I really thought, and still think, that I was born to act, and RADA was the only drama school I had heard of.

'RADA was a lot of crack,' he recalls. (His Merseyside accent is slightly flattened by 10 years in the bland South, but his enjoyment of the old words and rhythm still comes through.) 'It was dead funny watching these northern or rural or Celtic types coming down to London for the first time and being "the meek" for about 12 months, just letting the whole experience wash over them and thrill them. Then, once they'd found their feet they'd either play up the oily, working class bit or they'd metamorphose into "luvvies". Those types aren't born, you know, they're created, and drama school is where it happens.'

Paul might have come to RADA fired up for 'the whole stagey bit', but he left with his sights firmly trained on the film world. 'It is the most beautiful medium. There's nothing quite like it for getting to the spaces between the words, having images drift on and off and leaving a kind of smell behind. There's something indefinable about the combination of you and a light and a camera.' Despite a robust determination not to 'get precious' (he will cheerfully relate the mind-altering embarrassment of 'making love to a pot of yoghurt for ready money' on a recent commercial shoot), Paul clearly takes his professional responsibility very seriously.

'People are affected on a very profound level by what they see on screen,' he argues. 'My son Joe--a real little film-baby--is completely film literate at the age of three. He saw The Monocled Mutineer on tape and I think he must have seen me in a scene where I was deranged with anger, and it really disturbed him. Okay, he's just a kid, but even at my age I've got that capacity to be moved by a screen image, and it's that very power of film that makes me think it's worth doing.'

Though he won't be categorised as a 'political' actor, Paul believes performers have the responsibility and the power to communicate and debate political and social issues. 'It's like Kurt Vonnegut says: "Artists are like the canary down the coal mine". We're the first indication of changing ideas. We're there for protection, as well as for entertainment.' He's personally most exercised by the confused and confusing area of sexual politics. 'My wife Annie is this lovely strong woman and I think maybe she has changed the way I think about these things. I couldn't give a damn about what glossy magazines have to say about the "New Man" or the "New Woman"--that's just bullshit, but there are real problems to be sorted out. The other day I was sitting watching this documentary about prostitution in Bangkok and earlier in the week I had been reading some poems by Sylvia Plath (who, incidently, was a right complaining old cow). They all seemed to be about shitty men, and it sent me right down. It reminded me that I'm really only interested in work that explores these areas of sex and sexuality and male/female relationship.'

This is a long way down the road from the star-struck teenager who believed that if only he could get into movies, 'I could feed every vanity, every impulse--sleep with all the girls. I've still got some of that,' he says, attempting to muster a Jack-the-lad grin, but you can tell that , married, and a father of two, that his heart isn't in it. And anyway, whoever heard of a vegetarian iron-pumping wide-boy?

'I am interested in physical fitness,' he admits, 'but sadly I'm also interested in going out and debilitating myself now and then. I have been known to fall under the "influence of alcohol" but I never drink when I'm working. I've got one of these faces that shows every transgression and there's no point turning up at the studio with a face like a dollop of mortal sins. And there's not just me to think of. I'm a husband and a dad, we've got a home to run (an elegant Victorian villa in Bristol), and you have to stop and think just how precariously that house of cards is balanced. In five years' time I could be a big star or I could have disappeared.

It seems unlikely that Paul McGann will vanish from our screens. Even if the bottom falls out of the market for non-sexist, socially aware, artistically committed artistes, he has one ace left to play. He can always go back to being handsome.

And the accompanying pictures of Paul in a desert setting with a suitcase and a car:

Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic    The McGann Library Forum Index -> From the 1990s All times are GMT - 6 Hours
Page 1 of 1

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group