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Game Boy in Frank: The New Magazine for Women, February 1998

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 19, 2006 8:09 pm    Post subject: Game Boy in Frank: The New Magazine for Women, February 1998 Reply with quote

Game Boy
By Anna Blundy
Photographs by Tim Richmond
In Frank: The New Magazine for Women, February 1998

Go into the Holly Bush pub in Hampstead with Paul McGann and you'll get a free drink. The publican shakes his hand warmly, and other people at the bar turn to stare. He's not a megastar of your Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt kind, but he's handsome, smiley and charming and most certainly worth a pint of Guinness on the house.

For someone who is supposed to be wary of the press, McGann is disarmingly lovely--self-effacing and undefensive, almost to the point of suspiciousness. Since being accused in the tabloids four years ago of having an affair with Darling Buds of May star Catherine Zeta Jones, McGann has avoided contact with them, and is evasive about interviews altogether. 'If I can get out of them, I will. It saves effort and agony,' he beams.

But McGann has learnt to deal with the pressures better. 'I think my wife and I are a lot wiser now,' he says. 'Obviously you have to distinguish between the times, when it's just arbitrary intrusion and the times when people are being a bit naïve and partly seeking it. But the Gary Glitter thing makes me very uneasy. To think that this computer shop was going through his hard disk. And any intelligent person can see that some big fraud cases would never have been uncovered without a free press, so it is complicated.

He and his wife Annie have been together for 15 years, and live in Bristol with their two young children, avoiding 'the scene' as far as possible. He rarely takes his kids on location. 'You don't want to see Daddy hanging upside down from a lift all covered in blood.'

At 39, after a fairly rocky career decade, McGann is promoting two new films. The first is Downtime, the violent drama is which he plays an ex-police psychologist who persuades a depressed mother, played by Susan Lynch, not to kill herself. The couple fall in love. The other new film is Fairy Tale, A True Story, about two little girls who think they have seen fairies. McGann plays the father of one of the girls who 'despite his scepticism, keeps his family together through the crisis'. Quite a fitting role. He's also back on the small screen in a lavish BBC adaptation of Our Mutual Friend.

McGann seems more than happy to be curled up in the pub on a winter's evening, chatting away like there's no tomorrow, but he still indicates how tedious he actually finds interviewing, succinctly summing up journalism over a sip of his drink as 'repetitive, invasive and bland'.

'I'm not a natural presser,' he says in his Liverpudlian-Irish accent. 'I'm hardly inexperienced at it, but I don't take to it naturally. I was doing a TV thing for Dr Who once where they stick you in a hotel room for two days with cameras and microphones set up in front of you. We were in a room next to Roseanne who was doing the same thing. They send people in every 15 minutes. You get pretty slick at it by the end.'

Dr Who was another 'nearly thing' for McGann. Since Withnail and I and The Monocled Mutineer, he has been forever on the brink of stardom, and forever failing at the final hurdle. Judging by the look on his face though, he couldn't care less. It's all part of the game. 'I certainly wouldn't have cast myself as Dr Who, who I see as a really dark figure--like a vampire,' he laughs. 'I mean Eric Idle wanted to do it, and even at the last minute I was saying, "Look, I'm not sure I'm right for this". But they let me finish, and then said, "You've got the job".' McGann admits that he only took the part because it was for America. 'If it had been just for Britain, I don't think I 'd have been interested. But it was for the States and it seemed ground-breaking and a bit ambitious.' But the pilot flopped in America's massively competitive Sweeps Week, when all the pilots for the new series compete against each other. Dr Who was put up against something about Charles and Diana. 'We got killed,' he smirks. McGann kissed goodbye to a potential million dollars and came home.

After Withnail and I, McGann worked with Steven Spielberg on Empire of the Sun. 'It was wonderful. I was a fundamental character in a lovely film and I worked on it for months and months. Then one night, I was having a dinner party in my little squat in Stockwell and Spielberg phoned up and said: "You ain't made the cut. You're not the only one. Great working with you".' McGann looks up in remembered astonishment at the whole thing. 'That was it. I was 25 years old, and a hot potato, and the next minute I was on the deck. Weird.'

Not long afterwards, he was on the deck again with Alien 3. 'For the amount of footage they shot, I could have starred in the bastard,' he says. 'They cut me to shreds. With those films, they even shoot three or four different endings. In one, me and the alien--me and the alien--get together and kill Sigourney Weaver.' Yet, there is not the slightest note, not the merest hint of bitterness in his voice when he talks about these things.

Nor when he discusses his contemporaries. After all, the man was at RADA with Kenneth Branagh. 'He was more than just talented. He was jammy, too.' At the end of term, students were allowed to bid for plays they wanted to put on and star in, but there was, apparently, a tacit moratorium on Hamlet, because it just wasn't fair. Everyone knew not to put in for it. Branagh asked for it and go it. 'He was very shrewd and had this amazing star quality. You could see it even then. But he's a lovely guy.' Gary Oldman is also 'an exceptional talent. A rare talent. He is outside all the things that hold us mere mortals back.' And Ralph Fiennes? 'A dream. For Americans who think all Brits went to Oxford and quote Shakespeare, he's perfect. Like Dan Day Lewis.'

Not only is McGann not resentful, he doesn't even begin to compare himself with these people. 'I'm just in a whole different pool of actors from them. I've agonized over the vagaries of casting, and I'm sure I will again, but it's down, in part, to luck.' He says there are actors who never turn anything down, and insists that he isn't one of them. 'I think Richard E. Grant is. He's been in lots of very different things. I was up for that part in Jack and Sarah myself,' he laughs. 'There are only so many parts and so many actors. Not getting a part doesn't mean the other person will do it so much better than you. It's just that they might make more money for the film than you will. You can't take it personally.'

You can't? 'Well, obviously sometimes you want to do something, and you wonder why that ugly, talentless wretch got your job…' he says, joking.

McGann sets himself miles apart from his 'real film star' colleagues, and says he feels lucky just to be working. 'The rest of us are trying to make a living. You just try to keep going. That's the key. It's a cliché, but I feel lucky. Ninety per cent of our profession is out of work on any one day, and my brothers and I are all working and making a living. It's a trick.'

When Paul was at RADA, he brother, 'our Mark', was picked out of a Liverpool pub to be in a musical, and a couple of years later, all four brothers appeared together in a West End musical, Yakkety Yak. 'Stephen left school to be in it,' says Paul. 'He was 18 and he came down to London to have his name in lights. Amazing.'

Paul McGann seems to find his whole career and the volatility of the acting world amazing. Not unpleasant or unfair, but amazing. And although he still hasn't cracked Hollywood (his West Coast agent sacked him some years ago), he is still a heart-throb, and justly so. Three teen-age girls approach him for an autograph.

'That's Gemma with a "G",' says one, tittering. 'We love your film.' They mean Withnail and I (recently reissued on its 10-year anniversary). 'We think you're far more super than your brothers,' another gushes. 'Really'
Fairy Tale, A True Story, and Dountime are released on February 13th.

And the piccies, which I adore:

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