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Paul's SFX Interview - March 2004

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 04, 2009 6:07 pm    Post subject: Paul's SFX Interview - March 2004 Reply with quote

From the EZ Board Library
Posted on (02/23/04 15:18:46)

Paul's SFX Interview March 2004

The Once and Future Timelord...?
Nick Setchfield and Steve O'Brian meet the perennially elusive Paul McGann.
Photography by Mark Berry.

We are committing a cardinal sin of journalism. We are late hideously so. We inch towards Bristol, crawling in an unforeseen slog of midday traffic, all the while knowing that Paul McGann is waiting, alone, fidgeting, fuming drumming his famous fingers and cursing us for unprofessional fools. This is simply not done. As we continue to haemorrhage precious minutes, we send him an apologetic text. A moment later the phone rings.

"@#%$! Lads, itís Paul! Iíve only just woken up! @#%$! Where are we supposed to be meeting again?"

An hour later and we glimpse a pair of unsteady pins on the stairs of a private club boat in Bristol's waterfront. It's McGann, still moving with the slow, disorientated air of a man recently torn from his bed. What appears to be a yak herder's hat adds a touch of curious Himalayan chic.

"I'm so sorry," he murmurs, ordering a nice unthreatening glass of water. "Late night, Iíve just been doing too much lately."

Seen by some as the rightful claimant to the ancestral seat of Doctor Who-he played the Time Lord in a 1996 American telefilm-McGann is a tangle of contradictions. Just look at his face. The eyes of an angel, the cruel mouth of some dissolute aristo. Impossibly photogenic, yet he detests having his picture taken. He agrees that he is possibly "The vainest actor in London," yet never watches his performances-scrupously avoids them, in fact.

Notoriously shy of the press, burned by journalists, he is happy to meet us and simply shoot the breeze, frank and unguarded, revealing.

"I won't have it that just because you're an actor it's de rigueur to be a wanker..."

We naturally assume he's bored senseless talking about his turn in the cult fave W&I.

"Would it surprise you if I said I wasn't?" he replies picking hungrily at plates of bread and olives.

It was his role as the slightly less meth-soaked half of the Withnail partnership that earned him his first real taste of fame.

Bertie Aherne once accosted him at a function and asked, "Is that the perfumed ponce?The Prime Minister of Ireland!" grins McGann. "It's great isn't it?"

And over the years there has been a peculiar symbiosis between Withnail and Who.

Not only was McGann handed the TARDIS key but co-star Richard Griffiths (Uncle Monty) was also offered the role. And now REG, Withnail himself as inherited the twin hearts in Scream of the Shalka.

"He's a case isn't he?" smiles McGann. "He's a mate, and we talk about everything, but not once has he even said, 'Oh, by the way I'm the Doctor...'It's curious, If they'd offered me a gig doing The Scarlet Pimpernell, I'd have rung him, just as a courtesy, and said. "Look they've offered me this..."

Does he feel proprietorial? "Not at all. It says more about him than it does about me. I was out shopping, and my agent called me and said, ďRing this BBC radio station. They want to talk to you about Richard.' I didn't have a clue what she was on about. I called my son and said,í Go on the net' He got this website up and said "Look there's Richard!" I said, "What does it say?" "It says he's the Ninth Doctor!" I just collapsed with laughter. I just wept. More from thinking, ĎDoes this guy know what he's doing? 'Richard's impulsive but Jesus..."
They also offered the role of the toon Time Lord to Robbie Williams.

"Robbie Williams?" says McGann almost choking on an olive.Ē Are they crazy?"

And This Year's Love star Douglas Henshaw.

"Ahh, I can see Dougie doing that. They just offer it to a haircut don't they?í Whoís got long floppy hair?'"

Did McGann ever fear that the role was a poisoned chalice?

Saving the universe every Saturday tends to typecast a fella.

"Initially I was waiting for that to happen, but I was probably being pessimistic. But those considerations are kind of in the abstract when you're being offered a load of dough. It's a job decision. At the time I needed the money. If I learned one thing from this profession it's that you have to think short-term, because by definition, being self-employed you don't know what's down the road. You can guess-Jesus, how do you think they'll be looking at this in ten years' time? How will posterity judge me? But you'd drive yourself nuts. To some people I'm still that Doctor Who actor. I get the piss taken out of me rotten by the stage crew at the theatre I'm working in. They're always asking me for a sonic screwdriver...but that's about the level of it. I don't care it's funny."

Mark, our photographer, asks if McGann minds having some informal conversational shots taken.

"You know I hate it," he shifts, ruefully eyeing the lens. "So if I look like I'm hating it, don't blame me. Yeah, go on."

The camera mosquitos around McGann as talk turns to next year's long-wished prime time resurrection of DW. While the papers have everyone from Bill Nighy to Ricky Tomlinson waiting for a call from the BBC, a groundswell of Who fandom-not to mention the panting ladies of the internet's PMEB- are convinced that the fleeting Eighth Doctor should finally have his due.

"I'm not being disingenuous now when I say that I've heard nothing," says McGann. "And I'm unlikely to hear anything, except that they'll probably ask me to go back and do the regeneration. But if I was them, I wouldn't pick me.

"I think if somebody wants it more - and again, this is purely rumour, so this could be nonsense- but not only have I heard that David Warner is up for it, but he really wants to do it. If that's the case then they should give it to him, because you can't beat passion.

"While I'd be into it, I..." McGann pauses cautiously. " I've got to be really careful what I say here... I might not have the same passion that Warner would, to be brutally honest, simply by dint of the fact that I've done it before. If I was to get offered it, then I would have to be absolutely certain, and I would have to seek guarantees, that I could do the things I wanted to do in 1996, approach it the way we thought we might before. It would be unfinished business."

So what would his Doctor be like, blessed with a second chance? McGann toys with his hair, his fingers interrogate a stray lock.

"I'd be much more inclined towards the dark and the melancholic. Heís only half-human, but human means the human condition. When I was offered it originally, we talked about a much darker version of the character. It was around the time that the whole Anne Rice thing was in the air, this idea of a sort of melancholy vampire, more gothic which is what I was very much more drawn to.Ē

"This was my first spat with [producer Philip] Segal. I said 'look I ain't a comedian. I ain't McCoy.That's not what I do. I don't camp around particularly well, either! Don't make me do that! I'm a dramatic actor!' He asked me how I wanted to play it. I thought, 'I'll try and put the fella off.' So I read up a bit and I said,Ē Iím much more drawn to the darker side of this character. Heís a maverick, a rebel, he was drummed off his own planet and look what happened, he's estranged from his family' And I was thinking 'Right thatíll put paid to it. ĎAnd the more I said the more he started going. "Yep..Yep..Sounds fantastic'

Not that McGann necessarily believes he's in with a chance of a second shot.

"I'm not sure I'm that bankable," he muses. "I've worked a lot for the beeb, and they're now being exhorted to be more cut-throat and competitive, more like the independents. Maybe it's in order to justify the licence fee; I don't know. Iíve done a few things for the beeb in the last couple of years that simply didn't work. They weren't any good. Whether you were any good in them in immaterial. If they don't work, you all get tarnished, when it should be the producers who are taken out and beaten up."

And it's not only a question of proven star power. In 1974 a magnificent freak like Tom Baker could walk away with the role he was born for. It's hard to imagine him even being considered in today's youth -saturated, looks obsessed culture.

"I don't know about that," counters McGann. "I've got a feeling that if they were to go for David Warner, as they're threatening to do (Typists note, he was Captain Sawyer in HH if anyone didn't know. Also an Unbound Doctor in the Big Finish Audio 'Auld Mortality), not only do I think it would be a fantastic move, because he's a wonderful actor, but I think it would also mean they were trying for gravitas rather than looks."

Even McGann's casting seemed to be a nod to the concept of Gallifreyan eye candy though. "It matters yeah. It really matters. But think about it -in choosing me to do it, if we assume that was the thinking behind it, or even partly the thinking behind it.í Letís get someone younger and easier on the eye,' well that didn't work either. So try and get into the minds of them sitting at their board table. What did work? Patrick Troughton worked. Jon Pertwee worked. Tom Baker worked. Good, solid, middle-aged, grey haired fellas. That's what worked. So, someone like David Warner, one of the best Hamlets ever, and nice and weird looking, the guy is tailor-made. Or Bill Nighy, though he won't do it. I think Nighy has other fish to fry.

"As I see it there is a burden to play clever. You have to be clever; the doctor's a clever person. Although he might berate intellectuals in certain instances as inactive or useless he is one-he's brilliantly clever and resourceful. Youíve got to talk him down sometimes. Thereís something quite adolescent about him. So if you can get a guy who is 60-odd to play him, itís even more pronounced. Itís like Lear.This mad old bugger railing against everything even his own dwindling powers.

McGann has been visibly discomforted by the constant attention of our camera. It was clearly a peripheral irritation, as if a silent but insistent child was tugging at his sleeve as he tried to talk. Now he's cracked.

"Sorry, can you stop that?" he asks, half in exasperation, half in apology.

Mark stops the cycle of click and flash.Ē Most actors love it," he says baffled.

"Good luck to them," says McGann. "The movie camera isn't in your face. When you're working you're trained to ignore it. If I'm ever asked to look straight down the lens of a camera on a movie, I can't do it; youíll have to kill me before I can do it. Stills photography? Hate it. Hate it. Even when I'm in character. If there's a stills photographer working in the room, I hate it. I can't stand it. Iím distracted. I was just the same as a kid.I hate having me picture taken. I don't read about myself in the papers. I won't go on chat shows. Never done it. Cheese. Life's too short. We work hard enough as it is to be believable in the things we do. I think a little bit of mystique is a good thing. It doesn't hurt. In the end the best publicity you cam have for yourself is good work."

A figure of mystery, then, elusive, unknowable, flitting between worlds, changing faces, vanishing before the bothersome questions can begin. Perhaps it's still perfect casting after all.

McGann on...

Why he nearly vanished from David Fincher's troubled Alien3
Thirteen years ago PMG secured a starring role in what should have been his big Hollywood breakthrough,Alien3. But then David Fincher's debut feature was butchered by C20th Fox, leaving McGann's role almost entirely cut.

"It was a weird set up," the actor recalls. " Walter Hill was one of the producers. And Walter can write, direct...the guys an expert. There were filmmakers there. And you thought there might have been some kind of fraternity there. But there ain't. Everyone just goes and hides. Fincher was the only one who said, "I can direct this.'
I said 'How has this happened?' He said 'There's been so many arguments between the ten of them'-there were ten of them-they've all argued their way out of doing it, and I'm the only man standing. I'm the only one who can do it.' And he did.

However, McGann denies there was a poisonous atmosphere on the set.

"Just corporate," he sighs. "Again you're playing with a brand, and for the most part, in England, when we shot it, we were protected from all that, through Fincher. We just felt we were in something fresh and new. Itís a better film than people thought it would be. Fincher was always honest with us about the grief he was getting, and he took it on the chin because it was part of the game."

Fincher always mentions your part as being the greatest loss from the final cut.

"Really?" McGann says genuinely touched. "I think mine, by volume, is probably the starkest case. I was on the thing for five months and was in the picture for five minutes."

So will McGann be shelling out for the Quadriology boxset, which offers a longer version of the movie?

"No!" he laughs.
"Listen carefully. This is the secret of how to live: fire your gun before somebody else does." ~ Scribble, Vurt
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