1999: British GQ: Actor of the Year
Congratulations on winning Actor of the Year. I’m very pleased. It’s very flattering considering some of the people who were on that list. And it always means a lot when you’re voted for by the people who actually go and see the movies.
Are you the hardest-working actor in Britain? I don’t know about that. I’ve had four films out this year but that’s just the way they release them. I finishedPlunkett and Macleane in December 1997 and Ravenous in Spring 1998. The James Bond and The Beach were filmed at the same time, so now I’m taking a break for a while. Hanging around a film set really takes it out of you.
Are you the hardest actor in Britain, then? I doubt it. Sure, I’ve done a few psychos, but I haven’t turned into Joe Pesci. I’ve been very lucky, no one has ever come over in a bar and wanted to take a pop at Begbie. Thank God they haven’t, because I’d run a mile.
You are famous for going to extreme lengths to prepare for a part. What did you do to become the cannibal in your latest film, Ravenous? People seem to think that I went out and bit the leg off a few people. It really wasn’t like that. Ravenous was an interesting journey because cannibalism is a fascinating subject. Pre-Christianity, cannibalism was fair enough and no one seemed to have any problem with it. But after religion was instilled in the psyche of several different countries, then the game changed. There must have been some fairly disappointed cannibals walking around.
You have often described acting as therapy. What demons are you trying to exorcise? You can exorcise things that are in your head when you are on a set, though you don’t tell the producers that. When I played Gaz in The Full Monty, I was the same age that my father was when I was born, so I was aware that Gaz was facing the same things that he had faced when he brought me up, There was certainly something exorcised in that.
What has been the highlight of your year? Meeting Paul Weller, who is a real hero. I saw The Jam at the Glasgow Apollo in 1978 and I can remember thinking that was the closest I would ever get to the guy. Then suddenly he’s asking me about my work.
Any low points? There have been a few this year. Bond went on for nearly two months longer than it was supposed to and at one point I have spent 29 hours in a dressing- room over three days. That becomes a bit like a prison sentence, so I had a bit of a slump around June. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the experience. But towards the end I was thinking, “Have I lost my way here?” That film cost 73 million pounds. You can’t exercise any control then. But you are in a f***ing Bond film, you know?
When you played Albie in Cracker, it was compared to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Now you are set to direct and star in the story of the former world flyweight boxing champion Benny Lynch. Are you the British DeNiro? I grew up admiring De Niro in the Seventies and he inspired me to act, so it’s fabulous if people see that, but you can’t dwell on it. De Niro has achieved stuff that will probably never be equalled. For me Raging Bull is the finest film ever made-I’m not going to do Ben Lynch to try to emulate it. But you can’t get away from the fact that people will make that comparison so you can only learn from the best. But then we both have a bus-driving licence and we’re both called Robert, so maybe it is true.
Who are your heroes? I loved cowboy films. Yul Brynner was a big hero, as was Jack Palance and Anthony Quinn. I always loved that idea of a guy you never really knew just riding off into the sunset. I really identified with those characters when I was a kid and I’d wander home from school pretending that I was in The Magnificent Seven. It’s strange, but it’s only struck me in the last couple of year that that’s exactly what I do now. I play those characters who are driven by something that may not be apparent in the script. Something that’s going on in the eyes that maybe suggests another life.
You have said that you look for some social relevance in the parts you choose. How does Renard, the latest Bond villain, fit into that? Well, he doesn’t, obviously. That is something that I look for if it’s possible, but you’re not always going to find it. Something like that is about fun. It’s a cartoon that entertains people. There were plenty of reasons to accept that part. I get some cracking weapons. I have this tiny machine gun that blasts out 80 rounds every 12 seconds. And I get those famous words every Bond villain gets before Bond finishes him—“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Mr. Bond.” Is that a classic or what?
What will next year bring? I’m looking forward to January when Angela’s Ashes comes out. Alan Parker doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone. Of all the things I have done I think this film is the one that I will be remembered for,
Gaz, Begbie, Stevie. Which is closest to you? Probably Stevie. A painter and decorator a little out of his depth. I still feel that. Inside me, that painter and decorator from Maryhill is still going, “What the f**k is going on here?” I quite like it.
Writer: Steve Hobbs Photo: Iain McKell British GQ, October 1999