You have made a furious comeback --
No! This is no comeback! Where do you think I've been!?
[Laughter all around.] Ok, so I have this cousin and he's 22. And he said, "Christopher Lee. He was really famous, right?"
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thank you for reminding me. I actually know an actor and I'm not going to name him, but he's still alive and somebody went up to him and said, "Weren't you....?" You know, and then his name. And he said, "Well, I think I still am!"
No, I know what you're talking about. But it's not a comeback. You know what it is? It's another step up the ladder. It's another arrow to shoot. Every actor, every real actor has, I suppose, an ambition not so much to be rich and famous, because that's not what it's about, but to be as good as you can be in whatever you do, to entertain the public all over the world, and to make your mark.
Everybody's career -- the same thing will apply to you, and it certainly applies to me and almost everybody -- has its ups and downs. They might be mental, they might be physical, might be professional, might be personal. We all have them. I've done pictures I shouldn't have done. I've done pictures I didn't really want to do. I was forced into doing them. Like many of the Hammer films. The last three or four Dracula movies, I turned them all down. Said I didn't want to do them again because they'd spoil the character. They weren't using the author's conception of the character anymore.
But I was forced to do them because the head of Hammer rang me every time and said the same thing. Every time: "You have to do this." And I said, "No, I don't." And he said, "Yes, you do, you have to." And I said, "Why?" He said, "Because I've already sold the film to the American distributor with you playing that part." Before they even asked me. And that was bad enough, but the next thing that he said was, "Think of the people you put out of work if you don't do it."
So that's blackmail, of course. That is quite simply the only reason that I did quite a few of the films that I did. I was told, "If you don't say 'yes', 100, 120, 130 people won't have a job." Obviously, I wasn't going to be held responsible for that.
It's an old story. The point is that anyone's life goes through a series of steps. Hopefully, most of them are up. Sometimes, they aren't, but hopefully, most of them are.
Boris Karloff, whom you may have heard of and who was a very close friend of mine and a wonderful actor, told me one day -- because he'd been an actor for a long time before he did the first Frankenstein film -- that he had doubts. As, I guess, anybody would. Unrecognized and so on. He said to me, "Look, never forget" -- because I did three films with him, and in fact, he lived next door to me in London -- "Never forget that for us, the actors, the most important thing is to make your mark during your lifetime and to be remembered after you've gone."
Now, what has happened to me is that, I suppose, to a degree, I may have made a mark of sorts. It doesn't matter how, as long as the public has enjoyed it. The producers and studios have done well out of it, and it doesn't matter. Sometimes you're happy to do it and sometimes, you think, God, I've done this before or whatever it may be. This applies to almost all actors. And I emphasize, real actors. You just keep working. You keep learning. You keep facing the challenge. Every film should be a challenge. If you win and you pull it off and the people enjoy it, you can claim a victory. It's a step... up... the ladder.
The question is how far you go. Because if you get to the very, very, very, very top, where do you go from there?
So I've made my mark over the years in one way or another. And there's been a further step up the metaphorical ladder. The first big step was when I did a film with Billy Wilder in 1970, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Then many things afterwards like the Bond movie, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and things like that and that takes you up to the end of the 70s. I was in America, hosted Saturday Night Live. I did one with Steven Spielberg. I did a lot of comedy. I kept going up the ladder, not in a huge movie which was a huge success, but I kept working. So you can say, still making the mark.
Then I came back to England in 1985. Being a European, I returned to my roots. I became a lot more particular in what I was doing. Still am. So I didn't do as much work. But the things that I did do were the things I wanted to do. And usually, pretty successful. Not like these, of course.
Then, I had this period, which started about two years ago, maybe more. Tim Burton. Sleepy Hollow. Johnny Depp. An actor I admire very much and like very much as a person. That was a kind of big jump up the ladder, to work in a Tim Burton production. All these people, saying to me the same thing: "We were brought up on you."
"When we were young..." Spielberg, De Palma, Scorsese, Coppola, they all said that to me. Lucas. They all said that. Everyone you can think of has said that. "We were brought up on you. When we were young. And we haven't forgotten you." Make your mark. You see? And if it's something they like? Great. You don't think that some day somebody will say, some great director will say, "Oh, I remember him. Is he still around? He is? Great. I'd love to have him in this picture."
It could be five minutes. It could be five days. It could be five weeks. It could be five months. Doesn't matter. It's the contribution you make to the story. Sleepy Hollow, I was on the screen four or five minutes. Didn't matter. He wanted me to do it. As a favor. I did. And suddenly, out of the blue, comes The Lord of the Rings. It's just been a wonderful experience for all of us.
And again, for me, another step. And then Star Wars. Another step. And then the final one of this trilogy, The Return of the King next year. Another step. Because they'll all be upward steps. And then the next Star Wars which I [knocks on wood], please God, will be doing in June or July in Australia and whatever happens in between.
What happens in between will not be pictures costing $100 million-plus which will take in nearly a billion in the cinema. That won't happen in some of the pictures I've been offered. One's going to cost $10 million. Another one's going to cost $15 or $20 million. Another, $30 or $40 million, which in this day and age is absolutely nothing at all.
And Harry Potter?
I don't know where this started, you know. This Harry Potter business. Have you been reading about it?
I don't know where it started.
Probably on the Internet.
I think so. I'm sure of it, because nobody's ever asked me.
Richard Harris died.
Within three or four days of his death -- I think I was in Vienna. I was receiving an award from Mikhail Gorbachev. The World Award for Lifetime Achievement. Whenever you talk about "lifetime achievement," it always sounds as if you've been dead for about 150 years and they want to remember you and so on. Makes me remember that when Vincent Price was asked what he wanted on his gravestone, he said, "I'll be back."
Well, I haven't reached that point yet, I hope, but no, within about three or four days of getting that award, I was in Vienna, then Germany and then I went back to England and there was this flood on the Internet. It came on to my Web site, of course, eventually. People asking. Then it went into the radio. Then it went onto television. Talk and interview shows -- not with me. Then it went into the press. "He's going to play Richard Harris's part!" And then, of course, everybody asked me, "Is it true?" I said, "No. It isn't." "Well, what do you mean it isn't true?"
I said, "Look. A man has been dead for three or four days. I think it's in extremely bad taste to discuss this sort of thing and very inappropriate." When he was buried, which was only a few weeks ago, it's still inappropriate that somebody starts this. Because I'm then faced with answering this question. I think that people probably don't believe me. They think that I've done some sort of secret deal.
All I can say is that nobody ever asked me to play that part before Harris played it. And nobody has me right up to this very second. Nobody. So it's entirely a rumor. If they did ask me, I would probably say "Yes" and be very pleased. But they haven't. That's the important thing. It's not good when this sort of thing starts, you know. It's not good. It gets out of control. It's embarrassing for me and my agent is going crazy. The phone never stops. The Times printed something. The Times of London, for God's sake. Said: "Three years ago, of course, Christopher Lee was offered the part and turned it down." Totally untrue. I was never offered it. Ever. So that's the end of that story.
These major marks you're talking about -- how do they effect you in your daily life?
Not at all.
Nobody ever comes up to you and says --
Oh yes, that, all the time. They're getting younger now... [laughs]
The most important thing from my point of view as an actor, really, apart from being in these wonderful films and having the great privilege of taking part -- because it is a privilege, particularly in Lord of the Rings -- nobody's ever seen a film like it -- ever! I've always dreamed that maybe it would be made and maybe I could be in it and so on, and well... That's happened. But the most important thing, I think is, purely for me personally, now, there are people who are older than me that remember movies. Then it's the next generation that remembers the videos. Then it's the next generation that remembers the DVDs, and now, it's the next generation that goes to the movies and then sees the DVDs -- so it's from 90 to 9. So it's every generation. So of course, to me, as an actor, it's the most important thing you can imagine.
It may be just another rumor, but supposedly, in the last film, the third, the destruction of the Shire has been cut.
I can't comment on that for two reasons. One, we all signed a document of confidentiality, agreeing that we would never discuss these films until they came out. Two, I don't know. But about confidentiality, I had to do the same thing with the Star Wars film before it came out. The offer for the Star Wars script -- when we were making it -- the offer on the market was $150,000. Somebody tried to sell it and they're in prison. As far as The Lord of the Rings is concerned, our name is on each page. But with Star Wars, there's a little metal, like, tin foil in each page so they can trace it, you see.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes, because you have to keep quiet. You don't want to tell everybody what the answer is. The only thing I can tell you because now you've seen the film and because people have asked me for about a year -- and I didn't know until last July or August and I've kept quiet ever since -- you may have noticed that nothing happens to me at the end of the second film.
What would you deduce from that? Maybe I'm in the third one!