By Jonathan Marlow
September 19, 2003 - 11:10 AM PDT
You mentioned your appreciation of Patrick MacGoohan's work but I also think of you as a very versatile actor. How were you selected for This is Spinal Tap?
I wonder. I can't remember. It must have had a friend or something.
Did Rob Reiner approach you?
I had a wonderful agent at the time who was a friend of theirs. I was also a friend of that sweet man, one of the three of them, Michael McKean. I did a show with Michael called Dream On, which was one of the best shows. It was a fifteen-minute show and it was written by a woman called Marta Kauffman. Ever heard of her?
I'm not familiar with her.
Ever heard of Friends?
Yes, of course.
Marta Kauffman conceived Friends. Now a billionaire. At the time I knew her, she didn't have a penny, but she wrote a wonderful show called Dream On, in which I was marvelous. It lasted fifteen minutes. Marta Kauffman wrote it. Shortly afterwards, she created Friends which, I have to confess, I have never been invited to be on.
[laughs] How about your involvement with The Howling, the first of that series?
Well, The Howling was a brilliant, brilliant thriller. I got it just through my agent and they got me and I was extremely good in it but not as good as the director, who was absolutely fine. It was wonderful but not because of me. You couldn't not be fabulous in the way that it was done. Didn't you think?
I thought that it was a delightful take on the werewolf story. It and The Company of Wolves and American Werewolf in London were the only films to approach the werewolf story from a new angle.
[Spoiler] The secret of that film was making you feel that to be a werewolf was a perfectly natural thing to be and it was like a stay in the country. Don't you agree? And that is what is so clever about real danger. I'd like to think that we did it in The Avengers, too. You like to make people think that it's perfectly normal, and then, suddenly you put in something absolutely repulsive or difficult or dangerous.
That creates real suspense.
That's what I think it does.
It seems as if you're attracted to unusual roles. For instance, your part in Shadey. How did that come about?
You see, I am unusual. I was in England, doing the Bond film which I only got because of Roger Moore. I got to know Barbara Broccoli in Hawaii, my wife and I went there and we did [an episode of] Magnum, P.I. A lovely show, before your time...
...with a famous star on it...
Tom Selleck. He was on Friends. He had a part on Friends.
Well, I didn't. The point about Tom Selleck is that we were leaving, at the airport, and Barbara Broccoli, who was Cubby's daughter, had a boyfriend in this thing with Tom called Magnum, P.I., and she came up to my wife and said, "Can I meet Patrick?" Which she did. Then she went back to Cubby Broccoli [producer of the Bond films] and said, "Why don't we have Patrick Macnee play the jockey?" He said, "Isn't he a bit big to play a jockey?" She said, "Can't you make him something?" So they made me a racehorse trainer, which was lovely.
They knew about your father?
I don't think they knew that.
It was a coincidence?
Totally, yes. It was totally a coincidence.
You're very lucky in that sense.
I'm lucky everywhere. You see, what the difference is, though, a lot of people feel unlucky because they don't see the opportunity when it's staring them in the face. I see opportunities around every corner and I grab them. Still, at the age of 81.
I'd say that one particularly distinguishing facet of your abilities is your voice and it's that remarkable voice that opens the television series Battlestar Galactica.
They were very sweet to give me that, but they went to great lengths to not tell me that I had a wonderful voice or anything like that. They said, "We need an English voice, you'd better do it." I think they paid me some minimal sum, like $200 a week. Then they said at the end of six-weeks, "Well, your voice is so boring." I said, "Who are you going to get?" "I don't think that we're going to get anybody, we'll do it without a voice." People are never nice, if you know what I mean. On those six weeks, I probably did a big favor for them by providing a voice - and it's not just a voice, it's the use of the voice - and I think I did it extraordinarily well. I wanted to put a hot poker up their ass. They fired me, you know.
There were a number of young actors where Galactica was pretty much their first television experience. Did they look to you for advice for their future careers, television or otherwise?
No, I don't think so. No, people don't do that. I was very famous in television exclusively, and consequently, in fact, I remember going to the great, great actor - and now were talking about great actors - Robert Preston, and I was on a film with him, a perfectly lovely television film, and I remember foolishly saying to him - I think that I called him Robert, probably Mr. Preston - "You think that I ought to..." He said, "Don't ask me! I don't tell other actors how to act." And you learn your lesson. This was not that many years ago. About ten years ago.
Was there a particular reason why they didn't ask your friend Lorne Greene to narrate the show? Were they trying to stay away from William Shatner's opening for Star Trek...
Because he was in it!
But you were in it! You have a role in one of the episodes.
But Lorne was a regular. You can't have that voice twice, not within the show and without. Lorne has a distinctive voice. He was called "the voice of doom." During the war, the Second World War, his voice in Canada announced all of dreadful things that happened to the allies when we were defeated by the Germans [at the beginning of the war]. He died much too early. He was only 53 years old.
It's that voice again that's keeping you rather busy of late because you're doing a number of books-on-tape.
I disagree with you. I'd like to think it's my talent. My voice is only a part of it.
I agree with your disagreement. It seems like you've done a lot of work lately for books-on-tape but you've never, to my knowledge, done any voice work for animated films (for instance).
I don't want to do that. I'd have to go into Los Angeles! [laughs] This, what I've done, the new Jack Higgins, it's called Bad Company. As we speak, New York and Los Angeles bestseller lists, the book is #6 of 45. How does that strike you? Bad Company, read by Patrick Macnee, unabridged - #6 on the bestseller list.
You like doing these readings?
I love them because, if you notice, it says "read by Patrick Macnee." Most of them, it says, "performed by Patrick Macnee," and that makes me impressed because I do perform them. They're very difficult to do.
Would you say that this is a bridge back to your radio days?
Not really because no one had even thought of this sort of thing, had they? What gives me a tremendous feeling is, when you open this thing and you get in your car and you have drive to from San Francisco to somewhere, it will take about five hours and you'll probably hear some of the best acting, though I say it myself, of Jack Higgins's Bad Company, #6 on the bestseller list.
I'll have to listen to it.
I wish you would.
Thanks to the development of DVDs, a lot of television programming is finally becoming available...
You know, you're right. Thank God for DVDs. The whole of my show, The Avengers, is on DVD, three episodes on each disc. They're lovely shows.
For myself, I've rediscovered the first two seasons of the show by way of the Mystery Channel.
You mean with Honor Blackman? The only trouble is that we did those live. I don't know if you know what doing a show live is like.
Not personally, but I enjoy the spontaneity, the sense that anything can happen.
That might be, but if you're actually doing it - pure mortal fear. "What is my next line?" Thank God those days are over.
Now obviously, all of The Avengers are available. It seems as if some of your other television work will finally surface as well. You obviously have a great wealth of work.
I don't think I have. In the long run, I haven't done all that amount of stuff, really.
It appears that you're committed to appear at Galacticon in October.
Somebody has told me that, yes. I'm not knocking it at all, if they want to do that. All of the Galactica people who wrote that stuff, they're all very talented. A lot of those people, if I'm right, are pretty well-known. To me, all of this depends on who conceives it. With The Avengers, I was part of the company of people who put it together, so I had a special thing on it. Anything since, I just appear in it.
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"We were television stars when we were still living in the YMCA."
"I find James Bond repulsive."
"I see opportunities around every corner and I grab them."
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In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.
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