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Quartet – Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly interview

Quartet

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PAULINE Collins and Billy Connolly talk about being directed by Dustin Hoffman in Quartet and why they enjoyed being given the opportunity to improvise with the script. They were speaking at a press conference held during the London Film Festival.

Q. How did you find working with Dustin Hoffman?
Pauline Collins: Well, first of all Dustin is a dynamo and a darling and both of those things help, I think, to make the atmosphere of this film. He’s one of the most inspiring and kindest directors I’ve ever worked for because I think he understands how actors work because he is one. I found him really, really easy to get on with. But we’ve heard stories that he gives directors a hard time [laughs]. So, maybe now he knows what it feels like.

Q. And Billy?
Billy Connolly: A nightmare! Tantrums, long silences, inappropriate touching… you know the kind of thing [laughs]. He was excellent. I’ll tell you the thing I like best about him… I don’t crave praise. I’ve had plenty of praise in my life to get along with. But sometimes it’s quite nice to be told that you’re doing OK and he’s very good at that.

Q. Billy, are you looking forward to an old age where you can say exactly what you want?
Billy Connolly: I’m there!

Q. And have you ever said anything where you thought that was probably inappropriate?
Billy Connolly: Are you kidding me? I’ve been accused of being inappropriate since day one! And I think it’s one of the joys of getting older, you can say exactly as you please. And there’s not much to add to that. But I have pretty much said exactly as I’ve pleased all my life and it’s done me no harm at all. Actually, there’s a thing I really dislike where you say…. if somebody says ‘what do you think of so and so?’ And you say: “I think he’s an asshole!” And they say: “Oh come on, speak your mind!” Do you know that shitty thing that people say? It’s as if speaking your mind was something weird. I think if more people spoke their mind, we’d be in much better shape. So, that kind of answers it I think.

Q. Was there much improvisation? And much corpsing on the set?
Pauline Collins: There was lots of improv on the dialogue, which I really love. Dustin gives us free rein on that. It’s interesting… I’ve learned so much on this because I came very late to film… not until I was 50. But I’ve learned so much from Dustin and the main thing is that what you start with, the script… and not every scriptwriter will want to hear this, is a basis. It’s not the end. And sometimes things happen during the process, which take you down a more exciting avenue. He always let us do that.

Q. Billy? Do you agree?
Billy Connolly: Yeah, it was openly encouraged and it was a very good idea. But they took one of my best ad libs out! Reggie is upset because he’s just found out while doing his thing with the kids that Jean [Maggie Smith] is there, and of course Wilf [my character] finds him in a place that they know out in the wilderness and Reggie is just standing there. In the script, it says that he was looking at a young deer. We tried to do, so we scrubbed it. But when we had it [in], I come up to join Reggie and say: “Do you think it knows it’s delicious?”

Q. Would you have any advice for people who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Billy Connolly: I’ve no idea! Get on with it! Learn your words and avoid the furniture!

Q. And Pauline?
Pauline Collins: Well, I have a couple of young people in the family who are in the profession and my advice to them, always, whenever I see them is ‘more blusher’ and it works.

Read our review of Quartet

Read our interview with Dame Maggie Smith