Compiled by: Katherine Kaminsky
Q. Sir Michael, I was wondering if playing your character
took you straight back to your early days in rep at all?
A. It took me straight back to my early days in rep, because
I based that character on every old character Id ever worked
I did repertory for nine years, so I knew about 50 of those guys
and they were all like OMalley; they were all completely
sad, complete losers and completely unaware of it.
So they always thought they were great and they just didnt
know, they were too stupid. I thought they were wonderful, one
of the reasons I wanted to play the part was because it was so
nostalgic being in the theatre with stage actors, for that time,
because Ive not been in the theatre now for something like
30 years, so it was great for me.
Q. Could you possibly name names and tell us the worst performance
youve ever seen on stage and would you be tempted back to
A. Ill take the second one first. No, Ive become
a professional movie actor, which is what I always wanted to be.
I went into the theatre to learn how to act and it took me so
long to learn I practically became a theatre actor instead of
a movie actor.
The worst performance Ive ever seen on stage is by one of
these guys. What happens to you is that when youre as bad
as these guys, no ones ever heard of you, so theres
no one who is famous who is this bad; its a contradiction
in terms. You couldnt be this bad and well-known enough
for someone to name and that youd recognise.
I dont remember ever seeing a really dreadful performance.
I saw a very drunk one, where I think it was Wilfred Lawson and
Trevor Howard who were bombed in a matinee, and it was Shakespeare,
and it got very bad with the lines and the dialogue and someone
shouted out, Your pissed, and one of them said, If
you think Im pissed, wait till you see the Duke of Norfolk.
A. Who was the most pompous actor youve ever worked
MC. Youre trying to get me into trouble here.
DM. Think of a dead one.
MC: Im trying hard to think of a dead one. Actually,
I havent worked with any really pompous actors., Ill
tell you why, I think you can be pompous in the theatre, and I
never worked with anyone famous in the theatre, but in movies,
its very hard to be pompous for very long.
Once the guy says action, youre on your own,
and if youre not concentrating 100% on what youre
doing, the other actors, including myself, will tear you to bits.
So pompous is not a good idea in the movies. There are quite a
lot of pompous actors about, but you know more of them than I
do, as you interview them.
Q. Have your acting talents ever helped you out in real life?
A. In my case, almost constantly, when I was a small
kid, I was always aware of what should be going on, so I would
always act that role.
Also, when I was small, I lived in a fantasy land. My mother told
me that from the age of 10 to 12, I didnt speak to anybody
at all, so I dont know, she probably thought I was nuts.
Q. Just before we leave the theatre what, parts did you play
A. Everything. I worked up in Liverpool, rep in Sussex. I
got a job out of the Stage newspaper, as an assistant stage manager,
and I kept getting little parts.
I was in a company in Horsham, run by two gay men, all the other
men were gay except me and so whenever there was something really
Butch, like a boxer or something, I got the part, so it was rather
fortunate for me, because none of them wanted to play that.
It was a bit strange in the dressing rooms, there was only one
dressing room, and I was 20-years-old, and I just got little parts,
and then bigger and bigger parts, and thats how it went
on for me, two, four, six, eight, 16, 32.
Thats all I did, I just worked at it for years, nine years.
Q. How long were you at Lowestoft? (Rep Theatre in Suffolk)
A. A year.
Q. Any stories from that time?
A. I got married there, thats one story. I married my
first wife there. She was the leading lady in the company. I was
22 and she was 26 and I was madly in love with her and pursued
her into a disastrous marriage.
Q. Did you enjoy dressing up?
A. Id done drag before in a picture called Dressed to
Kill and that was very serious and sinister, so this was much
easier; its much easier for me to be funny in drag.
Its not something I like doing, I dont like womens
clothes to wear. Especially, in my case, I had to have lots of
padding; Id go through a door and get stuck - you dont
realise how wide you are, I had good child bearing hips.
Q. Have you been as bad at acting as the character you play?
A. Probably in rep I would have been as bad as this character
is, because I wasnt trained in a drama school, I was just
an ex-soldier trying to make my way. I remember, once, I had to
seduce a girl by getting her drunk, and I did the entire scene
without taking the cork out of the bottle.
Q. Have you ever wanted out of the industry?
A. No, its the most incredible thing, theres
nothing that I always wanted to do, just being an actor. I was
one of the first generations who the first time I ever saw an
actor wasnt in the theatre, it was in the cinema. It was
the Lone Ranger. So I wanted to be in films and for me, I thank
God every day for my life, Ive never had a bad moment in
a work situation. I just enjoy it so much and I enjoy the whole
process. I enjoy the travelling, its the most extraordinary
life to lead.
Q. Did you think you would still be doing it now?
A. Yes I did. Well I thought, maybe I wont because someone
said are you gonna retire? I said You dont retire
from movies, scripts stop coming. They retire you, sometimes they
retire you after three movies.
It just so happened that in my case, the scripts got better and
better, so its fine for me. The great thing about movies
or acting is they also need guys of 80 and women of 90.
Jessica Tandy, in Driving Miss Daisy, won her Oscar at 82. So,
its a great, great life. Id recommend it.
Q. Have you been approached to do Shakespeare?
A. I dont do theatre see.
Q. What about a film version?
A. Like Ian? Well thats where our Richard came from,
because he did it like a Fascist, so we did it one over the top
and did it as a Nazi. You know, Olivier had a nose like that,
I had a nose like this, its what all these bad people do
- they copy and then exaggerate.
But youre not going to come to me if you want to do Shakespeare.
Im not really interested in Shakespeare. Im interested
in the absolute naturalness of movies and to do that in iambic
pentameter is kinda difficult.
Q. You did a master class on television some years ago for
acting on screen, have you ever considered doing a one-man show?
A. No, Im a bit of a ... if I can stand up and get a
laugh in a speech like (gestures to Dylan Moran), I remember I
introduced John Barry at the Albert Hall, hes a great friend
of mine, for a musical evening.
I got two laughs and did 12 minutes. They were trying to get me
off. Im in awe of what he does, I find it the most courageous
thing to do, to be a stand-up comic. Once I get a mic in my hand,
Ive just got to get one laugh and Im off. If I had
to do it as a living, I would be too scared.
Q. You recently turned 70, does age bother you?
A. You get to 70 and you start giving up stuff. I gave up
smoking four years ago. Its like, If I give this up,
please let me last a little longer, you know? And you take
a lot of vitamins.
I eat very healthily and try to look after myself and everyone
around you tries to look after you. Youre getting up there,
but its so great considering the alternative.
You know, people say how do you feel? Oh, great, I could continue
doing it for quite a long time, another 30 years will do me.
Q. Did you have a party?
A. Yeah, I had two. I had one in England, for my English friends,
and then I had a bigger one in LA. A lot bigger, because the other
guy, who is my celestial twin, we were born at exactly the same
time, is Quincy Jones.
I booked the restaurant for 150 people, the first list I got from
Quincy without mine was 200. We went up to 450, but I only had
about 100; he had about 300. Quincys got a lot of friends
Q. Did you split the bill down the middle?
A. No, he paid three quarters. Hes got more money than
I have. He did Michael Jacksons Thriller, he made more money
out of that than I did out of my whole career.
Q. A lot of people thought you were robbed at the Oscars this
A. I agree!
Q. How disappointed were you?
A. Its not disappointing. Ive already got two
Oscars, both for supporting actor.
First of all, the movie wasnt going to be released in time
for the Oscars at all. So, I then got on to my mate, Harvey Weinstein,
and lobbied him like mad and got it shown
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got it shown and it got great
reviews, and I got the reviews, and, eventually from a movie that
wasnt going to be shown at all, I got nominated for an Oscar.
Now, I knew that I wasnt going to get the Oscar, but I had
got to the stage where I was nominated for Best Actor. It made
a difference, a tremendous difference, to my status in Hollywood.
You very often hear people saying, Oh, he said being nominated
is enough. What a load of bullshit that is. Its very
important. It changed from two best supporting actor Oscars, to
being nominated for best actor, thats the difference.
The fact that it makes a difference at 70-years-old is quite amazing,
but it does.
Q. Youve played three very vain actors in The Actors,
Sweet Liberty and Without A Clue, is this your view on movie actors?
A. No, its the screenwriters view on movie actors. If
you get into that star quality, where you get the ego thing, the
ego is like a balloon, it can be so big that you don,t notice
it, because you do not realise - youre inside the balloon,
youre not even on the outside looking in.
I was always great friends with Frank Sinatra, so wed go
up to Las Vegas and everybody said, Franks coming
down, what sort of a mood is he in? What sort of a mood is he
in? Hes good, hes great, its fine.
And one day, I said to one of these guys, I said, Does anybody
care what sort of a mood Im in when I come down? We
always say what sort of a mood is Frank gonna be in. And he said,
who gives a shit.
And you have to remember, extremely rich people are surrounded
by people they pay, and unless you say the right things, youre
not gonna be paid anymore. Youre going to be out of a very
good, cushy job.
Q. In the film, your character is ruthless about accepting
an award. Is that your experience?
A. No, no, no, everybody is terribly gracious. I mean, for
instance, with this years Oscars, the war was coming and
we didnt know what we were going to say about it, so all
the people nominated decided to meet the night before to discuss
whether we were going to mention it in the acceptance speech.
Daniel couldnt make it, but the rest of us could. Adrian
didnt have a speech, and I told him he stood a good chance
of needing one, so we all got bombed together and wrote Adrians
The next day, I had to call them up and say, what did we
decide we were going to do about the war?. The Oscars is
your own people voting for you, thats why its such
an accolade. Its actors and others in the industry saying
you deserve the award.