Christopher Eccleston (2005)

Here’s another interview with Christopher Eccleston, quite light on ‘Doctor Who’ but a fascinating account of his early life and his religious views. It’s a transcript from his appearance on the ‘Heaven and Earth’ show back in 2005, when the new series was about two weeks into its run.

Q: You’ve played Hamlet, you’ve played the Messiah, now the big one.

A: ‘Doctor Who’, it was a very interesting experience. I didn’t really have a life outside filming it because we worked so consistently. It was a big chunk out of my life.

Q: What do you remember of it from your childhood?

A: Very little, I wasn’t a fan of the programme, I was always out playing.

Q: You didn’t like it?

A: No, I didn’t like it, really. I didn’t feel invited into the world, I felt a bit excluded by the posh accent and the stern tone, allied with the police box, the idea of authority. For this eight year old, it didn’t work. I was out playing.

Q: You have decided, though, to step into the TARDIS. What persuaded you?

A: Russell T. Davies. My admiration for the scripts of Russell T. Davies. I thought I would go in a completely different direction, because I’m not known for my charm and I’m not known for comedy, so I thought I’d have a go at it.

Q: None of your family were actors. Your mum did various jobs, your dad worked in a factory –

A: (smiles) There’s plenty of actors in my family, but not professional. No, I don’t come from a theatrical background, in a conventional sense.

Q: So how did the idea come to you?

A: Well I’d wanted to be a footballer like most of the kids from my background and from my area, and I wanted to play at Old Trafford.

Q: Were you any good?

A: Well I played for Salford Boys, and I got myself into the squad by commitment rather than talent. Anybody who’s seen me play football will confirm that. But that died quickly, scouts came and they never wanted to speak to me.

Q: So you experienced rejection early?

A: Yeah, I did actually, because it was a big dream. So then it was looking that what I’d have to do was what my brother’s had done, one was an upholsterer, one was a builder, and I didn’t – I’m not at all handy, it was looking like manual labour for a while.

Q: But you had a time after leaving drama school when you didn’t have any work for a while, that must have been tough.

A: It was tough, but I felt it was justified because I didn’t feel, at the time, confident enough in my own abilities.

Q: So you did what?

A: I did a bit of labouring, I did a lot of laying about, a lot of teenage angst and worrying.

Q: About whether you’d make it?

A: About what I was going to do with my life.

Q: In your approach to acting, it strikes me that you’ve got a hard-working attitude…

A: (smiles) It’s like the football, no talent, bags of hard work.

Q: No, but it strikes me that you’ve got your feet on your ground. It’s a job. Does that come a lot from your background?

A: Yeah, I think everything I do comes from my parents and my brothers. I was very loved as a child, by the four of them. I think when you come from a background where people have done jobs that they’ve not enjoyed, and you get to do a job that you love and that you get very well paid for, if you’ve got anything about you then you’ll kind of not take it for granted.

Q: When you look at the kind of work you’ve done, like ‘Flesh and Blood’, it seems that you like a project that’s going to be a challenge.

A: Yeah, I do. Peter Kirby, who played my father in that drama, had never acted before and has a learning difficulty, so as well as playing the role, I had to be responsible for helping Peter achieve his performance.

Q: You take quite a lot of care in the roles that you choose. What do you hope to communicate with the public?

A: I want to make them feel things, but I want to make them perhaps look at themselves, look at various situations and perhaps change their mind about things.

Q: What did your mum think when you played the son of God, because she’s religious, isn’t she?

A: Yeah, she’s a church-goer, my Mum. I remember that she particularly enjoyed the speech that Stephen Baxter makes, almost the sermon on the mount.

Q: Were you brought up in a religious household?

A: My mum tried to encourage me to go to church, but she didn’t force me, which I think is very broad-minded of her. I’m an athiest –

Q: Really? Have you always been an athiest?

A: No, I don’t think I was. My religious sense was a little bit foisted on me, as I’ve grown older I’ve wished that I hadn’t been given these casual notions of God, I feel that it kind of interrupted my own intellectual development. I can understand if a child says ‘Where’s Grandma?’ and you say ‘Grandma’s gone to heaven’, that’s an easy option and I think to an extent that was offered me, but I think I’d decide on a slightly  different explanation.

Q: When did you decide that there was no God for you?

A: It’s just been a growing thing for me, the way I feel about my place in the world, my own personal development, the good things I’ve done, the bad things I’ve done. I always feel that they’re within my own control. What we have is the here and now, what we have is each other so let’s find a way to deal truthfully with each other.

Q: So do you use that to live for the moment, to make the most of every moment?

A: Yes, but not just for myself, which is what the work’s about. I mean I have a spiritual life, and it resides in things like ‘Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Hillsborough’ and ‘Second Coming’, and I get spiritual sustenance from what we grandly call art.

Q: In your career at the moment, some actors would have run off to Hollywood. You’ve gone home to your parents –

A: (smiles, indicates his ears) I won’t be asked!

Q: But why did you go back home?

A: Yeah, I live in Manchester. I just like the people up there, I like to be near my brothers and my parents. I like to be outside what is sometimes seen as the centre of the profession.

Q: You’ve described yourself as a gargoyle, but people think you’re a sex symbol!

A: Well great, nothing wrong with that. I’ll have some of that.

Q: What kind of things have you had said to you?

A: Oh, a girl in Manchester once, I was in a bar and she came up to me and said ‘Excuse me, mate, are you that bloke out of ‘Cracker’?’, I said ‘Yeah’, she said ‘It’s really weird ’cause on the telly you’re good-looking – oh, I’m sorry’. That was the best.

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