Archive for the ‘1996 TV Movie’ Category

Yee Jee Tso (2007)

January 15, 2010

Yee Jee Tso played Chang Lee in the 1996 TV Movie, and has since played an entirely different character in some of the audio adventures. He’s interviewed on the BBC site, and here are a few extracts from that, covering how he got the role of Chang Lee:

We had an open casting call for the Doctor Who TV movie with Paul McGann. They were filming it in Vancouver which is where I’ve been a professional actor for nine years now. Then they did the call-backs, [and] it was between two or three of us.

It just so happened that something terrible had happened and I was late for the audition by about an hour and a half. I found out later from Philip Segal that that’s precisely why they hired me. They wanted the Chang Lee character to have this ‘I don’t care’ kind of attitude, and I guess me showing up really late for this huge casting call was the ‘I don’t care’ attitude they wanted.

Geoffrey Sax had mentioned to me something about how I was going to have these repercussions happen to me and that I might be doing conventions and stuff. Eventually that did end up happening to me. I hooked up with different conventions here and there and ended up doing the circuit.

Sylvester McCoy (1996)

August 26, 2009

Some quotes from Sylvester McCoy during the filming of the 1996 TV movie. He talks about handing over, about the script changes that occurred, about conventions and about how the BBC treated ‘Doctor Who’ in the late 1980’s.

“When the new ‘Doctor Who’ came up, last year, 1995, and they asked if I’d do the hand-over, I thought ‘Yes, I would’, because I’d always agreed from the very beginning that that’s what I’d do. And coming over here, I love travelling, coming to America… originally I thought it was going to be made here, it’s now Canada. I was looking forward to it all. But I didn’t expect much, I thought it’d just be a quick handover, under the titles, and it was, but then, things take time, the script arrived, I said I’d do it, and they got very excited about the fact that I was going to do it. And they rethought the opening a bit, and the upped what I was doing, and I saw that and got very pleased, ‘Oh, it’s a nice little chunk to re-establish myself before I say bye’. Just before I left, they send another rewrite, and it was now back to where it was before. I felt slightly disappointed, because if they’d left it as it was originally, just a tiny little bit, I wouldn’t have been too upset. I’m not upset now, but it’s the games they play.

“I wonder how Paul McGann is going to be able to deal with the world of ‘Doctor Who’, I mean he’s quite a private person, really, and the thing when I first took over, I was amazed by it all, because I didn’t realise… I got the job on the Monday, and on the Thursday I was flown from London to Atlanta and I was just amazed by the commitment of the fans in American to the programme. I was asked all sorts of questions, one fan got up and said ‘Excuse me, Mr. McCoy, Doctor, when you were in your third persona, what were you thinking when you thinking when you opened the TARDIS door onto the planet Thal or whatever?’. I thought he was kidding, but then looking in his eyes I realised he wasn’t, he believed in this, he believed that the Doctor existed. So I had to answer that question and think ‘Who was I in the third persona?’, and of course it was dear old Jon Pertwee, so I did a Jon Pertwee impression and the rest of the audience laughed but this man didn’t. As an actor you do all sorts of things and you respect the profession but this man took it so seriously.

“Another thing Paul has to contend with is… ‘Doctor Who’ is a very unusual television role, where you’re immediately compared to someone else. Someone once said to me that it’s like Hamlet in the theatre, you’re the Hamlet of your generation, if you’re lucky enough to be chosen as such, and also you’re compared with all the other Hamlets. And it’s the same with ‘Doctor Who’. And as it’s my final days, it makes you reflect on the opening days, and in a way I felt unjustly treated by some committed fans of the programme, who have since become friends, and it’s great that they’re over it all, but they were very quick to jump onto a bandwagon of condemning me even before they’d even seen one shot of what I was doing, even though I admit that when they did see me in the role, I probably confirmed some of their fears. But the thing with ‘Doctor Who’ is you have to be given time to develop it, or at least I had, and I think by the end of it I had developed something that was in the right vein, or the strong vein, of the universe ‘Doctor Who’ existed in. But that opening year was a bit of a pain, even though I’m quite thick-skinned.

“I was thinking about the justice of the way the BBC treated ‘Doctor Who’, more from ignorance than anything else. They would chop and change it, move it around. They used to do twenty-six episodes, that had a build-up effect, it had an effect of regularity, a regular place, and people would watch it and know it’s there. But when you move it about, they lost it. An audience is essentially very lazy, they don’t want to chase it around, only the dedicated fans do. And when they looked at my viewing figures, I was having to defend myself. One of the best seasons I did was only four million people watching it, but there was a reason. And that was (a) because they moved it around, (b) because they changed the amount of programmes, (c) because they put it up against ‘Coronation Street’, and in the last season ‘Coronation Street’ were bringing in a Friday programme and advertised themselves heavily, and they started their season of Friday programmes when we started our season, and the BBC responded by not putting any advertising out at all, really, in fact friends of mine, close friends, didn’t realise that ‘Doctor Who’ was on the telly. No-one knew it was on, and that’s the bit about it that really does rankle, that sense that it failed, that perhaps I was part of that. But I think I’m arrogant enough to know that I wasn’t, that third season was great, and I think if we’d gone to a fourth season it might have been really great. But we didn’t, and life is full of regrets and I’m delighted now to be back saying goodbye in this grand way in Vancouver, which is doubling for San Francisco!”

Paul McGann (1996)

August 26, 2009

A small selection of quotes from Paul McGann, during the filming of the 1996 TV movie. There’s an interesting attempt to draw an analogy between the Yeti and Jesus, and the idea of the Doctor having a kind of vampire-like quality.

“The monster that did it for me was the Yeti. I was only thinking yesterday that because we were good little Catholic boys, we used to go to church three or four times a week, and in Catholic churches you have these sacred heart statues, the figure of Jesus, you know, holding back his gown or whatever and there’s the beating heart, with a crown of thorns flashing around it, almost like a cartoon heart. Rich stuff. What would happen with the Yeti? His chest would come apart and he’d be sitting there with the golden ball. And we’d be sitting there watching it, going ‘Jesus!’.

“What’s attracted me to this particular script is kind of the vampire flavour of it, the Time Lord who’s been around for centuries, he comes and goes. There’s a bitterness to it, there’s an edge, a dark side. It just suggests something else. Originally I thought I couldn’t do it, I can’t be Dr. Who, it’s now what I do, I haven’t got the skill. I’m not that kind of… But… So I turned it down, but over the months they would feed me bits and bobs of the script, let me know how it’s developing, because it’s under the aegis, it’s North American, to break the thing in North America properly…

“I’m not that slick. I’m fairly private. I go completely shtum. People go to these seminars, conventions, and quite honestly the thought of going near one right now makes my flesh creep, I can’t imagine, God, I know I’m going to have to, I’m going to get collared at some point and have to turn up at one of these things. Some people are going to like you, some people are going to hate your guts, and I guess that’s about fair. There’s going to be some who are mortally offended. People throwing themselves off ships. I mean, with respect, I’m no in-door scarf-wearing, Home Counties eccentric, I couldn’t do it. I spend the first twenty minutes of this thing not knowing who I am, wandering around this morgue in this hospital, and I get to these lockers where these costumes are, because it’s New Year’s Eve 1999, everyone’s going out dressed up, and there’s a scarf, a la Tom Baker, which is quickly dispensed with. He’s going off in another direction. Quite what it is, at the moment, we don’t know. If the thing does go to series, it depends if I’ve got the bottle to… just go with it.”

Sylvester McCoy (1996)

August 25, 2009

In this 1996 interview (you can hear the original here), Sylvester McCoy discusses the Paul McGann TV movie, British theatre and the reasons why the show was cancelled back in 1989, as well as his thoughts on ‘Search Out Science’ and ‘Dimensions in Time’.

Q: What’s your opinion of British theatre? Do you think British theatre deserves a lot more credit than it gets at the moment?

A: Well, yes, I mean it’s the perennial cry, British theatre is, in Britain, very successful in its own terms, and much loved. It depends on which government’s in power, it’s a bit like PBS over here. If you’ve got Republicans in power, goodbye PBS; if you’ve got Democrats, they might be able to scrape a little money together to keep it going. It’s the same with theatre in Britain, although because we have this long and wonderful tradition with theatre, they haven’t killed it off and they never will, really.

Q: What’s more difficult to do, classical Greek tragedy or panto?

A: Well they’re not difficult, I mean if acting is difficult then they’re all difficult, but if it’s not… They all require different skills. So pantomime you give as much, you have to give energy, high energy, because you’ve got to directly entertain the audience, you can’t relax. You need many skills to do it, it’s not an easy thing to do. When you’re doing tragedy or more concentrated theatre, the skills there are deep concentration and communication, being able to tell the story. But both… I don’t differentiate between the great classics, which I’ve been lucky to do, and the pantomimes, which I suppose a lot of people in the US think of pantomime as Marcel Marceau, but in England…

Q: More like ‘Oh no he isn’t’, ‘Oh yes he is’?

A: Yes. A whole different skill’s involved.

Q: Do you think William Shakespeare’s resurrected British film, with Kenneth Branagh?

A: Well I suppose if William Shakespeare were alive he’d be working out here as a hack in Hollywood. It’s wonderful that Kenneth Branagh, well it’s Kenneth Branagh who’s helped to revive the British film industry, a bit. Again, with a change of government and a bit of sensible tax adjustments, as they’ve done in Ireland, we’d have a very good film industry. The problem is because we’re an English-speaking country we have to compete with other English-speaking countries that make films, and one of those is Hollywood. So it needs help. I think most likely in Hollywood help is given in tax breaks to people, but they don’t do that in Britain at all. We’re not playing on a level field.

Q: Speaking of doing great things on low budgets, what are your thoughts on continuing to work with people like Bill Baggs and Nick Briggs?

A: Well yes, I was very pleased, Sophie was the one who advised me to go and work with them, because she’s done them before. The first one I did, more because it meant working with Jon Pertwee and Colin Baker and Peter Davison, I just wanted to have at least worked with a few of the other Doctors. That was the main reason I did that. Then the second time, the chance to play such an interesting villain, because he starts off not as a villain and then develops. So just in purely selfish terms, the parts were really nice that I was given.

Q: Speaking of traditions and other Doctors, tell me about Paul McGann?

A: Well Paul McGann has been a friend, I’ve known him for quite a few years, he’s a marvellous actor. What he’ll bring to it is a sense of danger, he has a wonderful sense of danger. As a film actor, he’s a bit like Laurence Olivier, in the sense that when you went to see Olivier you were never quite sure what he was going to do it. I mean, he might just explode in front of you into something amazing, and Paul McGann’s got that, like any minute now something amazing might happen, something terrible might happen. And he’s very good at comedy, he can jump back and forth. So I think he’ll be a very good actor to play Dr. Who because of those facets, he’s got lots of things he can play around with.

Q: How does it feel to pass the baton? Your Doctor’s been around longer than Tom Baker’s.

A: Well I’m absolutely delighted to be involved in this transformation, because it finished for me about six years ago and I carried on doing whatever I’ve been doing for the rest of the time, having a merry time, and I’ve had a merry time. I gave up being the Doctor. I mean I enjoyed the conventions and the other side of the ‘Doctor Who’ world, or should I say universe, so when the phone call came I was delighted to learn that it was being revived. Because I’ve got to know a lot of fans and I know it’s what they want. And for purely selfish reasons, it’ll revive interest in the earlier Doctors. So I think it’s a very good thing. So I with delight and great pride pass on the baton to a great actor who I think will be marvellous. I think I’m blessed that the other actors gave up with sadness – apart from Peter Davison – but I get to pass the baton in this way, and in such an exotic location.

Q: With things like ‘Search Out Science’ and ‘Dimensions in Time’, did you feel it was a case of the BBC leading the fans on, saying ‘We’ll bring the Doctor out when it’s convenient for us’, until about six months ago?

A: Not really, no. I mean the BBC’s a vast organisation, and within there were people who were trying to keep it alive, and I think what they were doing was trying to keep it going. It wasn’t any kind of Machiavellian plan by the people at the top. I’m a great believer in the cock-up theory, the reason why ‘Doctor Who’ finished was it was a complete cock-up by management, so those things that you mentioned weren’t in any devious way, someone just thought ‘It’d be good to have the Doctor doing this’, and I think the one we did for ‘Children in Need’ they thought might revive interest in the show within the BBC, but it didn’t.

Eric Roberts (Various)

August 9, 2009

This isn’t a single interview, more a collection of quotes concerning his role as the Master in the 1996 TV movie. Some of his comments are a little contradictory at times. If you want to read a good in-depth interview with him about his whole career, I’d recommend looking here.

On getting the role

I got the offer to do ‘Doctor Who’ and, as I looked into it and saw its popularity, I got very excited about doing it. I did as much research as I could. There was more available than I had time for, but I did immerse myself. Paul (McGann) was great. A great guy and a very giving actor

It was so much fun. It was such a great group, and they all loved what they were doing. And they were all nice.

On becoming part of ‘Doctor Who’ folklore

Look, when I was in school in London at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, that’s when I got turned on to ‘Doctor Who’. It was great fun, but it was big camp, way overacted, and way fake. So, no, I was not intimidated to do that. (laughs) If that answers your question.

I was new to that world, which made it fun in a particular kind of way. The Master is up there in popularity with the Daleks. Isn’t that cool? Playing the baddest baddie in the universe I could really break free because this guy loved causing problems for other people. You had to go way outside the realm of human boundaries to play him.

He was more evil than the past Masters. I just thought he was more  graphically evil. The Master’s often described as an evil genius because… he is evil. He’s like all of our worst nightmares, because he’s really mean and he’s really smart, so it’s all the things we’re really scared of.

On working with Christopher Eccleston on ‘Heroes’.

A: Yeah, what a great guy. We talked fast for a couple of days.

Paul McGann (2006)

August 5, 2009

This is a relatively recent Paul McGann interview. It talks more about ‘Withnail and I’ than ‘Doctor Who’, but he does make a frank admission that the 1996 TV Movie “wasn’t good enough”, and tells a brief story about meeting Tom Baker in a recording studio. From The Independent.

Every autumn, Paul McGann is given an annual reminder of his greatest role. Living in a university town like Bristol, “you can set your calendar by it,” he says. “The new student intake has just come in, and they’ve drunk their first grant cheque and seen Withnail and I… and I know when they’ve seen it. They usually holler across the street.” While Richard E Grant’s flamboyant drunk Withnail was the character blessed with the lion’s share of memorable quotes, McGann’s more introspective “I” still had his moments. He grins at a recent reminder. “The other day, some kid had chalked on the pavement outside my house, ‘Perfumed Ponce’, with an arrow pointing to my front door!”

Now 46, it’s refreshing to see McGann is not precious about the fact that his finest hour has just been commemorated this month with a 20th anniversary DVD. “It’s actually very satisfying,” he admits. “I can safely say, ‘If I’d never done another movie, it would’ve been all right.'” Still handsome, with his Byronic brown curls, there’s a sense of genuine gratitude in his soft Scouse accent. The son of a factory worker and a nursery school teacher, perhaps it’s in the knowledge that a working-class childhood in Liverpool does not always lead to such a grand career as acting. The Catholic-raised McGann knows he’s been fortunate: accepted into Rada, he got his big break in 1982 alongside his three brothers – Joe, Mark and Stephen – in the West End rock’n’roll musical Yakkety Yak.

“We all wanted to be movie stars,” he recalls of his youthful days. “When I was a kid, about 11 or 12, we used to try and bunk into local cinemas to see X movies. Who doesn’t do that at that age? This would’ve been 1972. Maybe an older kid would buy a ticket, then go and open the fire door and we’d watch this film until we were all thrown out. You’d see some hammy old thing, but now and again you’d see a great film – like Klute or Five Easy Pieces. I remember watching Jack Nicholson, maybe not understanding what he’s up to but thinking I’d love to do that. He was engaging, charismatic – I was rapt!”

McGann was never going to be the next Nicholson, even if winning the lead in Alan Bleasdale’s 1986 BBC drama The Monocled Mutineer boosted his profile. Unlike Grant, he never really made it in Hollywood. “What do they say? It’s better to regret the things you have done than the things you haven’t,” he notes. When he did get cast in major productions, he spent most of his time on the cutting room floor. Almost entirely excised from Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, he saw his part for David Fincher’s Alien3 truncated to an almost unintelligible degree and then he was unfortunate enough to appear in Queen of the Damned, the ill-fated follow-up to Interview with a Vampire. “Careers are what they are,” he shrugs. “They don’t make any sense at all when you look back. We’re not in charge of them.”

Fate certainly seems to have had a hand in McGann’s CV. A knee injury in 1994 forced him to cede the lead in ITV’s Sharpe to Sean Bean. Two years later came his one-off turn as Doctor Who, following on from Sylvester McCoy in a US pilot that was set to resurrect the series but ultimately never picked up because the ratings weren’t high enough. “We made a pilot that didn’t work,” he says. “And it didn’t work because it wasn’t good enough.” But given the success of the current revamped show, does he have regrets that he’s likely to be remembered – in his own words – as the “George Lazenby of Doctor Who”? “It’s impossible to regret. It could’ve been very different. I would’ve been there for five or six years… and I’d have earned a shit-load of dough. Life wouldn’t have been the same but it didn’t happen.”

If there’s a suspicion that McGann is not ruthless enough to play the Hollywood game, not least because Withnail and I anointed him with a cuddly image, he has set about changing that with his latest film, Gypo. An entirely improvised piece about immigration, he plays Paul, a racist father-of-three living in Margate. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Paul is the vilest character of McGann’s career, beginning the film by violently objecting to his daughter bringing home a classmate who, it emerges, is a Romany Czech refugee. “I had to be prepared for him to be irredeemable,” says McGann. “He is unremittingly miserable.”

Fed on a diet of tabloids and Talk Sport, McGann says his character belongs with the “huge majority of these little Englanders with their easy assumptions. At one point, he talks about Africa being a big county – that’s about the level of him.” He adds that he didn’t want to make him like some “Alf Garnett cartoon” and he doesn’t – though he confesses to the fact that director Jan Dunn only came to the set with “broad notions” for the scenes. The rest was up to him. “There wasn’t a script to discuss,” he says. “That brought me out in a rash, to be honest. That was one of the reasons I thought I had to do this. I couldn’t think of any proper, intelligent excuse to turn this kind of challenge down.”

Telling the same basic story from three separate perspectives, Gypo is officially the first British film to be registered as a Dogme movie. Given that this manifesto, devised by the Danish director Lars von Trier to purify the film-making process by using only original locations, natural light and so on, is over a decade old, it might seem rather after the fact. McGann nods. “I entered it with a mixture of open-mindedness and healthy cynicism. I mean, they’re having us on aren’t they? Some of that stuff… c’mon! The more dubious claims for the process about truth and nebulous ideas about authenticity. I mean, what’s that about? Films are artifice. We’re telling stories on film. At the same time, when it works, there is a real tough immediacy and spontaneity to it, and a punch.”

Both frank and funny, McGann is the perfect pub-mate – not least because he is so self-deprecating. Noting that his short-lived time playing Doctor Who has nevertheless given him a place in the show’s pantheon, he recalls meeting legendary Time Lord Tom Baker. “We were in opposite voice over studios,” he says. “This guy in the sound studio told me he was in, so I went and met him. He didn’t have a clue who I was! I found it rather refreshing. He was very charming. He just thought I was some kid off the street. So I thought, ‘Let’s just leave it at that.'”

Yet as chummy as McGann is, it’s doubtful if he’d ever fully open up – at least in interview. Dubbing himself “a miserable bastard at the best of times”, laying bare his soul is unlikely to make him happy. Of his brothers, he says, “We get on OK. We get on fine.” The last time he worked with them was in 1995’s Irish famine saga The Hanging Gale, which the quartet conceived themselves. “The biggest obstacle is getting us all together,” he grunts, when asked if he’d consider working with them again. He’s better on his sons: 17-year-old Joseph is musically gifted, “one of those swines that can play any instrument”, while 15-year-old Jake “has been making funny noises” about following his father into acting.

Such reticence can be easily traced back to the mid-1990s, when McGann had his one uncomfortable brush with the limelight. Caught in the street kissing Catherine Zeta-Jones, his co-star from period piece Catherine the Great, by a photographer, it caused a minor scandal and the press descended upon him and his family. While Joseph and Jake “were really spooked by it” – to the point that they now hate having their photograph taken – McGann admits the gossip “rattled” his relationship with his wife Annie, a former assistant stage manager turned interior designer. “I felt like a kid who was being bullied,” reflects McGann.

Since Gypo, McGann has done what he’s always done, and worked steadily. He recently completed the lead in Poppies, a film about a playwright who becomes obsessed with the fact his grandfather and two great uncles were killed in the Battle of the Somme that will receive its premiere in November at the Imperial War Museum. And he is currently filming a short produced by Zoë Ball entitled Always Crashing In The Same Car, reuniting with Grant for the first time since Withnail and I. “It’s good when we’re together,” says McGann. “We’re still mates. Our kids know each other. Very occasionally we’re together in the same place – and then it’s difficult to pay for a drink. I like that.”