Recently, the Welsh actor Rhys Ifans made headlines by walking out of an excruciating interview with the Times. Every actor who has ever spoken to the press had a secret frisson of empathy for Ifans. Every journalist who has had to talk to a showbiz personality experienced a twinge of sympathy for the unfortunate woman who copped a generous portion of abuse from Ifans.
An interview given to promote a movie or TV show can be a grisly business for all concerned. My personal record is 82 television interviews in one day. You try keeping the jokes alive even after ten. Your brain has turned to mush by lunchtime.
The most dispiriting thing at a press junket is the ‘round table’; here you are placed at a table of ten or so journalists, and are expected chirpily to respond to the same old questions as if you have never heard them before — ‘Tell us about working with so-and-so’, ‘Tell us about your character in this movie’. It is difficult not to scream sometimes. Or tell an enormous lie, just to see if anyone’s still awake: ‘Dickie Attenborough is an absolute bastard and is never less than roaring pissed’ — something like that.
Mind you, you can get a tad compassionate when you look around the vacant faces at the table, knowing you are perhaps the 15th thespian they have had to hear droning on about boring crap that day. They wear the same look of resigned despair I remember seeing on my classmates’ faces in fourth-form Latin. Nowadays I take a bag of sweets to the table and award one to anyone who asks something I’ve never heard before. Amazing how well this works.
The very first interview I remember giving was somewhat inauspicious. I was sent to Australia to publicise my first movie, Sleeping Dogs. Only one journalist turned up at the press conference, and he was there by mistake. Turned out he was a sports journalist and thought I was a rugby player. Since it was late in the day, we repaired to the bar, and got fairly hammered at the distributor’s expense. Nothing was written.
I am working in Australia now as it happens, so I probably will be unable to attend junkets for a couple of things I have coming out soon — A Long Way Down for the big screen and The Peaky Blinders for BBC2. Quel dommage. However, doing what I can to help, I thought I could interview myself, there being no one on hand from Speccie Life to do the job. Let us hope it goes better than Rhys’s Times jobbie.
Interviewer: So, er… [checks name on paper]… Sam, tell me about this new show Peaky Blunders.
Sam Neill: Blinders, mate, Blinders. Well, it’s Birmingham 1919, gang violence is rampant, and one gang in particular is in the ascendant — the Peaky Blinders. Cillian Murphy plays the boss and Helen -McCrory the matriarch. My character is a tough Ulster cop with a mission from Churchill, and possibly from God as well, to clean up the place. It’s epic. And very cool.
Interviewer: Nice suite, by the way. Mind if I raid your mini-bar? I loved you in The Matrix, I have to say.
Sam Neill: That was Hugo Weaving.
Interviewer: You’re kidding? No way. The elf? Never mind — Peaky Blinders. I thought you were brilliant in this. You always are. And what a fascinating role.
Sam Neill: Thanks very much. Yes, I was pretty pleased with how it went. It’s much easier if you have great direction and fab actors to work with.
Interviewer: I thought you knocked it out of the park. Your performance has Bafta written all over it. Any chance of a free case of your wine, by the way?
Sam Neill: Well, um, that probably wouldn’t be altogether ethical, would it? I mean, integrity of the British press and all that.
Interviewer: Oy, what’s up you? Mate, I just made that up. Got it off the press release. To be honest I’ve never heard of you.
Sam Neill: Are you telling me you haven’t actually bothered to see the show?
Interviewer: Nah, couldn’t be arsed. It’s your job to talk up the show, not mine. And frankly I’m pissed off they didn’t give me someone interesting to talk to. Like Stephen Fry. But listen, are you on antibiotics? I only ask because you seem to be slurring. And you’ve gone a funny red colour.
Sam Neill: …[walks out swearing]
Never talking to him again. Oh, and before I forget — A Long Way Down was a lot of fun. Some of my favourite people are in
it, like Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad) and Imogen Poots. And is she fab! Take it from me, you are going to see a lot more of her. I bet she gives a good interview too.
Sam Neill is both an actor and vigneron at Two Paddocks Vineyards.