John Hurt Talks Harry Potter, Quentin Crisp and Alien - The RT Interview

The legendary thesp on the state of British film.

RT Interview: John Hurt on An Englishman in New York

John Hurt has been one of Britain's finest acting talents since his career began in the 60s, but it's his roles in films like Alien, Midnight Express and The Elephant Man -- to name a few -- which put him on the international map and for which he's best remembered. Twice Oscar nominated (for the latter two performances) and the winner of two BAFTA film awards, Hurt has recently been finding a younger audiences for his roles in franchise movies like Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Hellboy.

At the Dinard Festival of British Film last month to screen An Englishman in New York, a biopic of gay writer Quentin Crisp's time in the Big Apple, Hurt sat down with RT for an extended chat about the film and his wider career, including his upcoming turn in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

An Englishman in New York
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You were at the very first Dinard Film Festival, how does it feel to be back after 20 years?

John Hurt: It's really much the same, it really looks the same. It was perhaps a little more naive and less sure of itself then, but it's got the same feeling. Some things are beautifully organised and some things aren't. It's all a bit chaotic and it's good fun. It is a festival, in a quite muted sort of a way. I think a bit of business gets done here, which is good. It would be good if we had a few more films but we have up years and down years in British cinema!

An Englishman in New York was made for television; it must be nice to have it shown on the big screen.

JH: It was made for television with very much an eye on to it being shown in the cinema. It has to be shown on television first because ITV backed it, so they have to show it, and then after that it's really up to Leopardrama what they want to do with it, and that's anybody's guess.

You play Questin Crisp in the film; do you feel an added weight of responsibility playing someone real?

JH: There is a responsibility, but it's not one that your common sense wouldn't take on board. You're bound to try and find out as much as you can about what there is in his demeanour, as it were, that is going to be helpful in terms of the drama, and also what is not particularly useful. Because it's not a documentary you're making or a mockumentary at all, it is a drama. So I saw Quentin a couple of times before I did The Naked Civil Servant [in which Hurt also played Crisp], and we had a great time. He came up to my house in Hampstead; I heard that he liked Guinness, so I asked him if he wanted one and he said, "Yessss." I gave him a Guinness, which he finished, so I asked, "Would you like another?" He said, "Yessss." So he finished that one, and I asked, "Would you like another Guinness, Quentin?" And he said, "Noooo. Any more would be a debauch." [Laughs]

The Naked Civil Servant
Hurt as Quentin Crisp in 1975's The Naked Civil Servant. Left, as he appears in this year's An Englishman in New York.
It's quite a transformation you go through to recreate his look, does this help get into his character?

JH: Oh yes, of course. That's a huge dramatic help to anybody. His walk, his movement, his manner, his acceptance, yes all that's helpful.

The Naked Civil Servant came before the success you saw with films like Alien and The Elephant Man -- does your profile now, particularly given your recent work in Hollywood, help provide a platform for a smaller project like this one?

JH: I never know whether that's the reason. I mean, I hadn't worked in Hollywood at all when I did The Naked Civil Servant; I had done, of course, when I came back to the role 30 years later. But, quite honestly I think it was the connection to Quentin that was the most important thing; I don't think it was the connection to Hollywood at all.

You're returning to Harry Potter for the final films having appeared in the very first one, how has it been to come back?

JH: I've filmed one, which actually is the last one, and now I've got the penultimate one to do which is in November, and that wraps it all up. It's a big loss for Britain in terms of having a big studio movie here, but it's not representative of our culture in terms of the films that we make. I am convinced that though Pinewood and Shepperton -- the big studios -- playing host to big movies is very important, our film business is in the independent world. Of that I'm convinced.

I only wish that our government would take a bit more notice, because that's where we need the help. We need the help because we need to get it going on a basis that has a bit more continuity for everyone concerned, from technicians to directors to performers and so on. And, indeed, to audiences, because you can't have an audience engage with culture if it's not educated in it. It's important that we educate people.

The Naked Civil Servant
As Ollivander, his character in the Harry Potter films.
Do you think the big franchise movies shooting in the UK give a false impression of the health of our industry? All these productions move in and hire local talent, but they aren't British films.

JH: No, they're not British films. Even Harry Potter isn't a British [franchise]. We gave it to Warners, we just sit and collect. That always infuriates me. I do think huge areas of the industry are being neglected and we've lost the ability for middle-budget films. When we did have a stronger industry -- and not just a business -- we did have room for middle-budget films. They've gone out of the window, as they've done in America as well, but a $20m picture would be wonderful to make every now and then. We could do a lot for that.

But it's like any country, if you don't have a lot of money to spend. And it's interesting seeing how much money gets spent on Harry Potter. It's quite absurd, really. I watch it and think it's just the same as Hollywood. I look around and you've got three costumes there, none of which are likely to be worn, and they're all replicas of each other. It's a vacuous waste of money and it drives me insane.

What's the answer, do you think?

JH: Well the answer is, really, that you have to learn to cut your cloth accordingly. But it seems to be a human weakness. Once you start making a lot of money, you just join in with everyone else. It's like the banks, and we've seen what happens there.

Continue on to page two as Hurt talks about his time in Indiana Jones, shares memories of shooting Alien and dispels rumours about his appearance in Tron.

Comments

John A.

John Arminio

I've never seen this man give a bad performance in anything, perhaps it has occurred at some point, but I've never witnessed it. He just seems to fit perfectly into whatever role he plays.

Nov 4 - 09:23 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

He was awesome in V for Vendetta. So deliciously evil.

Nov 4 - 11:38 AM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

"so deliciously evil"....ye...kind of gay don't u think.
anywys looks good. harry potter 7 is gonna break box office records like hell..im betting right now that if david yates tries as hard as he can on this film, it should get a 94% or more or less. but more then 90%. and the box office will be 1 million or more im sure of it to.

Nov 4 - 12:59 PM

Warheart1188

Tim Higginbotham

"Box office will be 1 million or more"

Are you serious? ONLY 1 million? Even the ****tiest movie will make more than a million. That's such a small number. Harry Potter films are used to making upwards of $700 million worldwide at the box office.I don't know why you'd think it'd make only a million. Don't you know how much movies make? It costs around $170-200 million to make a Harry Potter film. Making only a million back would destroy the franchise.

Nov 5 - 07:12 AM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

whoops sorry i actually meant i billion. not one million. my bad.

Dec 22 - 07:39 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

THE ELEPHANT MAN
"Adagio For Strings" by Samuel Barber
(Anthony Hopkins, JOHN HURT, Anne Bancroft)
--very emotional; heart-rending

and ALIEN
JOHN HURT "KANE" CHEST BURSTER . . . the convincing gesticulating SPASMS

a lot of standing around: I'll bet; "don't envy An Actor."

My cousin's modeling shoot = 16 HOURS!!!!!! for an ad in LIFE magazine

Nov 4 - 12:19 PM

Gordon Franklin Terry Sr

Gordon Terry

THE ELEPHANT MAN
"Adagio For Strings"
Dir: ALAN PARKER
(Anthony Hopkins, JOHN HURT, Anne Bancroft)
Heartrending, Emotional
--
ALIEN
"KANE" CHEST-BURSTER very convincing spasmodic gesticulating

standing around a lot, I'll bet

My cousin's modeling shoot = 16 HOURS!!!!!! for LIFE magazine

Nov 4 - 12:52 PM

frankdozier

William Luc-Ferris

I bet he only had to show up for a few minutes to reprise his Alien role in Spaceballs. "Get this guy some Pepto-Bismol!"

Nov 4 - 06:28 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

"so deliciously evil"....ye...kind of gay don't u think.
anywys looks good. harry potter 7 is gonna break box office records like hell..im betting right now that if david yates tries as hard as he can on this film, it should get a 94% or more or less. but more then 90%. and the box office will be 1 million or more im sure of it to.

Nov 4 - 12:59 PM

Warheart1188

Tim Higginbotham

"Box office will be 1 million or more"

Are you serious? ONLY 1 million? Even the ****tiest movie will make more than a million. That's such a small number. Harry Potter films are used to making upwards of $700 million worldwide at the box office.I don't know why you'd think it'd make only a million. Don't you know how much movies make? It costs around $170-200 million to make a Harry Potter film. Making only a million back would destroy the franchise.

Nov 5 - 07:12 AM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

whoops sorry i actually meant i billion. not one million. my bad.

Dec 22 - 07:39 PM

dj Mark

Mark Marquis

'"so deliciously evil"....ye...kind of gay don't u think.'

Ask your avatar. If I remember correctly he said the very same of "this God fellow" after reading the Bible.

Nov 4 - 02:46 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Exactly

Nov 4 - 03:33 PM

Nick P.

Nick Porter

Fantastic interview, great to hear insightful commentary on the state of the British film industry.

Nov 4 - 03:46 PM

frankdozier

William Luc-Ferris

I bet he only had to show up for a few minutes to reprise his Alien role in Spaceballs. "Get this guy some Pepto-Bismol!"

Nov 4 - 06:28 PM

lorry y.

lorry yuan

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Nov 5 - 02:01 AM

Warheart1188

Tim Higginbotham

"Box office will be 1 million or more"

Are you serious? ONLY 1 million? Even the ****tiest movie will make more than a million. That's such a small number. Harry Potter films are used to making upwards of $700 million worldwide at the box office.I don't know why you'd think it'd make only a million. Don't you know how much movies make? It costs around $170-200 million to make a Harry Potter film. Making only a million back would destroy the franchise.

Nov 5 - 07:12 AM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

whoops sorry i actually meant i billion. not one million. my bad.

Dec 22 - 07:39 PM

lovelyrita

Rita Fratto

I think John Hurt is an amazing actor, I couldn't help hearing his voive in my head as I read the interview. I loved him in "Elephant Man" and
"V For Vendetta" but he was amazing in the "Midnight Express".

Nov 5 - 01:30 PM

Adam B.

Adam Buss

We are very proud to have John as our patron here at QUAD in Derby (www.derbyquad.co.uk)

He has visited us several times and recently did a Q&A in front of a sold out audience where it was clear that everyone in the had such affection and admiration for him.

A truly inspirational man

Nov 6 - 01:11 AM

Stephen G.

Stephen G

Must'nt forget his RIVETING performances in 'Rob-Roy' or the one simple phrase which (for me) was the ONLY thing that kept me watching 'Contact' : "Wanna take a RIDE ?"

Nov 6 - 06:10 AM

R M.

R Murray

Although not a movie, I still think Hurt's best performance may have been as Caligula in the TV series I, CLAUDIUS. It was the first time I'd seen him in anything, and he was absolutely riveting.

ELEPHANT MAN is one of my five favorite films, I think. Big reason for that is John Hurt. He was also very amusing in a tiny role in THE PROPOSITION.

Nov 11 - 02:52 PM

Alexson Philip

Alexson Philipiah

whoops sorry i actually meant i billion. not one million. my bad.

Dec 22 - 07:39 PM

John L.

John Lichter

OMG IRON MAN 2 JUST LEAKED!!!! WATCH http://watch-iron-man2.com

Feb 12 - 02:25 PM

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