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

The legendary thesp on the state of British film.

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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.

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