I was really lucky to get the small but perfectly formed role of the hotel desk clerk in Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's last film.
Working with Stanley was a thrilling and surprising experience. Everyone talked about him being this scary, dictatorial sort of person, but I just found him to be one of the most warm, funny, interesting and interested people I had ever met. I felt so comfortable with him and I think that shows in the film. I really let loose with this character and he just encouraged me to go, and to try out new stuff. It was really great to pay so much attention to the nuances of a scene which, on an ordinary film, would have been shot in a day or less. (We took a week to do this scene!)
Tom Cruise was also lovely, so the whole thing is a very special memory for me. Especially because I went into it thinking it was going to be the opposite. And also now that Stanley has gone, I feel so honoured to have worked with someone who has revolutionized the art of film.
Here I am talking about my first meeting with Stanley....
And here is the scene....
and then me talking on BBC's Film 99 about being on the set...
Spice World, the paean to Sporty, Posh, Baby, Scary and Ginger was shot in and around London, and directed by Bob Spiers. I was part of a star-studded cast which included Richard E Grant, Roger Moore, Elton John, Barry Humphries, Jason Flemyng amongst others.
I played Piers Cuthbertson-Smythe, a documentary filmmaker trying to find the kernel of the nut that was the Spice Girls. I had the best fun. I got to be in London for a whole summer, and go to work every day with these really great girls who just happened to be the most famous people in the world at that time. It was hilarious and bizarre and I loved it. And best of all I made a friend of Geri, who is just a darling girl. And I learned all the Spice Girls' dances from the Spice Girls themselves.
I really like this film. It doesn't take itself too seriously and is actually very witty.
And then here's a bit of a behind the scenes film...
Jake Scott directed the highwayman romp, Plunkett and Macleane, in which I played Lord Rochester, a bisexual dandy based on a real person from the 18th century. Robert Carlyle (who was a year below mw at the RSAMD) and Jonny Lee Miller played the two highwaymen, and the other cast members included Liv Tyler, Michael Gambon and Ken Stott.
We shot this in Prague in the winter, and I remember being so cold that I cried and smudged my make-up!! I also remember having to wear old lady headscarves to protect my wig from the rain which I did not like at all. Rochester was one of those parts where I just had fun, and no excess was too much it seemed.
It's one of those films that didn't do terribly well when it camew out but which has a really devoted following. I think Jake Scott did a great job and had a really interesting and exciting take on what is, let's fact it, a pretty tried and tested story. So bravo to him!
I hosted the Raspberry Ripple awards which set out to praise positive portrayals of disabled people in the media, and to highlight the statistic that 1 in 8 people are in some way disabled.
I went to Budapest, Hungary immediatley after wrapping Buddy to shoot For My Baby. This was a really intense experience in every way. I played Daniel Ogelbrand, an Austrian-Jewish stand-up comedian whose parents are Holocaust survivors and whose sister was killed in the a concentration camp during the war. Juliet Aubrey played my girlfiend from America who I get pregnant and who we begin to discover has a horrible family connection to my sister. Oh yes, I forgot the bit about me dressing up in women's clothing each week and pretending to be my sister when I go to visit my mother who is confined to a hospital bed.
The film was directed by Rudolf Van Den Berg, who I'd previously almost worked with on a film based on the Orestia which I was going to do with Fiona Shaw in Tunisia, but at the last minute the money fell out and it never happened. Rudolf was as intense as the script, but I really enjoyed the experience of going to dark and unchartered waters with him.
The film was released in Europe, but in America its title was changed to Goodnight Vienna for its video release. It was shot in Budapest, Hungary. Lots of really weird things happened to me personally during shooting which I suppose only added to the air of hysteria and anxiety that Daniel has in the story. Also I was staying in a hotel in Budapest which had been Nazi HQ during the war, so that was strange too.
Caroline Thompson, who I had previously worked with on Black Beauty, wrote and directed Buddy - a film about a New York socialite in the 1920s whose menagerie of animals expanded to include a baby gorilla, Buddy.
Rene Russo was the leading lady and I played her assistant, Dick Kroener. I just loved making this film. My character looked after the chimps in the story, and so I spent every day for a few months cuddling chimps. I was like their nanny for the summer. It was such an amazing thing to do. By the time the film finished they were grooming me and playing with me in ways that they only do with other chimps. I was very honoured. One chimp in particular called Tonka became really attached to me. I loved him. It was horrible when I had to go, trying to explain to him that I wouldn't see him for a long time. But I have two pictures that he painted in my possesion.
I later saw him in the Babe sequel playing a girl. Showbiz, baby.
In a gap from shooting Romy and Michele's High School Reunion in Los Angeles, I went with my then girlfriend, Saffron Burrows, to Palm Springs to shoot a report for the BBC Travel Show.
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion was the first film I made in the US, inded the first time I'd ever worked in any capacity in the US. It was also the first time I had ever played an American character on film. I still can't understand why they cast me!!
It's actually amazing to me how this film struck a chord with people all over the world, but especially in America. For me, it was a total revelation, because I had never been to a prom or a reunion ever in my life. We don't have them in Scotland. The film climaxes in a dance between me and Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino (for which we were nominated for a MTV movie award, thank you very much), which has also become really iconic.
I was seriously busking it in terms of my understanding of the jokes and references in the script. Luckily my character, Sandy Frink, was similarly challenged. He is the geeky boy at high school with Romy and Michele who returns in Michele's dreams, and finally really appears at the high school reunion in a helicopter, having become very rich after discovering a new form of rubber. As you do.
I can't tell you how naive I was. At the read-through an actor pronouced 'Tucson' (where the film is set) correctly and I snorted, thinking that they had made a sort of joke because I really thought it was pronounced 'Tuck-son'. Then the next person said it and I realised I was the one who had it wrong!!
Here are two clips...first of all my favourite scene, the one which flashes forward and Lisa and I are old people. I just love my turkey neck.
And secondly the famous dance scene (performed to the music of Ms Cyndi Lauper, who I would work with many years later).
Burn Your Phone was originally a radio play, written by Andrew wallace, which I did for the BBC. I thought it would make a really gripping film, and as I was looking for something else to direct after Butter, I asked my friend and producer Dixie Linder to help me get it made. And so, in a relatively short time we were shooting it for BBC 2's Screen Two strand at Elstree Studios. It only took two days to shoot, because basically it's just me on the phone to lots of unseen people, but it was quite an intricate process getting the actors in an adjoining studio piped through to the earpiece in my ear and acting with them as well as concentrating on how to make the thing visually interesting when it was just my face for half an hour.
I think this was the first time that I realised that I liked directing myself because it really freed up my acting. As a director you have so many things to think about on a set that when it came down to the actual acting I felt really relaxed and free and I think my performance is better as a result. Also, as a director I am way, way more prepared than I ever am as an actor so I think that amount of preparation and thought for the other aspects of the film helps my acting too.
Burn Your Phone is about Andy, a telephone operator, who, during a normal day of answering calls begins to hear from someone who knows things that only Andy himself could know and eventually begins to threaten Andy's life.
The film was broadcast on New year's Eve 1996, and on that night as I was boarding a flight back to London from Prague (I had been filming For My Baby in Budapest) I walked on the plane to see about a hundred pictures of my face staring back at me from the TV listings on the back page of the complimentary newspapers that the passengers had all been given. It was rather alarming until I realised what was going on.
The BBC asked me to go to Hong Kong with a bunch of travel agents and report back for their Travel Show.