1995

Have I Got News For You

This was one of the first of these sort of celeby game shows I had ever done and I remember being very nervous. Also these shows are always quite scary because you feel you have to spend the entire week leading up to them committing to memory every morcel of every newspaper as though you are studying for your finals at university.

I was also very excited because Dolce and Gabbana had sent me a suit to wear.

I had worked with Paul Merton at various benefits and shows when he was doing his stand up act and I was doing Victor and Barry. He is really nice and very funny

 



Talk shows/awards

I appeared on Pebble Mill to talk to Ross King about Comic Relief, gave a gong at the Scottish BAFTAs, gave the Costume Design award at the BAFTAs, and popped into Scottish Television to talk about Goldeneye.

Here also are two hilarious vids of Forbes Masson and I as Steve and Sebastian from The High Life, taking over This Morning.



GoldenEye

GoldenEye, directed by Martin Campbell, was the first James Bond film in which Pierce Brosnan played Bond. I  played Boris Grishenko, a Russian computer programmer who is embroiled in a devilish plot to take over the world.

Like a lot of these kind of action films the plot was quite confusing, even when we were shooting. So don't expect me to explain it now. But I do remember Boris' catchphrase - I am invincible! - because strangers still come up and say it to me all the time.

Goldeneye was my first action film, and there were a couple of scenes where I felt in real danger. When we shot the scenes where the underground bunker starts to explode, it was really scary. There was a wall of flames shooting above our heads and I had to leap over the consul as an explosion happened behind me. Then when I was frozen alive at the very end I nearly lost my hair! I had to stand very still while they dropped a whole load of dry ice on top of me, and I was tied to a pole by a big rubber thing under my costume so that I wouldn't move. However, there were some lumps of hard dry ice and they stuck to my scalp and wouldn't come off and started to burn. I started to move off the set to get help but I bounced backwards because of the rubber! And the next thing I saw was a fireman running towards me and he hosed the dry ice off my head. I was okay apart from a few red patches, but it was a near thing.

The film had a royal premiere in London to which I took his mum. It was so surreal. At one point at the party I looked over and my mum was standing chatting to Judi Dench and Tina Turner!!

 



Bathtime

Russell Michaels wrote and directed the short film, Bath Time, about a man named Wrigley, who is in love with his goldfish Diana.

I played Wrigley, and Julie Walters played my lascivious neighbor.

This is a beautiful film. The premise sounds so weird, but you really feel for the characters, even Diana! It also looked really beautiful. Julie Walters is one of my favourite actresses in the world, so I was really delighted to get the chance to work with her. I remember badgering her to do Mrs. Overall (one of her characters from the Victoria Wood show), and also I remember feeling very prune-like because of being in the bath so long.

I also remember accidentally killing one of the goldfish who played Diana. I had to run along a corridor naked (yes, really, take a look..) holding a flapping  goldfish, and when I turned a corner throw it into a bucket of water. In my haste to ensure the little fishy got back to its natural habitat in record time I flung it rather forcefully. There was a horrible thud and it started to swim rather strangely. I was devastated and I remember standing there naked with various crew people trying to convince me that it would be okay. I am sure that afterwards there was one less Diana double in the bucket.



Emma

Emma is based on the novel by Jane Austen, and was adapted and directed by Doug McGrath, who I went on to work with again in Company Man. We shot it on locations in Dorset and Devon, England. 

I play the Reverend Elton, who we discover is in love with Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow), even though she is trying to match him with Harriet (Toni Colette). The film also starred Jeremy Northam, Ewan McGregor, Polly Walker, Greta Scaachi and Juliet Stevenson.

Sometimes a film is memorable to me for the friends I made on it, and that is certainly true of this one. Doug is one of the nicest people in the whole world, and I can't wait to work with him again. The worst thing about this film was my hair. Every time I start a new film and I sit down in the chair to talk with the makeup and hair people about how I am going to look, I always joke about and say stuff like I think I should go blonde and permed. Well this time when I said it they didn't laugh, as they had already discussed lightening my hair and curling it! It looked okay for the character, but when I wasn't working it was a nightmare because the curls went really tight when I had a shower and I had to walk around looking like my granny for three months. I couldn't wait to get it buzzed off.

Gwyneth and I laughed so much during the scene in the carriage when I whisper in her ear. Doug said there was only one take that was completely giggle free.  It was just so surreal, having grown men standing outside throwing handfuls of fake snow and bumping the carriage up and down, and her not knowing how near I was because her head was turned away from me and getting a fright each time she felt my breath on her neck. It was also nearly the last day of the shoot and we were all a bit tired and hysterical.


1994

The High Life

The BBC commissioned me and Forbes Masson to write a half-hour comedy pilot which became The High Life, and we shot it at the beginning of 1993, and was broadcast with a number of other pilots as part of Comic Asides in 1994.

Then a  full six-part series was commissioned, and we wrote that in various cottages and houses in Perthshire, Crewe and the Midi Pyrenees to name but a few in 1993/94 , shot in the autumn of 1994 and they were broadcast in early 1995.

The series followed the antics of Sebastian Flight (named after the character in Brideshead Revisited, but spelled differently of course), played by me and Steve McCraken, played by Forbes. The chief purser, Shona Spurtle ('Hitler in tights, Mussolini in micromesh, Pol Pot in pantyhose'), was played by the amazing Siobhan Redmond, and their pilot, Captain Duff was played by Patrick Ryecart. They all worked for a tatty Scottish airline called Air Scotia, and were all a bit mad. The series location sequences were shot at Prestwick Airport, and in and around Glasgow, Scotland. Production then moved back to London and studio sequences were shot in front of a live audience.

This was really fun to shoot because we were getting away with so many dirty things. It was quite wicked because a lot of the Scottish-ness in the script hid the fact that we were saying things that people hadn’t said on national TV before. The writing was really difficult because we were trying to do something different, something almost surreal and the people at the BBC were a little frightened, a little nervous. They kept trying to hem us in, but we knew the success of the show would be its wildness and abandon. And I think we were right.

The High Life was the swansong for Forbes and I working together, and whenever I go back to Britain I am always amazed and happy that it has a place in so many people's hearts and I think it is a great thing that we created something together that has had such a lasting effect.

Someone has very kindly put the entire series up on youtube, but here is my favoutie bit out of all the episodes. I think  Ann Scott Jones who play Gretchen Betjamin is brilliant. I sort of still can't believe we got away with being so bonkers.

And also the opening titles dance, which is something of a classic, even if I do say so myself.



Circle of Friends

Pat O'Connor directed this film version of Maeve Binchy's novel, Circle of Friends, set in rural Ireland in the 1950s.

I played Sean Walsh, the slimy suitor of Minnie Driver's Benny, who worked in her father's clothing shop. The film also starred Chris O'Donnell, Colin Firth, Saffron Burrows and Geraldine O'Rawe. It was shot in Kilkenny and Dublin.

I really enjoyed this film. Pat is great, and it was a really lovely cast. I was going through a rough time personally so it was great for me to be away in the countryside, working hard and having fun with new friends on location. And Sean Walsh was just so slimy and awful - I loved playing him. People still come up to me in the street and start talking about the double entry system!!

I made my first foray into Hollywod with this film. I went to LA for the press junkets and the premiere, and shortly after that I started being offered work in the US. So Circle of Friends was another of those life-changing jobs



Black Beauty

During the filming of Circle of Friends, I returned to London and recorded the voice of Black Beauty in the film of the same name. Yes, I am beauty.

The great thing about doing this movie was meeting the writer/director Caroline Thompson, who has become a really great friend of mine and many of my friends. Infact it turns out she is one of my best friend's cousins!!

It was quite an odd thing to do, to narrate a whole film as a horse, but I just thought of it in the same way as I do about every part: pretend to be someone else (or some species else) and mean it.

 I went on to work with Caroline in  1996 in her film, Buddy, and I hope to continue to work with her till we are both old and grey. Oh wait, we already are.

It was Black Beauty that first took me to America, actually. I was flown over just before the film was released to do some last minute changes. I must be one of the only people who can say they came to America on the back of a horse.



Butter

Butter, is a short film that I wrote and directed. It was my directorial debut and I was really lucky to have a great friend, Dixie Linder, to produce it and a bunch of really great actor friends to be in it and help me bring it to fruition.

Originally I wrote Butter as a short one woman piece that was performed as part of a trio of plays called Listen, I'm Talking at the RSC Fringe Festival in Newcastle in 1990.

I am really fascinated by food issues, I have had them myself, and I think there is a huge problem in the way people can seek their own happiness, desirability and self-worth through or via food.  I had listened to many people's stories and anecdotes and finally I put pen to paper and Butter was the result. Also, like Jane in the film,  I equate comfort with mashed potatoes, so that's why they play such an important part!

Jane (who was played by my ex-wife Hilary Lyon) has an eating problem. She has bought and prepared a feast for an unseen date who calls in sick and sends her spiraling round London, visiting friends and revisiting old habits. The film also stars Jane Horrocks, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard E. Grant, Richard Wilson, Susan Wooldridge, Andy de la Tour, and me myself in a cameo as Jane's secretary. The film premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994 and played at many other film festivals before being shown on Channel 4 TV.



The Chemistry Lesson

Part of a series of BBC TV films under the collective title Ghosts, The Chemistry Lesson was written and directed by Terry Johnson.

I play a Chemistry teacher named Phillip Goodall who is in love with his co-worker Mandy, played by Samantha Bond. But when his love for her is not requited, he devises a very unusual way to change her mind.

The film also starred British film legend Sylivia Sims, Jack Klaff (who had co-written the play It's Not The End of The World which I toured Scotland with in 1987), Louise Rea and Julia Ford (whom I had worked with in Knickers at Bristol Old Vic in 1989). I later appeared alongside Samantha Bond in the James Bond movie Goldeneye, a year later.

I had admired Terry Johnson's work in his plays Insignificance and Hysteria, so I was really delighted to get to work with him. The film was originally more about sexual obsession, so Sam and I became pretty intimate shooting some of the sex scenes - a lot of which ended up on the cutting room floor, due to the BBC censors. There's nothing worse than having a sex scene cut! You feel you went through all that stress for nothing! But even so, it was a really interesting idea, and it was great to be in something so radically different coming right out of shooting The High Life!