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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
Kander and Ebb's musical based on Christopher Isherwood's books, Goodbye to Berlin and Mr. Norris Changes Trains, was revived at the Donmar Warehouse in London, opening in December 1993.
Sam Mendes directed me as The Emcee, and Jane Horrocks as Sally Bowles. The production set the action in the actual cabaret club - the audience in the downstairs of the theatre were seated at tables and could have drinks during the action. Also, the true seediness and decadence of the time was evoked by the cast of actors and musicians.
We did a lot of research on getting the feel of life in those clubs in Berlin in the late 20s/early 30s. I only wanted to do the part if it was going to be an authentic look at what it was really like to be alive then, to be a part of a decadent world that ultimately disappeared. I wanted to be dirty and to be shocking, and to look like a drug addict, and to scare people and enchant them at the same time. It was a very scary thing for me, as I had never done any other big musicals before, and here I was doing one in the West End with the audience right up against me. It was also kind of foolhardy because I was so exhausted by Hamlet, and I rehearsed Cabaret during the day while performing Hamlet at night. But I am so glad I did it for so many reasons. It felt great to do something so different and very liberating to be so exposed - literally!
I was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical at the 1994 Olivier Awards, and the show was taped and broadcast on ITV.
I appeared in two episodes of this BBC2 comedy show in which famous dead people went on trial to see who would become immortal! Yes, reallt.
I played Mozart (who won) and Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts (who didn't).
In this spoof of the real dating show, Blind Date, I played one of the contestants who loses to Mr. Bean, played by Rowan Atkinson. The spoof was shown as a part of BBC's Comic Relief night.
I got to meet Cilla Black, and she gave me a row for saying my Blind Date contestant lines in the wrong order. I also discovered she had a penchant for champagne. It was very enlightening.