Ian McShane: ‘When I was about to get it on with Richard Burton, he said I reminded him of Elizabeth’

Ian McShane: ‘When I was about to get it on with Richard Burton, he said I reminded him of Elizabeth’

Which of the so-called serious actors – Richard Burton, John Hurt, Oliver Reed etc – that you worked with were the funniest? Kellysahero1970
Oli. We did Sitting Target together. I knew him before that and we had a good time together. The trouble was he became inclined to be a bit of a bully when he drank, but he was charming most of the time. Richard was terrific. I think he was very underrated when we did Villain and I played his bisexual driver fixer, Wolfie. There’s the infamous scene where we’re about to get it on and he looked at me and said: “I’m very glad you’re playing this part.” I said: “Really, Richard?” He said: “Yes, because you remind me of Elizabeth.” I said: “Well, that’s nice.” Most modern actors take themselves too seriously. Keanu [Reeves, McShane’s John Wick co-star] is one of the most wonderful human beings I’ve ever met. Keanu is by no stretch of the imagination a ball of fun, but he’s seriously sensitive and great to work with.

Whose idea was it that you should not blink when you played crime boss Teddy Bass in Sexy Beast? soonheisatune
That’s an old actor’s technique. It wasn’t just Teddy Bass. For any character: don’t blink until you see the whites of the other person’s eyes. It’s like walking downstairs as an actor. You don’t look down, else it looks like you’re looking for your marks. There’s all sorts of tricks and techniques you accumulate over 60 years as an actor.

McShane as Al Swearengen in Deadwood.View image in fullscreen

In Deadwood you played the part of Al Swearengen who was renowned for his profane language. Have you adopted any of his swearing as your own? VerulamiumParkRanger
No. In fact, I promised my wife I’d give up swearing for Lent this year after we watched some of the Baftas together. It’s funny that I became king of the swear. When we did Deadwood, people would come up to me and say: “Will you please tell me to fuck off?” I’d say: “No. Why on earth would I say that to you?” People are very strange. Why was I swearing watching the Baftas? You don’t think actors watching other actors win awards swear? I watch it for the forced grins on the people who don’t win. I find award shows very amusing anyway, everybody giving each other a pat on the back. I mean, I’ve been part of them, but they are funny things to watch because of the forced “Oh gosh, I’m so glad he won”, while seething inside with resentment and fury.

Is the story true that Trevor Horn, the producer of Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm on which you feature, saw you in a chip shop and said: “I need a voice, and Orson Welles is dead.” casimir123
That’s absolutely true. I’ve known Trevor for ever. I was having fish and chips back in 1985 with my wife in Notting Hill Gate. He was at another table and said: “Ian, how are you? What are you doing after dinner? Do you want to come over and do something?” So we went back in the studio, smoked a large spliff, and did the opening of Slave to the Rhythm.

You once posed naked with only your dog covering your dignity. Was this a one off or do you make a habit of it? TooMuchSpareTime

That was for the first ever [male nude] cover for Cosmopolitan. I think Burt Reynolds did the original American Cosmopolitan, then I did the first British one. We both had beards at the time. Thank God it was my dog Moriarty, the famous dachshund, covering my masculinity, substituted for a striped towel. Nowadays you’d probably rip the dog off and show it for all it’s worth.

You were able to reprise your role in Deadwood: The Movie. Given the chance, which of your other past roles would you most like to play again and why? LeCorbeau
People have forever been talking about Lovejoy. I said: “Give me a million dollars and I’ll tell you how to do Lovejoy again. I’ll give you four words, you give me a million and I’ll make it a success.” Do you know what the four words are? I’ll give you them for free. “Make it a woman.” In the series, I had a daughter. So the idea would be to bring back his daughter and have some attractive, very good actor in her 40s play the part. That would be the way to do it.

McShane as Lovejoy.View image in fullscreen

Did you get to keep Lovejoy’s leather jacket? Bertolduso
Spitting Image did a puppet of Lovejoy and, 25 years ago, when they all got sold, they gave me my puppet. I used to have it in a canvas chair in LA with full-size leather jacket propped on top, like a work of art. Over the years, the puppet crumbled beneath it rather like a modern version of Dorian Gray. So I finally had to get rid of the melting rubber and the leather jacket.

I’m also an Ian – never liked it. Were you ever tempted to adopt a sexier name? wellywearer2
Why does he think Ian’s not a sexy name? My mum was very diversified in language. You know, McShane is Irish, even though my dad’s from Scotland. My middle name’s David, which is Welsh. First name Ian, that’s Scottish. I was born in England, so I think she had the whole of the British Isles covered. It’s only the Americans that have problems with it. When we got married on the Queen Mary, I said to my wife: “You realise I’ve got grounds for divorce because this minister keeps calling me ‘I-arn’. ‘Do you, I-arn …’ I said: ‘No, it’s Ian.’ ‘I-arn?’ ‘No, Ian!’

Who made you the best cup of tea on any of the sets you were on? dorsalfin
You know something? You have to teach people. Even in America now, I say: “I’d like a cup of builder’s tea, so put a couple of bags in hot water, let it sit there for about 10 minutes, put in one white sugar, stir it around, add some full-fat milk, and that’s a cup of tea.” Most people I have to show how to do it because most people don’t know how to drink tea.

I’m well acquainted with your one and only album, 1992’s From Both Sides Now. Every now and then I hear a song on the radio and think: “Ian McShane should sing that!” Have you ever thought about making a follow-up? Punkawallah
That album was done because Lovejoy was at its height and my wife was going through breast cancer back in 1992. I said: “Yeah, I’d love to make a record dedicated to my wife.” They weren’t exactly the tunes I would have picked. But I still have my platinum record somewhere on the wall.

Given the choice, would you have preferred a career as a footballer for Manchester United than as an actor? Prestonian79
Oh, I think an actor. As a footballer, my career would have finished before I’d even read Lovejoy. I spent a magical 1965 when I did a series in Manchester and spent the summer with George Best and Mike Summerbee. That’s when Manchester United and the Manchester City players talked to each other. But George’s career was over by 1972. I’m a couple of years older, so I figure my football career would’ve been over by 1970. I’ve managed to add on a few more years as an actor and get better as one, which you’re supposed to if you’re any good. Whereas for a footballer, your career declines as your physical gifts decline. So I think I made the right choice.

Source: theguardian.com