Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with Timothy Spall

The charismatic British character actor talks about his favorite movies, terrifying small children and working with Clint Eastwood.

by | August 3, 2012 | Comments

One of the busiest and most recognizable British character actors in movies, Timothy Spall cuts a unique figure of comedy and menace that’s seen him play everything from Winston Churchill in The King’s Speech to the nefarious Wormtail in the Harry Potter series. Along the way, Spall has worked for the likes of Clint Eastwood, Tim Burton, Ken Russell and Bernardo Bertolucci, while his collaboration with longtime friend Mike Leigh yielded an acclaimed lead performance in the director’s Secrets & Lies. This week, Spall makes an appearance alongside Donald Sutherland and Christian Slater in the action thriller Assassin’s Bullet, and we had the chance to chat with the very charming actor about his career and five of his favorite movies.

A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946; 95% Tomatometer)



I’ll tell you what my favorite film is. I think it goes like this: A Matter of Life and Death, by Pressburger and Powell. Do you know that film?

I do indeed. It’s funny, one of your “peripheral” Harry Potter co-stars — Daniel Radcliffe — picked that as one of his all-time favorites.

Isn’t that interesting? It’s a great, great film. It’s marvelous.

Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964; 100% Tomatometer)



One of my favorite films of all time has got to be Mary Poppins.

Oh that’s curious. How does Mary Poppins come to be on your list? Is that a favorite from your childhood?

Well I was old enough to remember it when it came out, but I don’t think I saw it in the cinema, I think I saw it when it eventually came on television. In those days, you had to wait about six or seven years before a film got from the f–king cinemas to the television, and it being Disney, they never actually released their films. It was a very clever policy: They just re-released them every 10 years. I think it’s one of those movies. I was having a very depressing time recently working on a job. I was feeling particularly bad and I put the television on on a Sunday afternoon, and Dick Van Dyke was singing “Chim Chimney” — it just lifted my spirits. Everybody criticized his Cockney accent — and even at the time I probably joined in — and you can criticize his Cockney accent, but you cannot criticize his brilliant comic dancing. It’s f–king wonderful. Oh, it’s wonderful. And the quality of the work: The beauty of that film, the simplicity of it and the way it was made and directed; the charm. The way it appeals to people — it’s the old cliché, you know: Eight or 80. It’s a wonderful piece of work. And it’s magical. It’s one of those films, you know, that you can dip into. If you’re ever feeling low, stick it on and you’ll feel much better. If you haven’t got any illegal drugs, put that on and you’ll be alright. [Laughs]

Today’s lesson for the kids: Don’t take drugs, do watch Mary Poppins.

[Laughs] Yeah. Say “no” to drugs but “yes” to Mary Poppins.

You’ve sung on film a few times yourself, of course — in Sweeney Todd, in Gothic, in Topsy-Turvy

Oh god. [Laughs]

I especially enjoyed your duets with Alan Rickman.

Well that’s very nice of you, thank you. That’s probably one of the most repulsive characters I’ve played in my life.

But what a lovely voice.

[Laughs] Well it was a joy to manifest such a greasy, disgusting little man. But I don’t regard myself as a singer. I never ask to do it but I can sometimes just about hold a tune, as long as it’s all part of the character. I’m not about to start jumping about on the West End stage in a musical. But it’s nice to be involved in a film that’s got a bit of singing in it and manage to acquit yourself without too much embarrassment — that’s always an achievement.

Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1996, 94% Tomatometer)



I would definitely then have to say Fargo. I love the Coen brothers.

The Fugitive Kind (Sidney Lumet, 1960; 60% Tomatometer)



What’s that one… the one with Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani, from the Tennessee Williams script. It had several titles. It was called Orpheus Descending, the [original] script…

The Fugitive Kind — is that the one?

Yeah, that’s it! The Fugitive Kind. It’s f–king brilliant, I love it. Anna Magnani and Brando.

Naked / Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, 1993/1996; 88/94% Tomatometer)



One more… I think it’s gonna have to be Naked by Mike Leigh.

You don’t wanna say Secrets & Lies?

[Laughs] Well look, why don’t you say Naked/Secrets & Lies? I didn’t want to be self-congratulatory in any way. [Laughs]

You can pick your own movie.

Well not only is it a great film, it was very important for me because I was very ill just at the time it won the Palme d’Or. So the fact that I didn’t die and the film had gone around internationally and won all these awards… not only did I not die, I had a film career when I woke up. I was very pleased about that. [Laughs]

Not dying, that’s always a good result.

Yeah, I was very ill. But thankfully I got over it, and that’s why I have a very joyous, lunatic relationship with life — ’cause it can easy go, you know.

Next, we chat to Spall about Harry Potter infamy and his favorite career moment.

 

I have to ask the obligatory Harry Potter question: Do kids always recognize you as your character, Wormtail?

Timothy Spall: Well I more often than not get sort of slightly frightened-looking children looking at me and wondering if I might be that person in restaurants. And occasionally I get six- or seven-year-olds coming up with a piece of paper [to be signed] with looks of horror on their face, being pushed towards me by their older brothers or sisters. [Laughs]

[Laughs] So you inspire a kind of low-level fear in children?

Well yeah. [Laughs] I take that as a compliment, any recognition. I’m not stupid enough to think that, being that young, they’ve seen my work with the Royal Shakespeare Company from the 1970s — [laughs] — so I make the assumption that it must be for Harry Potter, or Enchanted as well.

Now that’s a good film, Enchanted.

Isn’t that a good film? I’m glad you said that. I think it’s a good film, very much in the vein of a Mary Poppins-type thing. I’m really pleased with that film. Again, it’s one of those ones — and without going on about ones I’ve been involved in — it’s one of those films that you know will be around for a long time and people will like it.

I liked that Disney had a bit of fun with their legacy on it.

Yeah, yeah. It does poke fun at itself, which is good. I was very pleased to do that.

Looking over the list of some of the directors you’ve worked with — there’s Mike Leigh, Tim Burton, Kenneth Branagh, Cameron Crowe, Bertolucci, Clint Eastwood, Ken Russell—

[Laughs] That is pretty impressive, isn’t it?

Now that I’ve it read to you, huh?

[Laughs]

Is there a particular experience that will always stand out for you?

Yeah. I mean, the thing is, I cherish the experience with these chaps and the people that I work with. But you know, given that I’d say Clint Eastwood. About 20 years ago when I did my little part in White Hunter Black Heart, I remember walking on to set and thinking “Oh my god, I’m just about to be directed by Clint Eastwood.” Because I didn’t meet him in the interview — I did the interview on tape in London, and they sent the tapes over and he cast me from the tapes. So we’re doing this scene and it was the opening and he said “Hi Tim, it’s great to see you. I’m gonna give you a shot…” — and I can’t remember the film director’s name — but he said “…it’s like Charles Laughton in the film The Beachcomber.” And I realized that not only am I working with one of the icons of Hollywood, but two things: He was being very charming and helpful and complimentary, and he knows films back to front. To know some obscure Charles Laughton film from the 1930s was very impressive. So — and I must have been in my early thirties then — I was thinking, “This is all right.”

You chose the right job.

Yeah. Or he picked me, in this case, which was very nice. My career, you know, I’ve been around a bit now, and I’ve been very fortunate to work with all these great people. I have to say — and it’s not fibbing — it never ceases to thrill me that I end up working with the people I admire. It’s a joy and a great privilege. Long may it carry on. Long may I be tolerated by the people I admire!

[Laughs] And we look forward to tolerating more of your work.

[Laughs] Oh that’s very nice of you to say.


Assassin’s Bullet is out this week.

Tag Cloud

Amazon Prime Video Holidays Ghostbusters 99% GLAAD Character Guide Martial Arts high school 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards jamie lee curtis National Geographic breaking bad Creative Arts Emmys PaleyFest Video Games BET kids Superheroe Chilling Adventures of Sabrina know your critic Rock diversity Pop TV Disney toronto Film Festival discovery Hear Us Out TCA Winter 2020 independent Britbox spinoff 45 justice league Television Critics Association slasher finale sitcom San Diego Comic-Con Binge Guide ABC Signature spanish 2015 Amazon Studios politics The Arrangement BBC America die hard technology 2020 Amazon Schedule Interview Amazon Prime composers dreamworks travel witnail Lionsgate festivals Marvel Studios Universal Pictures El Rey Winter TV Lifetime cancelled TV series Comedy kong jurassic park Best and Worst supernatural Awards Tomatazos dexter Rocky Opinion 93rd Oscars elevated horror Paramount Network cats Avengers comiccon Tarantino mutant Calendar scene in color TCA 2017 Columbia Pictures Chernobyl TV Land space free movies DGA romantic comedy binge mcc Showtime reboot ID Writers Guild of America slashers Christmas Travel Channel renewed TV shows aliens GIFs Universal Pet Sematary OneApp Esquire king kong suspense Oscars mission: impossible streaming movies nfl LGBT See It Skip It anthology franchise cults genre black all-time adaptation cooking crime directors heist movie halloween tv critics TV One latino trailers 21st Century Fox mob Masterpiece Fox News Shondaland miniseries Set visit Disney Plus NYCC vs. canceled TV shows YouTube Premium sports VH1 Spike crime thriller SDCC boxing vampires Marvel period drama The Purge USA Network DC streaming service harry potter deadpool Freeform indie Nominations australia dramedy Hulu strong female leads social media Superheroes Holiday golden globes Funimation ghosts target cops rotten movies we love DirecTV Dark Horse Comics sequels Arrowverse marvel comics Quiz criterion Pop Marathons Sci-Fi Grammys game of thrones king arthur ESPN live action 2018 legend Alien screenings Sundance Now AMC football ABC Family ViacomCBS IFC Watching Series The Witch name the review Drama Food Network theme song Baby Yoda rt labs critics edition ITV batman robots thriller Hallmark Christmas movies Trailer 1990s scary movies Film crime drama romance archives A24 Disney+ Disney Plus mockumentary Lucasfilm TCM olympics First Look New York Comic Con TIFF hollywood movies animated werewolf Turner History AMC Plus book 90s TV movies new zealand Syfy golden globe awards TBS Tubi Heroines french Apple TV Plus Kids & Family 2017 Super Bowl SXSW television Marvel Television remakes VOD festival feel good Rom-Com crossover zombie Emmy Nominations TLC rt labs Adult Swim dceu comic spanish language popular Year in Review Epix Fantasy what to watch Spring TV HBO Go PlayStation PBS news DC Universe IFC Films black comedy Fox Searchlight art house fast and furious hist toy story critic resources Certified Fresh versus Logo debate USA Pixar pirates of the caribbean 73rd Emmy Awards MTV Acorn TV 007 hidden camera biopic spain doctor who Infographic blockbusters laika quibi joker venice Hallmark 72 Emmy Awards telelvision spider-verse gangster superman posters screen actors guild X-Men chucky biography parents twilight south america TCA psycho razzies singing competition anime dark teaser zero dark thirty asian-american classics FX on Hulu President Vudu spider-man rt archives dc CW Seed E! Black Mirror WarnerMedia Reality Competition Star Trek Television Academy Neflix reviews CMT Women's History Month American Society of Cinematographers Comics on TV Peacock medical drama Extras ratings war video Tokyo Olympics Spectrum Originals Legendary Mindy Kaling book adaptation Ellie Kemper royal family Sundance TV Summer Musical Family Disney streaming service comic books disaster Stephen King basketball Sneak Peek concert LGBTQ japan marvel cinematic universe Mary Poppins Returns Comedy Central E3 documentaries natural history 2021 RT History blaxploitation documentary NBA aapi Crunchyroll live event BET Awards spy thriller TV sag awards Toys Horror hispanic heritage month YA action-comedy lord of the rings 71st Emmy Awards adenture Musicals true crime RT21 godzilla Teen dragons Winners comics Walt Disney Pictures obituary Tumblr serial killer YouTube Sundance Nat Geo nbcuniversal james bond First Reviews Pacific Islander japanese BBC One Election Paramount HBO Max revenge Polls and Games Song of Ice and Fire adventure comedies Podcast facebook young adult prank nature Cannes superhero CNN Music saw fresh dogs 24 frames Countdown Black History Month Lifetime Christmas movies Action cancelled TV shows series Bravo children's TV Cosplay rotten Turner Classic Movies casting christmas movies scorecard stoner best green book Photos FX SundanceTV IMDb TV VICE kaiju blockbuster Crackle Warner Bros. cars police drama streaming Star Wars sequel WGN comic book movies Valentine's Day Paramount Plus HBO scary satire The CW zombies based on movie Comic-Con@Home 2021 worst new star wars movies canceled Ovation The Walt Disney Company cancelled television italian films halloween political drama Mudbound Trivia Trophy Talk Sony Pictures GoT TruTV A&E a nightmare on elm street Exclusive Video Apple TV+ Pride Month talk show hispanic cancelled Image Comics sopranos BBC video on demand comic book movie foreign CBS Western transformers Elton John APB Biopics cartoon Emmys Mystery wonder woman richard e. Grant CBS All Access Pirates cinemax emmy awards 20th Century Fox MCU stop motion NBC international unscripted docudrama The Walking Dead Mary poppins Discovery Channel Instagram Live Thanksgiving docuseries Red Carpet Wes Anderson BAFTA Starz 2019 Awards Tour YouTube Red Broadway science fiction Netflix FOX historical drama tv talk new york indiana jones Rocketman Animation Reality Apple Classic Film The Academy movie OWN Anna Paquin MSNBC Captain marvel Brie Larson award winner stand-up comedy Fall TV ABC Box Office FXX game show 4/20 rom-coms DC Comics Shudder Mary Tyler Moore Country child's play Academy Awards boxoffice Premiere Dates Endgame universal monsters Nickelodeon worst movies TCA Awards Netflix Christmas movies 2016 women psychological thriller Disney Channel Comic Book Cartoon Network TNT Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt monster movies TV renewals