John Hurt Talks Harry Potter, Quentin Crisp and Alien - The RT Interview

The legendary thesp on the state of British film.

by | November 4, 2009 | Comments

RT Interview: John Hurt on An Englishman in New York

John Hurt has been one of Britain’s finest acting talents since his career began in the 60s, but it’s his roles in films like Alien, Midnight Express and The Elephant Man — to name a few — which put him on the international map and for which he’s best remembered. Twice Oscar nominated (for the latter two performances) and the winner of two BAFTA film awards, Hurt has recently been finding a younger audiences for his roles in franchise movies like Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Hellboy.

At the Dinard Festival of British Film last month to screen An Englishman in New York, a biopic of gay writer Quentin Crisp’s time in the Big Apple, Hurt sat down with RT for an extended chat about the film and his wider career, including his upcoming turn in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


An Englishman in New York

[tomatometer]MuzeID=10010976[/tomatometer]

You were at the very first Dinard Film Festival, how does it feel to be back after 20 years?

John Hurt: It’s really much the same, it really looks the same. It was perhaps a little more naive and less sure of itself then, but it’s got the same feeling. Some things are beautifully organised and some things aren’t. It’s all a bit chaotic and it’s good fun. It is a festival, in a quite muted sort of a way. I think a bit of business gets done here, which is good. It would be good if we had a few more films but we have up years and down years in British cinema!

An Englishman in New York was made for television; it must be nice to have it shown on the big screen.

JH: It was made for television with very much an eye on to it being shown in the cinema. It has to be shown on television first because ITV backed it, so they have to show it, and then after that it’s really up to Leopardrama what they want to do with it, and that’s anybody’s guess.

You play Questin Crisp in the film; do you feel an added weight of responsibility playing someone real?

JH: There is a responsibility, but it’s not one that your common sense wouldn’t take on board. You’re bound to try and find out as much as you can about what there is in his demeanour, as it were, that is going to be helpful in terms of the drama, and also what is not particularly useful. Because it’s not a documentary you’re making or a mockumentary at all, it is a drama. So I saw Quentin a couple of times before I did The Naked Civil Servant [in which Hurt also played Crisp], and we had a great time. He came up to my house in Hampstead; I heard that he liked Guinness, so I asked him if he wanted one and he said, “Yessss.” I gave him a Guinness, which he finished, so I asked, “Would you like another?” He said, “Yessss.” So he finished that one, and I asked, “Would you like another Guinness, Quentin?” And he said, “Noooo. Any more would be a debauch.” [Laughs]

The Naked Civil Servant

Hurt as Quentin Crisp in 1975’s The Naked Civil Servant. Left, as he appears in this year’s An Englishman in New York.

It’s quite a transformation you go through to recreate his look, does this help get into his character?

JH: Oh yes, of course. That’s a huge dramatic help to anybody. His walk, his movement, his manner, his acceptance, yes all that’s helpful.

The Naked Civil Servant came before the success you saw with films like Alien and The Elephant Man — does your profile now, particularly given your recent work in Hollywood, help provide a platform for a smaller project like this one?

JH: I never know whether that’s the reason. I mean, I hadn’t worked in Hollywood at all when I did The Naked Civil Servant; I had done, of course, when I came back to the role 30 years later. But, quite honestly I think it was the connection to Quentin that was the most important thing; I don’t think it was the connection to Hollywood at all.

You’re returning to Harry Potter for the final films having appeared in the very first one, how has it been to come back?

JH: I’ve filmed one, which actually is the last one, and now I’ve got the penultimate one to do which is in November, and that wraps it all up. It’s a big loss for Britain in terms of having a big studio movie here, but it’s not representative of our culture in terms of the films that we make. I am convinced that though Pinewood and Shepperton — the big studios — playing host to big movies is very important, our film business is in the independent world. Of that I’m convinced.

I only wish that our government would take a bit more notice, because that’s where we need the help. We need the help because we need to get it going on a basis that has a bit more continuity for everyone concerned, from technicians to directors to performers and so on. And, indeed, to audiences, because you can’t have an audience engage with culture if it’s not educated in it. It’s important that we educate people.

The Naked Civil Servant

As Ollivander, his character in the Harry Potter films.

Do you think the big franchise movies shooting in the UK give a false impression of the health of our industry? All these productions move in and hire local talent, but they aren’t British films.

JH: No, they’re not British films. Even Harry Potter isn’t a British [franchise]. We gave it to Warners, we just sit and collect. That always infuriates me. I do think huge areas of the industry are being neglected and we’ve lost the ability for middle-budget films. When we did have a stronger industry — and not just a business — we did have room for middle-budget films. They’ve gone out of the window, as they’ve done in America as well, but a $20m picture would be wonderful to make every now and then. We could do a lot for that.

But it’s like any country, if you don’t have a lot of money to spend. And it’s interesting seeing how much money gets spent on Harry Potter. It’s quite absurd, really. I watch it and think it’s just the same as Hollywood. I look around and you’ve got three costumes there, none of which are likely to be worn, and they’re all replicas of each other. It’s a vacuous waste of money and it drives me insane.

What’s the answer, do you think?

JH: Well the answer is, really, that you have to learn to cut your cloth accordingly. But it seems to be a human weakness. Once you start making a lot of money, you just join in with everyone else. It’s like the banks, and we’ve seen what happens there.

Continue on to page two as Hurt talks about his time in Indiana Jones, shares memories of shooting Alien and dispels rumours about his appearance in Tron.

RT Interview: John Hurt on An Englishman in New York


An Englishman in New York

[tomatometer]MuzeID=10010976[/tomatometer]

But you’re participating in these movies — you’re a part of the Harry Potter franchise, you’ve just done an Indiana Jones movie…

John Hurt: I know! What can I do? It’s the only way I can keep going too. And I enjoy the experiences — you can have fun — but I don’t enjoy seeing that waste. I don’t like that at all.

When it comes to Indiana Jones, I’d never done one before so I wanted to see what it’d be like. I’ve never worked with Spielberg before. But that is a huge movie. It’s a bit like a circus and you’re a part of it; you just have to accept it really.

Ultimately the film industry has always pushed out its biggies, and I don’t have a problem with that. I just wish that we’d spend more time nurturing the smaller ones.

I was on set of the last Harry Potter film and the thing I took away from it was just how slow the whole thing moved when compared to an independent set — are you less engaged as an actor if you’re waiting hours to actually start acting while all these people run around?

JH: I think you’ve got to get used to that kind of thing. The most difficult is doing complicated scenes in public areas, which can be tricky on any film. If it’s under a controlled situation, even when there are a lot of people there you get used to that sort of thing. You’re used to that in the theatre, having a lot of people around. You can’t very well say, “I wish there weren’t so many people out there!” [Laughs]

The Naked Civil Servant

At the Cannes photocall for Indiana Jones, May 2008.

The first thing you have to get used to in any kind of acting is the ability to make a fool of yourself. If you haven’t learnt how to make a fool of yourself, you shouldn’t be on the boards. That’s absolutely what it’s all about.

Does your character in these last two Harry Potter films have a little more to do than he did in the first?

JH: Well, not a lot more to do. It’s different. He’s kidnapped and tortured and he gives away information. They haven’t made it into a huge production number, so it’s not too far removed from the dialogue scene in the first film.

Is it true you’re a part of the new Tron film?

JH: No, I’m not in the new Tron film. That crept onto the internet at some point and I don’t know how it got there. Not unless I did something in my sleep, so who knows!

Ridley Scott is making a new Alien prequel, of course. Presumably you wouldn’t be able to play a younger version of a character you played thirty years ago, but have you talked to him about it?

JH: I’m much too old! I don’t know what the idea is behind it, so I don’t know whether it’s a good idea or not. I don’t know what Ridley’s got up his sleeve.

The Naked Civil Servant

With chest pains in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since that film — do you have fond memories of the experience?

JH: I do have fond memories, but I also have a lot of not so fond memories. There’s an awful lot of hanging around when you’re doing science fiction. Going down and waiting for them to set up, being told to go back to your dressing room while they change the track and the lighting and so on. And you come back four hours later and you’re told the same thing. That big stage at Shepperton was just thick with created smoke. It makes me cough just to think about it. I was thrilled to be involved with it, particularly given its legacy. It just wasn’t an awful lot of fun to do!

Hurt will next hit the big screen, in the UK at least, in Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control on 11th December. 44 Inch Chest, co-starring Ray Winstone and Ian McShane, will follow worldwide early next year.

Tag Cloud

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