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

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