A veteran of TV and film, Julian Glover has appeared in dozens of movies and shows n a career spanning more than 50 years. His career has been so prolific, in fact, that readers will surely recognise him from at least one geeky film or series. You may have seen him in one of his multiple roles in the original 60s run of The Avengers, or as Count Scarlioni in Doctor Who: City Of Death, as General Veers in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, or as the villainous Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.
One of his finest big-screen roles, though, was as Colonel Breen in the sc-fi classic, Quatermass And The Pit. One of the greatest British science fiction movies ever made, it simply wouldn’t have been the same without Glover’s charming turn as a hard-nosed military man who simply refuses to believe that an ancient spacecraft is lying beneath the streets of London.
With Quatermass And The Pit out on Blu-ray, we were lucky enough to talk to Mr Glover about his performance in that film, and a few of his other prominent roles, from The Empire Strikes back to Game Of Thrones…
We’re huge fans at Quatermass And The Pit at Den Of Geek, and it’s great to see it reissued. How did you get involved, and what are your memories of making it?
I got involved because I was asked to do it. In those days, casting was up to the director. You didn’t have to go through seven different producers or 17 different people. Back then, directors just used to ring you up and asked if you’d like to do it. So I was rung up by Roy [Ward Baker, director] and asked if I would like to do it. So he sent me a script, and a couple of days later, I said, “I love this. If I’m going to play a baddie, I may as well play this one.” And that’s how I got into it.
It turned out to be a very entertaining film, and a really pleasant shoot. We all got on terribly well – which doesn’t always happen, as you know. The cast, led by Andrew Kier, who’s one of nature’s gentlemen, Barbara Shelley and, of course, James Donald – well, phew, getting James Donald into a film like that was absolute gold dust. And then there was the supporting cast – Peter Copley, Robert Morris. It was a very good shoot.
Roy behaved himself and was very nice – quite strict, but I generally do as I’m told.
It’s a stylish film on quite a low budget.
Yes, very low budget. As I said, Baker was a very demanding director. He knew exactly what he wanted, and he cast you for a specific reason – he knew you were right for the part, so he expected everyone to know what they were doing. He’d say, “You’ve got to be horrible there,” or “Don’t be so cruel here. Just be stupid.”
And that was how I eventually decided to play [Colonel Breen] – as a man in authority, not a baddie. You can’t just play a baddie, because baddies don’t think they’re baddies – they do things for a reason. There’s a reason for everything. So I played him as a thicko, actually, and one of those people without common sense. But he thinks he is acting out of common sense, but he’s so influenced by his training and background that he really isn’t.
Normally in Hammer films, you’re good or bad – you’re a sucker or you get sucked. But Quatermass And The Pit wasn’t like that. It was quite brave of Hammer, at the time, to bring in Baker.
And now, of course, Hammer’s going again. It’ll be interesting to see what they produce.
I think it’s high time someone produced a new Quatermass movie or TV series.
I think Quatermass And The Pit could do with remaking. I do think it could be, with all the technology – the underground bits could be done really well now. They still look good in the original film. It looked really good in the television series, but not as good as it did in the film. Our film was better, and I think they could do an even better film now.
Looking back over your career so far, your work ethic has been astounding. I think you’ve been in at least one TV show or movie per year since 1963. Is that about right?
I think it might be even more than that. I’ve been very lucky. Of course, in the early days, on television, there were so many things you could do. You could plod along quite comfortably, and hope you’d get a decent film at some point in the year. But I’ve always done theatre, so I went to Stratford for three years, and I did that three times, which ate into the film and TV work. But I’ve managed to keep it going, and I’ve been really lucky, having been in three major franchises. I don’t think another actor’s done that.
I’ve been jolly lucky. And I’ve got a very nice wife! [Laughs]
One of those franchises was obviously Star Wars. What are your memories of working on The Empire Strikes Back? How did that compare to your experience on Quatermass?
Star Wars is mostly a technical exercise. In my opinion, the standard of them isn’t as high as it used to be – and that’s not just an old man talking, that’s from a student of cinema. I think they’ve lost their way. I think they’re so technical now, they’ve really lost the plot.
But anyway, that’s beside the point. All our parts, those of us who were on the film for a week or two, were ciphers, really. I don’t mind playing a cipher, as long as I know who the cipher is. I was quite clear who he was, and my part had a conversation with Darth Vader, which was good, and I had a good fight sequence in the AT-AT, and he was a recognisable character.
What I found, going on Star Wars conventions and things, is that he’s a very recognisable character. Working on it, we all just did what we had to do. We all felt the same thing: we knew that the first Star Wars was a great success, and we hoped that the second one would be pretty good, but I think the second one’s the best of the whole lot. Number three wasn’t nearly so good.
We had no idea at the time we were in the best of the lot. We didn’t know what a triumph it was going to be. We didn’t know the Star Wars franchise would go on to be successful, and as far as I can see, it’s going to go on forever.
You go to these conventions, and the young children, very young children, are absolutely steeped in it. It’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s marvellous in a way. I don’t suppose they’ll make another one now, but it doesn’t matter – they’ve made enough to feed all the children on Earth!
One of my favourite performances of yours is as Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.
Oh, yes. That was just such a lovely job to do. And it would be, wouldn’t it, with all those fantastic actors, and of course Steven Spielberg, who’s one of the greatest enthusiasts I’ve ever worked with. It was just a lovely shoot. All the supporting actors were so great. And we got to go abroad – we got to go to Spain and things, which was nice. Some of them got to go to Lebanon, though I didn’t.
One could feel that it was an expensive film, and that it was going to work, and it damn well did work. I came out of a preview of that with my son and my wife. My son was about 18, and he said, “It is damn good, isn’t it?” And it was.
We knew all the technical stuff was going to be wonderful and it would look nice, but my son said, “It’s a very successful love story between two men.” And that’s exactly what it is. It’s about a father and son who don’t get on at the beginning, rather like Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and who end up admiring one another.
So being the baddie in that was great. But people say, “Oh, horrible bloke, wasn’t he?” And I’d say, what would you do, Ryan, for the secret of eternal life? What would you do? Quite a lot, wouldn’t you do? You’d do some things that were a bit naughty. So that was my justification for Walter Donovan! [Laughs]
What was that final scene like to do, where you drink from the wrong grail?
That’s amazing. It took three days to shoot that. You’d do it in a computer workshop now, that whole sequence, but this was done frame by frame. I think we started three months before shooting, with a model of my face, and they worked on that, making me look older and older and older. And, of course, the hair at the back looks like it’s growing at a thousand miles an hour. They did that the other way around. They pulled the hair up and shot it in reverse, so you see it going down.
They did it frame by frame with me getting older – it is what it is. And after a certain point, I turned into a skeleton – but I couldn’t do that. I’m not that good an actor! [Laughs] But it was a very exciting sequence.
Most recently, you’ve appeared in Game Of Thrones.
Yes, I’m still doing that. I’m in the second series.
Is that a character you’ll keep returning to?
Oh yes, he keeps going. He keeps plodding along, being an old fucker. But he isn’t really – beneath it all he’s still strong and virile, but he hides it. That’s his way of surviving. There are some interesting developments in the second series.
It’s wonderfully done, isn’t it? The thing about the first series, was killing the leading man was such a brave thing to do. I couldn’t believe it when I read the script. At first I thought I’d misread it – they can’t kill Sean Bean off! But they had. They’d killed off their leading actor. A great big leading actor like that.
But they’ve caught their audience by the throat, and everybody’s watching it. It’s really good. It’s expertly filmed, with care and precision, and the sets… we’re in Dubrovnik now, and some of them are going to the Arctic in December. They’re really spending money on it. Not on the actors, though, unfortunately!
Julian Glover, thank you very much.
Quatermass And The Pit is out on Blu-ray on 10th October.