Sylvester McCoy interview: The Hobbit, Doctor Who and more

Sylvester McCoy chats to us about working with Richard Briers, The Hobbit, Doctor Who and more...

The fates didn’t seem to be with us when we called up Sylvester McCoy for a brief chat primarily about his work in The Hobbit, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today. A bad line plagued the call, sadly, but we did still manage to talk Doctor Who, The Hobbit and Richard Briers. Here’s how we got on..

Shall we get the inevitable Doctor Who question done first! I figure everyone asks you, but do you have any involvement in the 50th anniversary at any level?

No! Somebody mentioned something that the BBC is running on the weekend when it goes out. Big Finish have done us proud, they’re coming out with something really exciting. The BBC, we’ve heard nothing though.

One Doctor Who thing I did want to ask you. You worked with the wonderful Richard Briers on the show, who we sadly lost a few weeks ago. Can you just tell us a little about working with him?

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It was great working with him. He made me laugh, and I’ve really happy and proud to say that I made him laugh. We got on really well, and I remember him once saying to me ‘you’re one of us’. Oh, I was so proud. I was a huge admirer of him, and his comic timing, and his lightness of touch.  His amazing humour. For him to say that to me was wonderful.

You always said when working on Doctor Who that the biggest enemy was never money, it was time. On The Hobbit, money didn’t seem to be in that short a supply. Did you still feel the same deadline pressure though?

Well, there’s always pressure on filming. There’s the weather, people, various different technical problems. There’s always pressure! And there’s never really enough time for anything, really!

The time pressure sounds a little more relaxed than Doctor Who, though?

Time can be a constraint. But then constraint can sometimes be a good thing I’ve found. 

I read David Weston’s book, Covering McKellen, about your year-long RSC experience touring King Lear. It gave a real sense of the camaraderie of a company of actors on a theatrical tour. Does a big ensemble movie like The Hobbit have that same kind of feel to it?

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Yes it does actually. I mean, I don’t really approve of David Weston’s book, because what goes on tour stays on tour. That’s by-the-by, but you can mention the fact that I disliked that he did it. It’s a good question though. There is a wonderful feeling of camaraderie, yes. I wasn’t there all the time, I was back and forth. Five times I came back, every time I went back, you could see the wonderful friendships, all the dwarves, Ian, everyone. I was allowed to dip in and out of it. It was very much like that camaraderie.

Did you get a feel of being part of it then, considering you were dipping in and out?

I did, I did, yes. Very much so, because they were very welcoming.

This does look like a real adventure, and a fun job. A big journey to the other side of the world, filming such an iconic book, and then filming it with Peter Jackson?

Yes. The thing is, I’m a gypsy, I love travelling! The chance to go there. What I would try and do is go two weeks before and stop off, an so on my unexpected journey, I’ve been to India, to China, Hong Kong, Japan, to the South Sea Islands. America. Australia. So I’ve had a great adventure in my own life, going off to do this other, wonderful adventure in film. 

Back in your Doctor Who days, you were touring around Britain too, and for those of us who didn’t live in London or New York, touring productions were always very much appreciated. You’ve always struck me as a theatre person first?

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You’re quite right. I do actually like performing to a live audience. I like the response. I do a lot of Doctor Who conventions now, and the reason that I do them is that there is a live audience I can get to directly. Physically, too, as I get off the stage and harangue them from close up! I do like it.

But I also enjoy film. It’s very, very different from theatre. Theatre is like broad brush painting, where you can go anywhere with your brush. But film is like painting with one of those little, pointy brushes, a stroke here and a stroke there. I love that as well. You have to internalise everything and get it right deep inside. And when you feel you get it right, it’s almost orgasmic! It’s a lovely experience.

It’s often said that film is 100 hours of preparation for one minute of perfection?

Indeed, yeah.

Film has been a surprisingly small part of your acting life though. You’ve done so many different, varied things, but not too much film?

I suppose it has in a way. I haven’t done enough really.

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Is that by your own design, or down to the offers that have come your way?

I’ve never planned my career really. It just comes along, and I do whatever comes next!

So in the immediate future, I’m guessing your work on The Hobbit isn’t quite done yet?

I can’t say! 

I thought you might say that! You seem to be having a great deal of fun with the character from what we saw though. All the better, given that I read you’d had your hips done not too long ago!

Yeah, it was great fun. And once you’ve got your hips done, then hopefully they’re alright for a bit! I’m this old hippy with new hips!

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An odd question, then. Are you glad you got this now? I’ve spoken to some actors who landed a very, very major film much earlier in their career, and it’s clearly diverted their choices as a consequence of that. Was this right for you at this point though?

Well, I suppose in a way I wish it had happened ten years earlier when I was up for Bilbo Baggins. But then, this is a better part than Bilbo Baggins.

You’ve never sounded in the slightest bit downbeat about what happened ten years ago though (when Sylvester was down to the final two for the role of Bilbo, that ultimately went to Ian Holm)? You’ve said before that you took it all as a compliment?

Oh it was, it was. To be in the company of Ian Holm was wonderful.

Going forward then, is your planned Arthur Scargill play still happening?

Ah no, it’s not managed to go ahead. The problem is that films and such forth have got in the way of it all.

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And you’re staying close to The Minister Of Chance too?

Yes! I’m playing a villain in that. It’s great!

Anything else on the horizon?

I’m making a film at the moment, and I’m just going off after this call to go and make a thing called The Christmas Candle. I’m playing a candle maker in a Victorian village. And there’s this miraculous candle that brings miracles every now and then. It’s got Susan Boyle in it too.

Sylvester McCoy, thank you very much!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is out on DVD and Blu-ray now. More details on The Minister Of Chance can be found here.

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