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Tom Gleeson


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To anyone who has followed Tom Gleeson’s comedic career, the Australian Fast Bowler comes as no surprise; not just because he’s always professed a love of Aussie (as well as British) sketch comedy, including vintage Paul Hogan (after whose multitude of comic characters the Australia Fast Bowler seems to take), but also because – along with longtime comedy collaborator Subby Valentine, Gleeson has long indulged in filming hilarious sketches. So his skitHOUSE work really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Indeed, nowadays it is the stand-up that takes fans by surprise. Thankfully, it is something Tom continues to return to, and his Sydney Opera House Studio run of Ginger Ninja is an all-too-rare opportunity for Sydney-siders to catch him in his element. It also offers me an excuse to expunge the vaults once again. Here are a bunch of Tom Gleeson interviews from way back.


From the 12 March 2001 issue of
Revolver:

Stealin’ All the Best Bits

Tom Gleeson purloins all the good gags for his new show Pirate Copy.


“It’s an illegal and inferior copy of other people’s Festival shows,” comedian Tom Gleeson offers as the concise explanation of what his 2001 Melbourne Comedy Festival Show, Pirate Copy, is about. “Everything’s been pinched from somewhere,” he insists. When pressed, Tom does have another description: Pirate Copy consists of “all the funniest things” he has ever thought of that he can “do in an hour”.

Many of the ‘funniest things’ Tom Gleeson has ever thought of consist of hilarious short films and piss-funny sound gags conjured up with guitar effects pedals. The pedals are particularly special because the routines appear to be so simple. And yet they are so clever, so much so that other comics have expressed jealousy that they didn’t make the discovery first. “That’s one of the best things about comedy,” Tom admits, “when you can just spot the really obvious thought at the heart of everything else that no-one else can get.”

These ‘funniest things’ of Gleeson’s actually date back to Tom and Subby’s Video Sandwich, an ingenious show incorporating video, devised with longtime collaborator Subby Valentine, which premiered in Sydney last September. After a few Sydney performances, Tom and Subby took Video Sandwich to Melbourne’s Fringe Festival, always with an eye to getting it into that city’s Inernational Comedy Festival (and onto television if the right producer would come to his or her senses). By the end of its Fringe run, at which audiences “laughed from one end of the show to the other,” Tom and Subby had nipped and tucked Video Sandwich into a “pretty nifty show”. However, even though Tom is heading down, Video Sandwich will not be returning to Melbourne just yet… and neither will Subby. Valentine is currently a father-to-be and the estimated time of arrival of Bubby Subby is smack in the middle of the Comedy Festival. Although initially trying to work out a way that Subby could perform the show and maintain his parental duties, the comics soon realised that such a scenario was neither “very sensible” or “very responsible”. Thus, Gleeson is going it alone with his Pirate Copy of the show. Pirate Copy then is clearly “an inferior and illegal version” of Video Sandwich. “The show’s title is really a big disclaimer,” Tom confesses.

So what happens if a producer comes to his senses while Tom is doing Pirate Copy? Would it be a case of ‘Fuck Subby!’? “Yeah, essentially,” Tom laughs. He reckons that would be the scenario if he and Valentine were in each other’s place. “If he became a really successful father, would I get involved in any ‘bringing up the child’ sort of way? No.”

Truth is, the pair have been working closely for some time, their professional relationship beginning with collaborating on each other’s stand-up material. Some of the punchlines Subby delivers are in fact Tom’s, and vice-versa. Yet there is no jealousy over who gets the laugh for whose gag. “Whoever started the idea gets the finished product,” Tom says. More importantly, the understanding is that whoever is the first to become successful, the other will be his “‘Bob Franklin’… of ‘Francis Greenslade’… or whatever.”

Despite preparations for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Tom’s going full-speed into his other solo work. He makes his ‘television stand-up debut’ on Rove [Live] this week. (Other television appearances don’t count, says Tom, because they were either performances of songs or sketches, or were performances taped in live venues. His spot on Recovery doesn’t count because “that was early in the morning” and the audience was crap as ever.)

Meanwhile, Tom and Subby continue to forge ahead. Last week they taped an appearance for the Comedy Channel’s Headliners, to be broadcast some time in the future. “It’s to let the industry at large know that we’re doing a double act; we haven’t really scratched the surface yet – we’ve only been exposed in a minor fashion.” Although it was Video Sandwich without the videos – “a bit tricky” according to Tom, because the videos afford a break in which to remember what bits of stand-up come next – it included the hilarious pedals. The pair are also currently pre-recording a series of Triple J Breakfast spots – one would hope in order to groom them for whatever ‘comedy duo’ vacancy may arise when the void left by Merrick and Rosso’s departure is filled. And they continue to bask in the recent TropFest success of their video Rewind, which was shortlisted in the top sixty out of 580. A gorgeously self-referential, surreal film, Rewind originated in Video Sandwich. “And it’s in Pirate Copy,” Tom adds, “because, again, it’s among some of the funniest things that I have ever done.”

Tom hopes to start making videos again later this year. But he has a Melbourne International Comedy Festival season to complete first.


From the 4 September 2000 issue of Revolver:

Tom & Subby’s Video Sandwich

(More than just another TV Dinner)


“I said to Subby, ‘I reckon I’m gonna do something really, really dumb soon, I just know it’,” Tom Gleeson offers. His friend and comedic collaborator, Subby Velentine, concurs: with a bit of time on their hands, Tom decided he’d purchase a video camera. “Two hours later, he rang me and said, ‘I got it!’”

Why is this significant? Well, the last time Tom found himself in the ‘doing something foolish’ mindset, he went and recorded a humorous single. So if Tom Gleeson is finding himself hatching schemes, this time armed with a video camera, it is safe to assume that something good will come of it. In fact, something has: a live show – yes, ‘live’ – that incorporates the fruits of Tom and Subby’s labour: pre-recorded sketches. Or ‘clips’, rather, as the pair corrects me: “These days, ‘sketch’ doesn’t really mean anything to anyone,” Tom explains. “When you say ‘sketch show’, people say, ‘so it’s going to be like Full Frontal, is it?’ And you go, ‘No!’” Subby jumps in, covering himself karmically: “Not that there’s anything wrong with Full Frontal…”

Tom and Subby have a comedy-clip pedigree behind them. In the recent past, they both wrote and performed in James O’Loghlin on Saturday Night (Subby admits that Tom wrote; he merely “mucked around” with and “ruined” the finished scripts). Earlier on, Subby and Tom were one half of the live, sketch-based entity that went by the name of The Sketchy Sketch Show. It was later re-titled Larfapalooza and, with one eye on its television potential, was touted as ‘Sydney’s best sketch-based comedy show’. That it was also pretty much Sydney’s only sketch-based comedy show prevented any challenges to the veracity of that statement. Realising that they had everything required to go on television apart from “a camera, a director and a cameraman” (and, of course, a contract) the pair set about rectifying the situation and started shooting “stuff that we found funny”.

They began with O’Loghlin left-overs – sketches that, for whatever reason, had been rejected. Learning as they went along, they themselves ended up ultimately rejecting all but one of these early attempts; subsequent clips were better executed, the writing, more multi-layered. “We would shoot one thirty-second clip a week and probably spend half a day to one day filming,” Tom says, “working really slowly – literally relaxed – so that we could get it all right.”

Having acquired good footage, they then turned to someone who could “put it together nicely”. That someone was Michael Castleman, an editor who currently works for Channel Seven and Channel Ten and who is himself no stranger to the world of stand-up comedy. While this project has ‘television pilot’ written all over it, Subby admits that the idea to link the clips in a live show came pretty early on, when the pair realised that no matter how good the finished material was, immediate television sale was unlikely. Tom recalls that the best bits of their Larfapalooza work was when they’d use pre-recorded footage on stage. It enabled breaks in pace and an opportunity for the audience and performers to catch their breath. He explains that this format is a major selling point of Video Sandwich: “Two guys on stage, riffing; cut to a clip; come back… There’s no dead points to the show. There’s no costume change, there’s no putting on a moustache and…” – adopts a Homer Simpson–type ‘disguised voice’ – “…‘Hello! I’m someone else!’” Interestingly, Subby adds that “there’s very little character work going on” in the clips, as well. “We sort of vaguely take on different characters but we’re still ‘Tom & Subby’.”

In order to tie all the material together, the pair aim to maintain a ‘visual’ mode of performance, forever asking themselves, “what can we do live that’s interesting to look at?” As Subby notes, “If we want to talk, we can do stand-up. So it’s not just talking…” They are currently rehearsing vigorously in order to ensure that Video Sandwich runs smoothly. “In Larfapalooza, there were always big shit-fights about learning the lines,” Tom admits. But Tom and Subby agree: once they get on stage, “all bets are off!”

“That’s the whole point of having the live stuff,” Tom insists. “The clips are tight enough to enable us to just improvise in between and there’d be a really nice balance because there’d be spontaneity as well.”

By this stage, Video Sandwich not only has ‘television pilot’ written all over it, but the words are underlined in red as well. What if someone – one of Mr Packer’s lackeys, maybe – says ‘here’s a large sum of money; give me thirty-three episodes’?

“We pour the money into writers, essentially,” says Tom, sure that the weakest link of any television comedy is the amount of material that has to be produced in a limited time.

And if Aunty says ‘here’s a moderate sum of money; give me six episodes’?

“Then,” Tom says, “we’re ready to go; we’ve got some friends who can help with the writing.”


From the 5 June 2000 issue of Revolver :

Comic Changes

Tom Gleeson talks a day in the life of a comedian.

A really scary moment took place when Tom Gleeson opened for James O’Loghlin at the Valhalla Theatre a couple of weeks ago. The audience were lapping Tom up, loving every minute of it, until he did his ‘changing lives’ gag, in which he switches with Amanda Keller: “I’d get to find out what it’s like to be a high-paid television personality, and she’d get to find out what it’s like to be funny,” he joked. There was a painful, palpable beat of silence, as though Gleeson had crossed the line… until everyone, obviously concluding that, fuck it, it’s a joke, it’s funny, burst out laughing.

“It began as a pretty average ‘Changing Rooms’ sketch for James O’Loghlin on Saturday Night Gleeson explains. “The idea was changing rooms with the host and she fixes up your house while you fuck up hers. Then I tried to turn it into stand-up.” When Switching Lives began, the punchline was obvious. “I don’t hate Amanda Keller,” Tom assures me, “but I wish everyone else did a little bit because that would make the joke heaps funnier.”

Tom Gleeson’s first stab at stand-up took place at Sydney University. Beginning a pharmacy degree, Tom realised a couple of years into it that he wasn’t having fun and transferred to science. “Consequently,” he explains, “I had no friends at uni because they’d all graduated. I was open to new experiences”. At this stage, the still largely undiscovered Adam Spencer was hosting a stand-up comedy competition on campus every Thursday during lunchtime. Gleeson, who had been in a “weird experimental band”, had “a little bit of a reputation for being quite funny between songs”. He decided to have a go. It was back then, long-time Gleeson watchers might be interested to know, that Tom’s original stage persona, ‘Malcolm’, was born. However, when I bring this up, Tom insists that I “forget ‘Malcolm’; let ‘Malcolm’ go.”

Gleeson’s justification for the character was that it acted as an escape clause. “If the whole thing sucks, it’s the character that sucks. So then I’ll do another character, and if that sucks, do another, and keep going until I find my ‘Con the Fruiterer’. And then I’ll have hit paydirt!” A little further down the track, Tom came to his senses. “I thought, ‘who do I like? I like The Goodies. What are their names? ‘Graham’, ‘Tim’, ‘Bill’. I’m ‘Tom’. We’ll give that a go. We’ll exaggerate the best bits of me and run with that. It’s easier to be consistent about your own character.’"

Although Tom’s first attempt at stand-up didn’t get him into the final, it did allow him to develop a taste for laughs and applause. Gleeson subsequently ‘trained’ for the next Sydney Uni comedy competition at various open mic venues around Sydney. “I was a bit sneaky,” he admits. “There was a heat, and then there was a final. I realised that the first person to have two killer five-minute routines was going to win. So I worked out two separate five-minute routines.”

Using the second-best routine for the heat, Tom easily made the final cut, and in the week leading up to the final, performed his best routine every night. Of course he won. During the subsequent year he honed his talent with more open mic nights and, interestingly, some work at the Comedy Channel. “They got a bit excited and gave me stuff to do straight away,” he says.

Despite an obvious calling to stand-up, Tom has pursued other comedic opportunities. As well as putting together the quirky, feel-good band ‘The Fantastic Leslie’, for which he drums and chooses essential repertoire like ‘Moving Right Along’ (Kermit and Fozzie’s duet from The Muppet Movie), Tom has written and performed sketch comedy for the stage and screen. “I’ve always been one to jump at opportunities with both feet,” he explains, and when O’Loghlin asked him to submit some material, he was more than happy. And happier still when it was accepted. A defining moment was Gleeson’s parody ‘DemTel’ ad: “Hi, my name’s Tom and I’ve got absolutely nothing to sell. That’s right: zip, zero, zilch.” Using a thesaurus, he explains, he devised a “neat little ‘Eric Idle’ sketch” that he was certain would be selected for that week’s show. When it was rejected owing to time constraints, Tom demanded a cameraman and half an hour, and the resulting sketch made the cut. It led to regular appearances in parody ads.

Well then, where to next?

“TV comedy is what I love,” says Tom, who has already referenced The Goodies and Monty Python. “I know a lot comics who think that stand-up is it, and all these other things are just distractions. To me, stand-up is kind of necessary evil to get out there. If I had my way I’d be making television shows.” And the good news is, Gleeson’s bought a digital camera and is “having fun filming stuff” with fellow comic and collaborator Subby Valentine. Watch out Tom, you may be changing lives with Amanda Keller yet!


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Oh, Man, No!


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My excitement for the mango tree going into bloom after the first bit of winter rain, seems to have been shared. Some damn creature – my guess is either a rat or a possum – decided to make short work of the new flowers. Does this mean no mangoes this summer? In the words of Withnail (of … & I fame), “the fucker shall rue the day!” For the next little while, I'm going to starve our fat, old cat and lock it out on the balcony – let it reddress the balance of nature by devouring something nocturnal that frequents the mango tree.


Noflowers


Machine Gun Fellatio On Ice


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I was just in the process of unwrapping a ‘media kit’ version of the new Machine Gun Fellatio album On Ice in order to familiarise myself with the material prior to interviewing bandmember Pinky Beecroft in a couple of days’ time – (get a load of his bio:


Pinky Beecroft plays: keys, pads, main vocals, mindgames. Generally acknowledged as the cunt of the band. Pinky is a recluse who never quite makes it home.

Pinky was raised in secrecy in a Swedish convent.


Cool, huh!)

I only got as far as taking the disc out of the plain, die-cut sleeve, before they had me cacking. It bears the legend:


UNMASTERED VERSION FOR MEDIA USE ONLY SO DON’T UPLOAD IT YET FUCKERS

Looking forward to the interview.


Go, Man, Go


flowers01


The east coast of Australia has been experiencing one of its driest, warmest winters in a while, but after a few days of rain recently, one of our mango trees began to bloom. Notwithstanding hail or heavy rain (or rather, withstanding hail and heavy rain), this promises to result in a bumper crop come January, which will be good – we haven’t had a big mango harvest for a couple of years.


flowers02


Fortune Cookies… in the bedroom.

At a recent dinner party, fortune cookies were served with coffee, leading one of the guests to share a great game that may not exactly provide hours of fun, but will make you giggle for as long as it takes to consume the fortune cookies. Here’s the deal: each guest reads out the contents of his or her fortune as revealed by the cookie, but ends it with the words ‘in the bedroom’. It never fails to improve the fortune.

See for yourself how much fun it can be:


There is an “exception to every rule” and most people think they are it… in the bedroom.

You are in good hands this evening… in the bedroom.

You are demonstrative with those you love… in the bedroom.

Be on the alert for new opportunity… in the bedroom.


My personal favourite ‘bad joke’ whenever consuming fortune cookies with friends, is to read the declaration from the other side of the slip of paper. It develops a far more abject meaning when given the ‘in the bedroom’ treatment:

This insert has a protective coating… in the bedroom.

I have an aunt who runs an evangelical business that deals in ‘scripture cookies’ (this isn’t the nun who I refer to as ‘The Auntie Christ’, but a different one). They are fortune cookies in every way, apart from the actual fortune. Instead of having vaguely positive non-specific statements that may be easily construed as being mystical and spiritual, they carry specific verses from the bible. I don’t have any handy to quote from right now, but I’m sure they'll work just as readily. I’ll choose some random, but obvious biblical verses for your consideration:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh… in the bedroom

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… in the bedroom.


The Ten Commandments take on a particularly lurid hue:

I am the Lord thy God; thou shall not worship false gods before me… in the bedroom.

Honour thy father and thy mother… in the bedroom.

Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s ass… in the bedroom.


As usual, after a strong opening and a little bit of development, I have no idea how to end this entry, so I’m just gonna pick the first bold quote that comes to mind:

I am who I am… in the bedroom.

Add your own if you wish.


Spontaneous Admonition

Some time between the end of school and the end of a Bachelor of Arts degree, some friends got together to make a pretentious black and white short film in which my big hair and bushranger’s beard pretty much shared top billing with a chess piece.

During the ‘down’ time, we took to recreating the cover of the Beatles’ Twist & Shout EP – the photo in which the band are captured in the air. Rather than have the camera running while we all jumped at the same time, and then editing it, or (somehow) taking a still from it of us in mid air, we foolishly decided that the optimum way to proceed was for us to jump, with the cameraman trying to click the ‘record’ button at the precise moment we reached what would be the nearest thing to a ‘zenith’.

State-of-the-art camcorder technology of the early nineties, along with the limitations of the human reflex meant that, unlike the Beatles, we were never captured at our highest point in the air. Instead, in that split second between us reaching the highest point in our rise, and our landing on the ground again, we somehow detected that we were plummeting and that the red ‘record’ light was not yet illuminated on the camera.

Our method of dealing with this knowledge was, of course, to run at the cameraman screaming. By which time the little red light was illuminated, because he had started recording. Which made for great viewing, when you watched the ‘rushes’: what you see is a bunch of guys suddenly appearing from nowhere, running at you screaming that you’re a bloody idiot, or words to that effect.

Imagine if life was really like that: every time you got something wrong, people would appear out of nowhere and swear at you.

I have, of course, experienced the real-life version of this, in the form of unsolicited e-mail. Sent by somebody I’d never met, not even through a mutual friend, it consisted of a single word:


ASSHOLE

After days spent trying to work out what exactly it was that I’d done, and who I could possibly have done it to, I realised that it was most likely something I wrote about the Doors or INXS that had produced this unsolicited e-mail.

Turned out it was the latter.

(But I don’t really think I got it wrong, personally.)


Just Big Actors

When I was in high school, bitching and moaning about having landed the latest role equivalent to a spear-carrier in whatever insipid musical we happened to be doing that year, my drama teacher assured me that “there are no big parts, just big actors!”

This is especially true of the classically-trained John Rhys-Davies, who began with Shakespeare but nowadays makes a name and a living for himself in a lot of science fiction and fantasy roles. As big a part as his role as the dwarf Gimli - in The Lord of the Rings - may be, Rhys-Davies is much bigger than that: he stands at 6"1' – taller than most of the rest of the film’s cast.

Whilst awaiting my chance to interview him, I heard Rhys-Davies do all the ‘bits’ – the carefully rehearsed (through the constant repetition of countless interviews) ad libs – that pertain to his roles. The best one was his answer to the standard “but you’re so tall; how could you possibly play a dwarf?” Pausing for dramatic effect, Rhys-Davies replied that it involved him being on his knees a lot – “and that was after I had accepted the role!” Despite cuing such answers with perfect questions, I couldn’t get him to repeat the same lines into the microphone. There were a couple of moments when I wanted to scream, “just do the bits, okay?!” Of course the end result was much better because it didn’t consist of the standard bunch of grabs. I came away, for example, as one of the only journalists he offered to kill. Lucky me. (Not with the twin-bladed battle axe he wields in the film, though, unfortunately!)

Convention-attending anoraks might also wish to hasten my demise, seeing as I lay into them a bit. Truth is, I’m a train-spotting geek about a heap of other stuff, so I don’t mean any real disrespect - particularly when I set Shakespeare up as the antithesis of scifi and fantasy. Thanks to the work of Joseph Campbell, the parallels between Shakespeare and things like Star Wars, Tolkein and any number of enduring fantsies are well documented.

At this point, I should mention the Friends of Science Fiction who host John Rhys-Davies’ first appearance on this “wretched continent”. An edited (naturally) version of the interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on Saturday 4 September, and if I get around to it, I might link to an MP3 file of it - but as I seem to be going way over my allocated memory allowance, it will not be happening in the near future!


Demetrius Romeo: John, your career began with Shakespeare, and you’ve trained with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and yet, you do a lot of science fiction. Is science fiction a bit of ‘relief’ between the more serious jobs, or is it something you approach as seriously as the other drama?

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: I’m not sure that ‘seriously’ is the word. You take every job with some attention and some dedication, I think. I like science fiction because I like speculating about the future. I’m one of these guys who actually do believe that the sooner we get off this planet, the better. In fact, it could be summed up, I suppose, as “environment? Ah, screw that! Use the planet, move on”.

That might be a little bit of a travesty of my opinion, but … ooh, I upset a lot of people then, didn’t I! Let’s leave the slow ones behind and move on to Mars.

You see we could transform Mars in about four years. What we need on Mars is what we’ve got a lot of on earth: ozone! What we want to do is we want to pollute Mars extensively. We can make an atmosphere in about four years, you know. Trap heat. Melt the permafrost. Get an atmosphere. Yes, you know, there may be a lot of things we over-run and destroy and all that sort of thing, but you know what? We could have people living there within fifty years.

Demetrius Romeo: So what you’re saying is that science fiction is something that you’ve thought about!

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: Yes, I love science fiction. I like science, actually. And I like the contradiction between what scientists promise, and what they deliver. Which is frequently a huge gap! We tend to label all scientists with the same label, you know: ‘He’s a scientist!’ I’ve been privileged to meet really earth-shakingly great minds who are scientists. I’ve also met some very mediocre people who use that label with as much authenticity as I do to being a conductor of a symphony orchestra. I have no knowledge. I mean, I listen to music, but I can’t conduct and I really have no idea what happens. We should separate between the two. One of the ways scientists get grants is by speculating and attracting attention by hyperbole. You know:

“GLOBAL WARNING! TA-DAAA”

“Oh, give ’em money, give ’em money, give ’em money.”

“Oh, thanks, that’s my career.”

I mean, the damage that a man like Paul Erhlich did in the 70s and 80s is monumental. He was one of these sort of ‘the future shock’-type people who predicted that by 1976 we’d be completely out of oil and completely out of minerals, that sort of thing and therefore added bucketfuls of regulations to every economy of the world, you know, slowed the economy of the world down and really retarded the prospects of getting so many millions of people out of poverty – but all in the name of the environment.

That’s not to be cynical about the environment – but you should be very, very, very wary about making any prediction about things like global warming. Is there global warming happening? I think there probably is, but to the extent that human activity is involved, I think there’s still a question. If we stopped every form of human activity, would the global warming continue? I suspect that just might happen. I think it’s something to do with sunspot activity, and that’s governed by cycles which are within cycles which are within cycles.

Demetrius Romeo: Let’s take it back a few cycles, back to you and your acting.

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: Oh, that! That’s boring stuff! Nobody’s interested in actors. This is the story of actors: “Oh, look at me, look at me! Do you know how much I’ve suffered for my art? Do you know how much pain that make-up cost to put on, so that I could give you this wonderful performance? Oh, poor me, poor me. I’m over-paid; I get to travel freely; people will treat me nicely; people come up to me all the time and say, ‘gosh, you are so good!’ But that’s the life in which I have to endure and suffer.” It’s bullshit!

Demetrius Romeo: Tell me a bit about the endurance and sufferance. I understand that in order to put the make-up on to be Gimli in Lord of the Rings, you actually had to endure a bit of hardship.

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: Oh, god! If I have to repeat this story yet again, I think I might just kill myself. Or probably you, actually; I think that might be the better thing. I developed a reaction to the make-up; I got a topical eczema and every time it got put on, it used to do a skin-peel for me, around the eyes. That’s probably why I’ve got this youthful skin around the eyes now! You know what? There are people with real pain, real suffering, who don’t get any of the attention or approval or the opportunity to bitch and moan and complain about it like I do.

Demetrius Romeo: Okay. So you’re in Australia to attend a few science fiction conventions…

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: To cast a few incendiaries in front of audiences!

Demetrius Romeo: … Are conventions the necessary evil for actors who do fantasy or science fiction films?

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: Gosh! I don’t think so, I think they’re great fun. When you’re working on the stage, you’ve got feedback from the audience all the time. When you’re working in film or television, you never do, and it’s very easy to get so off-target. In the end, it’s about burning energy and convincing people that the character you’re playing is real; that the situation that he is in, is real; and if you’re not in contact with real people, and you can’t enter the sensibility of real people, you’re acting will get false… although I must say, I never try to tint my acting with any hint of naturalism! [big, ale-quaffing in a tavern-type thespian laughter] Aah yes, what’s that wonderful line? Walter Savage Landor wasn’t it.


Nature I loved, and after nature, art. I warmed both hands before the fire of life. It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

It’s so pretentious and pompous, it’s wonderful! I love it, I love it.

Demetrius Romeo: So you’re saying that when you go to a convention, you’re dealing with the real people that you wouldn’t otherwise have contact with. But let me ask you then – are they real people that you’re dealing with?

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: [Sharp intake of breath.] Hmmmmmm.

Demetrius Romeo: I mean, don’t you ever get that feeling where you want to say, ‘come on, people, it was just a film’?

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: I did get a very extensive letter the other day from a gentleman who had loved Sliders. Sliders was a television series I did with Jerry O’Connell a few years ago. The little ‘telephone’ channel-changing device that we used to sort of jump from universe to universe – he was very interested in that. He wants my help in developing it commercially. He sent me his drawing of how it should look, but there is this slight problem of how it works inside. I had to pass on it. Clearly he thought that I, as a professor of cosmology and ontology, and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist – or of that order, anyway – should be interested and able to help him. Unfortunately, parallel universes are not something I’m working on right at the moment.

There are times when you do meet real lunatics, but what I find about science fiction conventions is that you also meet such an extraordinary range of rather bright people. I’ve met real rocket scientists, real physicists. There are a number of computer guys – and they like to call themselves ‘computer geeks’ – bank managers, firemen, prison officers, the occasional man from the Inland Revenue – it’s true! – and some soldiers and sailors and airmen, vets. There are some pretty dishy girls who come along as well, and that’s always a plus. But at these conventions we’re going to see a brighter audience than most. Anyone who comes, I think, will find themselves in the company of people who are just a little bit out of the ordinary.

Demetrius Romeo: Does it ever make you wonder why there isn’t that sort of mass adulation and people willing to change their lives when you play a character from Shakespeare on the stage, for example, rather than a character from a science fiction film?

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: I think Shakespeare was the most popular artist of his time. I think people did gain a huge amount from watching him at that particular time. I’m sure that there were a lot of people who wanted to grow up to be like Prince Hal, to be that chivalrous noble leader of military terms, or like Hamlet: introspective, withdrawn, philosophical, and yet a man of action as well. Isn’t that so like you or I? [big thesp laugh again]

Demetrius Romeo: In The Lord of the Rings you play a dwarf, and yet in real life you tower over that dwarf’s size. How did you effectively portray the character?

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: I had an awful lot of help: great make-up; great filmmakers; great costuming; great supporting actors; a director of real genius; a basic story that was a pretty good tale; a grand script; thanks to all of that, I was able to create something that, clearly, some people have liked. I would like to say that it was purely my genius. In fact I used to say to Peter Jackson, when we were trying something, “now Peter, you understand, these are the rules: if this works, it is down to my genius as an actor. If it doesn’t work and they hate it, blame the director”. He said, “John, I’ve got it.”So, if it works, god what a good actor I am. And if you didn’t like it – BLAME THE DIRECTOR!

Demetrius Romeo: John Rhys-Davies, thank you very much.

JOHN RHYS-DAVIES: Thank you very much, and do come to that science fiction convention that’s going to be all over this wretched continent.