Q&A with Ian
„The Saint“ (2017) debuted on Netflix last year but in actuality the movie was completed in 2013 as a pilot for a series. How did that come about and it only ended up as a TV movie that premiered last year? Why wasn’t it well received in your opinion?
I know very little about the mechanics of this TV movie. I was brought in very late, mostly as a sort of in-joke, during the initial shooting. Then a year later I was asked back to shoot a very much expanded character, which I did over a period of three days in Romania. I would be the last person to be told about what went on with the marketing/selling/process, so I’m afraid I can’t help with this question.
In my opinion the pilot was decent and left interesting things to explore in future episodes. What is your opinion of the pilot and your role? Were you to become a recurring character?
I thought the pilot was OK and Adam Rayner made a terrific Saint. My part was slightly pointless, but I understand that, had the series gone forward, that the intention was to make me a regular character.
Ever since Roger Moore‘s series ended in 1969 there have been three attempts to revive „The Saint“ and none have succeeded. Why do you think a reboot of Simon Templar looks dead in the water?
Because the character is an anachronism. Those sorts of debonair heroics have now passed to the domain of the super-heroes. An impeccably dressed young man in an expensive car who goes about saving women from villains belongs firmly in the past, I feel.
Two of your oldies have been given the Blu-ray treatment since last year; „Cop-Out“ and „And Now the Screaming Starts“.
„Cop-Out“ (1967) is an interesting time capsule in many ways; a bit too Swinging sixties but also has a forceful James Mason central performance and a solid dramatic core. What is your take on the film? Are you happy that it‘s been unearthed for future appreciation as it really was all but forgotten?
I have not seen the film since it first appeared in 1967. It was pretty bad then – I can only imagine how awful it must look now. I think for all our sake it should have remained buried.
„And Now the Screaming Starts“ (1973) is a classic Amicus Productions period piece horror film that‘s at last available on Blu-ray. Great supporting cast with Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee. What is your take on the film and are you happy with it‘s high definition debut?
I’m pleased it’s on Blu-ray – it’s always good to see these things being restored. I don’t know how good a movie it is. I enjoyed making it. Peter Cushing was a delightful man, courteous and kind, and my friend Stephanie Beacham was fun to play opposite – it’s her film rather than mine, of course. Director Roy Ward Baker became a friend and directed a couple of Saint episodes.
You stopped appearing in horror films after „From Beyond the Grave“ (or at least until „Puppet Master 5 (1994). Didn‘t you want to get pigeonholed within the genre or were there no more interesting offers?
Those kinds of films stopped being made. They were mostly replaced by more violent ‘slasher’ movies. I guess us old-timers didn’t fit so well in the new genre, so we weren’t asked to be in them. I’m only in Puppet Master 5 because the director always liked my work and because he needed an older evil scientist character and thought of me, which was very kind.
Last time I asked whether „The Invincible Six“ (1970) was a hidden gem worth rediscovering on Blu-ray and you said it wasn’t. I neglected to ask about another cult oddity called „The Day the Fish Came Out“ (1967) co-starring Candace Bergen and Tom Courtney. It looks like an interesting cult film with more favorable reviews on IMDB than unfavorable. Is that one worth a Blu-ray deluxe treatment in your opinon?
The Day The Fish Came Out is one of the worst films ever made and deserves nothing less than being dropped down a mine shaft. Blu-ray will do nothing to enhance it. 30 years after shooting this abortion I appeared in an episode of ‘Murphy Brown’ with Candace and suggested I might bring one of my scrapbooks to the studio – the one with the photos of her and me in our ridiculous ‘futuristic’ (1997!) costumes – and Candace begged me not to, on the grounds that if any member of the ‘Murphy Brown’ crew ever saw her looking the way she did in that film, the teasing would become unmerciful.
Of your films which ones do you think should be rediscovered on Blu-ray?
I don’t know which ones have been given the Blu-ray treatment and which haven’t. I don’t particularly like any of them enough to recommend one for Blu-ray.
A few years after „Return of the Saint“ ended you were back in British television in a comedy series called „Tom, Dick and Harriet“ (1982-1983) which only lasted 12 episodes. To the best of my knowledge it was quite popular and well received by critics. But an unfortunate incident caused production to suddenly stop. What was the incident? Do you think the show could have gone on for a long time?
I describe the incident in full in my memoir – it’s a bit long to go into here. I think the show could have gone on for some time but a couple of things got in the way of that. After the accident Lionel Jeffreys lost confidence in the production – and also we lost our two original creator/writers, who wanted to move on to other things. A script was written by some others but none of us three actors liked it, so that was that. I would have been happy to continue forever – half hour situation comedies are the best jobs – civilized working hours, good pay, interaction with an audience (although Lionel hated that part of it) and mostly within the comforts of a studio – sitcoms have always been a favorite genre for me.
Your guest appearances in British and American TV shows are very many but I was wondering if there was any good tale to tell about your role as „Furlong“, a bounty hunter, in the cult series „The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.“? (A personal favorite) What is your most memorable guest turn in a series?
I was excited to be a guest actor of Brisco County because I had never done a Western, and saw myself all decked out in the cowboy hat and the guns on the hips … turned out I was a Scotland Yard detective, and was to be dressed in the archetypal English detective clothes of tweed suit and deerstalker hat … such a disappointment. My most memorable turn was in an episode of ‘Early Edition’ – it was the best part I had in American TV, playing an amiable art thief.
The character Richie Archer of „We Still Kill the Old Way“ (2014) and „We Still Steal the Old Way“ (2017) was a bit of a departure from previous roles. What do you think of the character and of these old time gangster movies which will soon become a trilogy?
As you say, a departure for me, which is why I liked doing it so much. A likable villain is always fun to play and I haven’t done many of them. I growled my way through the first two and, if it ever gets made, will no doubt growl my way through the third one too.
In the first one Richie and his gang avenged his brother in brutal fashion; in the second the gang willfully went to prison to spring out a buddy. What‘s in store for the gang in the third one; „We Still Die the Old Way“?
Without letting too much out of the bag I think some of us will die …
In 2004 you began a writing career and several children‘s novels have been published about a character called Measle. Tell us about Measle and his adventures and how you conceived of him.
The first Measle story was inspired by a wonderfully detailed train set I saw in somebody’s house in London. It was obviously a children’s book, and it took a while to write it – but it was an instant success and four sequels were commissioned by the publisher. They were sold all over the world, in many different languages.
Are there plans to produce a film based on the first book; „Measle and the Wrathmonk“?
There were plans – first from Robert Zemeckis and Warner Bros, then later from another animation company – however, the film has not yet been made and I don’t think it will be now. Sad, but I made quite a lot of money from the options alone.
Is writing something you are still active in?
Yes – I write plays and books (as I say, my memoir came out a couple of years ago).
Last time you said that the next big event would probably be death. Will there be any more novels or film projects in between you think?
I hope so!