Sunday, 27 October 2013

Thor star Christopher Eccleston: All of my movie heroes as a kid were the bad guys.

ECCLESTON has become a regular 'baddie' in blockbuster films and he admits he's rediscovering his early admiration for the bad guy on cinema.

Christopher Eccleston in Thor

CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON endured hours in the make-up chair and then conquered a tongue-twisting language to be transformed into the most awesome villain to trade blows with the hammer-wielding big screen superhero Thor.

For the latest Marvel Comics movie blockbuster Thor: The Dark World, Christopher , 49, was given the most bizarre physical appearance of his career.

To become Malekith, the cold-blooded leader of the Dark Elves, who wants to plunge the universe into eternal darkness, the actor was given pointed ears, a scarred and charred face, piercing red eyes and a hairdo that looked like an 18th century powdered wig.

It was a look that took six hours to create every day during filming of the big budget adventure, which sees the return of Chris Hemsworth as our hero.

And on top of that, Christopher had to master a complex Elvish language that was invented just for the movie.

Not surprisingly, it was one of the most demanding roles ever tackled by the lauded actor, whose films include Shallow Grave and Let Him Have It and who starred in TV hits that range from Our Friends in the North and Cracker to Doctor Who.

“It was my first experience of prosthetics,” Christopher tells 7Nights when we meet at London’s Dorchester Hotel.

“I have a different shaped head, I wear a wig and a cage on top of the wig – it is very elaborate and transforming.”

And a very new experience for the talented and versatile actor.

He added: “In 24 years in the industry, I don’t think I ever spent any longer than 20 minutes in a make-up chair. Then suddenly I’m there for six hours at a time.”

When I say I admire the tolerance that he had to show every time he sat in the make-up chair, Christopher laughs.

“I don’t have that kind of patience. I had to learn it,” says the actor who had to sip his drinks through a straw as make-up was being applied.

Stripping away the layers of latex make-up after filming finished was another ordeal.

“It took 45 minutes to an hour just to take it off,” says Christopher. “There were usually pieces of the prosthetic mask falling off me in the car on the way home from filming.”

The discomfort involved in turning Christopher into Malekith could have been much worse.

The actor was delighted to report that unlike some, he didn’t suffer any nasty reaction to the make-up or the contact lenses.

“I am very fortunate,” he said. “I had worn lenses before when I played John Lennon in the TV movie Lennon Naked – and I never had any problem with them. And I was fine with the red lenses I wore for Thor.”

Understandably, Christopher had some concerns that he might be so submerged under all the brilliantly transforming make-up that he would be unrecognisable.

“But I was pleased that even with the prosthetic make-up, you still see it is me,” he added. “The first time you go through the make-up process and get out the chair to see yourself, you think, ‘Goodness, why did they employ me?’

But on the first day, I had to look on the monitor at the first stuff that I’d shot – and I’m not a monitor monkey, I’m not one for watching myself. Normally, I stay well away from them.

“But when I did look, I saw that it was clearly me and it was clearly a flesh and blood creature – if I can say that about an elf. So I was relieved.”

Another complication was thrown into the mix when it was decided that Malekith and his right-hand elf Algrim (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) would speak in an outlandish tongue that was made-up for the movie.

Christopher agreed that it made sense because the weird-sounding language would help the audience to believe that this was a very different species.

“You are presenting an alternative race and if it sounds like two English guys who just happen to be in prosthetics, then it makes it hard to suspend disbelief,” he said.

“The invented language that we speak is based mostly on Finnish. So I found myself looking on YouTube, listening to people speak Finnish to try and pick up some of the rhythms.”

There was an added pressure because the decision to have an Elvish language was made quite late in the day.

“We were quite panicked because if you are learning English dialogue, then there is the memory of the word,” said Christopher.

“But it was almost impossible almost to remember this language. You had to learn it parrot fashion, just for recall. Then you had to overlay it with pronunciation.

“So it was very difficult but it was worth it. I was really pleased and proud of how it sounded.”

Christopher now takes his place among classic Marvel movie villains like Magneto, Doctor Octopus, Red Skull and Bullseye. Every one of these baddies is an exotic baddie.

But when he was a schoolboy, it was a different, more traditional breed of villain that made a lasting impression on Christopher.

“The first screen villain that made an impact on me was James Cagney in White Heat,” he said.

“I’m 49 now and I was watching all those old films on TV in the late 1960s. And I was, and still am, transfixed by Cagney as an actor.

“Another Cagney performance as a baddie that had a huge impact on me was in Angels with Dirty Faces.

“He was definitely a tough guy in that and then there was the ambiguity of him going screaming to his death in the electric chair after the priest has spoken with him. Was he actually terrified or was he acting it?

“I believed everything about Cagney – what a benchmark he was as an actor.

“If I had to choose one actor who made an impression on me as a screen villain, it would be Cagney. He was amazing.

“I also grew up with Edward G Robinson playing the heavy in films like The Cincinnati Kid or Ernest Borgnine in From Here to Eternity.

“Then there was George Kennedy, who although he becomes the best friend of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, he is the bully.

“The fascination with characters like that is all rooted in our memory of being bullied at school.

“Later on, I was a huge James Bond fan and was knocked out by Gert Frobe, who played Auric Goldfinger.

“He was Teutonic, with a sense of humour and delicacy and he cheated at golf – which all the best villains do.

“Then there was Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) in From Russia with Love and Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) in The Man with the Golden Gun and, of course, Donald Pleasence as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.

“I was brought up on that quite understated villain, the smiling stiletto.”

Making Thor: The Dark World meant that Christopher worked alongside a star who had portrayed another of his favourite villains.

He added: “When I was working at the National Theatre, working as an usher selling ice cream and collecting tickets, Anthony Hopkins was there playing Lambert Le Roux in the play Pravda. Le Roux was a South African media mogul who was like Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch in a car crash.

“I watched his performance many times and what I was struck by was how huge Anthony Hopkins seemed on that stage. He came on in a box suit and with his hair slicked back, he leaned forward on the tips of his toes and moved in a very reptilian way.

“Then I would see him in the National Theatre canteen eating beans on toast. It was a really important lesson for me, to see the smoke and the mirrors of the whole thing.

“You could see that this was a man who saw Laurence Olivier’s work. He had that kind of command on the theatre.”

Unfortunately, Christopher’s scene with Oscar winner Hopkins who plays Odin, the king of the Norse gods, finished up on the cutting room floor. “Hopefully it will be on the DVD, it is certainly on the DVD in my soul,” said Christopher.

There is more dark drama coming up for Christopher. He plays gambling club host John Aspinall in the television movie Lucan – about the British peer who mysteriously vanished after the murder of the family nanny and an assault on his wife.

He also stars in the powerful US-made TV series The Leftovers – which is about those left behind after The Rapture takes place and millions disappear from the Earth.

Christopher said: “I play an evangelical reverend, a guy who more importantly than having lost his God, is completely convinced that his God exists and he doesn’t want him. So I’d imagine he is going to be quite complex.”

- Thor: The Dark World is released on October 30