He’s outrageous, irreverent, and as wild and crazy a Scot as you’re ever likely to meet. Comic, raconteur and occasional dramatic actor Billy Connelly will be coming to a movie screen near you in two films: the medieval-set time travel adventure Timeline, and the blockbuster Last Samurai. Connelly talked both, plus an assortment of subjects from comedy to God, with Paul Fischer.
Question: Have you ever played D’Artagnan?
Answer: No. But that’s what taxi drivers in Paris used to call me. HEY D’ARTAGNAN!
Question: Are you very selective acting wise, or do you just take what’s offered you? I pretty much take what’s offered. I don’t have wild dogs chasing people with scripts away from my door. I get my share. I’ve done okay. But I usually do independent stuff because that’s mostly what I’m offered. I’ve only done two big budgets. This and Last Samurai, because nobody offers them to me. Even Rob Roy and Braveheart – every Scotsman who could walk upright was in the fucking thing. But nobody thought of giving me a phone. And at one point with Braveheart, I gave the casting lady a lift home. I didn’t know she was the casting lady. She needed a lift and she was going where I was. But I was delighted not to be in them.
Question: Which was more challenging, doing a vehicle like this or working on a Cruise movie like Last Samurai?
Answer: It’s the same thing. Once you see action, it’s the same thing.
Question: But the same accent?
Answer: Let me see – no, I’m Irish in Samurai. I am Tom Cruise’s friend from the Civil War. We’ve been in the army together. I’m a sergeant. He’s an officer. We’re both out of the army, and I get him to come back in. (Which side?) Oh we’re the dark ones. We’re the dark blues. I don’t know much about the Civil War. I’ve been trying to learn about it. I’ve always loved letters – and I bought a book of letters from Civil War people writing home and I learned a great deal about the feeling about the Civil War. And then I bought a thing about Gettysburg which was very interesting. (Story of the movie). I’ve met some people, businessmen, who want to develop business in Japan, but the Samurai keep getting in the way, so they want to develop a modern army, and they get me to get Tom’s character back in.
Question: What was it like working with Tom?
Answer: He has this reputation of being the nicest guy in the world. He’s a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. Tantrums. drug addiction. A vomiting, womanizing homosexual. No he’s an absolute delight. He might complain about you – homosexual, drugs, drinking — I know. But that’s my secret life. I asked a lot of guys, some people who knew him, what do you think? Everybody said: he’s a great guy, you’ll like him. And they were absolutely right. He’s a lovely person.
Question: You’re married to this intellectual [Dr Pamela Stevenson]
Answer: Yes, I am. I am. I’m married to the good doctor. We’ve been together for twenty something years, but we’ve only been married for about 15 of them, I think.
Question: How does she put up with you?
Answer: I don’t really know. I think she finds me windswept and interesting. She analyses me. I’m a work in progress. I’m her own tattooed primitive.
Question: Were you in Japan for last Samurai?
Answer: Yes, but I wasn’t there for very long. I was only there for about a week, and it was lovely. I loved Japan. I used to read a lot about it when I was a child. And I always wanted to go. And it was delightful. I absolutely loved it. What a smashing place.
Question: You are killed by Samurai in the movie.
Answer: Yes, they kill me. I die very early. Get there early. I die on page 39. The Samurai kill me. Very unfair.
Question: How do they kill you?
Answer: With a sword. They pin me to the ground like a butterfly. Yes, it was a very glorious death. A glorious way to go. I’m very fond of Japan. I didn’t realize the people were so friendly. I thought they would be more distant, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how friendly and approachable people were. I loved it. I absolutely loved it.
Question: Do you miss your stand-up comedy?
Answer: I don’t. I do it when I want it. I’m doing it again in February in New Zealand. I’ve been doing it since the 70s down there. I’m very big in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and America. It’s nice. I have a lovely life, and actually it pays better than the movies. Well, it doesn’t pay better than Tom Cruise in the movies. But it pays better than I get. I get bus fare compared to these guys.
Question: What do you like poking fun at now that you didn’t do when you were starting out?
Answer: I don’t know . . . stuff like gods in general and how people behave. It seems to me that Islam and Christianity and Judaism all have the same god, and he’s telling them all different things. So he’s either a bit of a practical joker or they’re all talking shit. I don’t know what you think. I like prophets. I like people who starve 40 days and 40 nights in the desert and come back and say god spoke to them. You do it and he’ll fookin’ speak to you as well. He probably spoke to that dick in the glass box that was hanging on the crane. I bet god spoke to him as well.
Question: You were in a movie about that.
Answer: Oh yes, that was The Man Who Sued God. It didn’t get released in America. I don’t know why, because it’s a lovely little film. It did really well in England and Australia and all that. It’s about the insurance clause, you know, act of god. The guy loses his fishing boat, and they say it was an act of god – it was lightning – so he gets god into court by taking his representatives into court – the catholic church, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, a Rabbi – get them in. And of course they’ve all invested in the insurance company, so the only way they can save their money is by saying there’s no god. It’s a lovely court scene. It’s a fantastic court scene.
Question: And Judy Davis is your lawyer.
Answer: Yes, she’s my lawyer and my lover. We fall in love.
Question: I can’t imagine you and Davis in love.
Answer: You can’t? I can. I can. I think she’s a smashing woman. And sexy. But then again, I think most women are sexy. Have you noticed that getting old is like getting drunk? Everybody becomes good looking. Your critical faculties end. Everybody is quite handsome..
Question: Do you think John Brown and Queen Victoria were having it off?
Answer: Yes. I think they got married actually. There’s recent proof of a secret marriage (post-movie) and it hasn’t been denied by the royal family. There was a secret marriage ceremony. Because I remember reading a long time ago, it was in a cookbook actually. I found this trout recipe, and it said: these sandwiches, these trouty kinds of sandwiches, were what John Brown and Victoria would eat on their picnics. And I thought: ooooooh? Picnics! I haven’t heard about these. They were always off over the hill on their horses away from everybody. And I thought they were an item.
Question: Were you surprised at success of that movie?
Answer: It didn’t surprise me at all. I thought it was a lovely thing. It was a privilege to be in it.
Question: How did you and Judi Dench get along?
Answer: Very, very well. I love her. I do. She makes you good. There are good actors of all kinds – when you act with them and they do what they do, you have to act in turn with them, and you can’t go waving your arms around (imitates over-acting) you have to be as good in return as they are to you to make sense of the thing and to believe you can be better than you are. The ability to listen is very important. You have to listen with your eyes.
Question: What about a movie like Timeline?
Answer: It’s exactly the same. It’s about thinking. You have to think about who you’re supposed to be. You can’t think – oh god, I have to go over there when she says that and then turn right and go out the gate. That has to be locked in. You have to think about who you’re supposed to be. But that applies to singing as well. That’s why great singers are great singers – because they are thinking it as they are singing, they’re thinking about the things they’re singing. That’s why if you’re at home and your old aunt sings a song that was a big hit when she was in love, then she can probably sing it better than Tony Bennett because she’s living it. When she’s singing it, she’s back and in love again. It reminds her. I think acting and that are exactly the same thing. For that brief moment in time, you’re thinking like another person, and it comes through your eyes and up the lens.
Question: If you could go back in time and revisit one of your films or one of your stand-ups,is there anything you would want to change?
Answer: No. No. It’s something I haven’t given much thought to. The only time I would like to see was the 20s and 30s in America because I love the music and the style and the optimism, I wanted to see New York being built. I wanted to see all that, you know. That great industrial revolution that happened here, the second part. The first part happened in Britain. The second part happened in America. And I’d love to see it taking place and all that immigration and hustle and bustle and music and black and white shoes and double breasted suits and fedora hats, swing music, jazz, beautiful women and suspender belts.
Question: Wat are you currently up to?
Answer: I’m doing an animated thing for Disney at the moment. That’s over the next year or two. It doesn’t have name. It’s about the Appalachian Mountains, hillbilly thing, and I’m a Scottish immigrant. I’m a ghost. It’s got a lot of country folk in it. Dolly Parton and Ashley Judd . . . a lot of great people.
Question: Where do you call home?
Answer: Home is LA. I love it. I love Los Angeles. It reinvents itself every two days.
Question: Do you still have a place in Scotland?
Answer: Yes, I have a wonderful place up in the Northeast. It’s fantastic. Aberdeenshire, about an hour from Aberdeen. it’s a very, very beautiful place I want to live there much more. Live in America maybe another 5-10 years and then I’ll go back.
Question: Are you a Scottish nationalist?
Answer: Oh fuck that. And every other nationalism. You must remember that Nazis are an abbreviation for that.
Question: Sean Connery is one.
Answer: Like I said. Does he live there? No! I hate nationalism. If you look at the history of nationalism, you’ll find the history of war and horror. It’s all based on the belief that because you were born on that bit of the planet, you’re imbued with certain talents and gifts. It’s nonsense. I’m a citizen of the world. I like it that way. The world’s a wonderful. I just think that some people are pretty badly represented. But when you speak to the people themselves they’re delightful. They all want so little. Have you ever thought of Saddam Hussein sitting on the biggest oil reserves in the whole world? That place hould have been Utopia. There should have been roses in the streets and people laughing and living in luxury. They chose to go the other way. Power is a horrible thing. It should be treated the way you teach the child to behave at the fire – stay away. Connery couldn’t find his way to Scotland in a taxi.