Catching Up with Ian McShane

Catching Up with Ian McShane

Is fear stronger than love or is love stronger than fear? Thats the question the new movie 44 Inch Chest asks. Its a dark, and at times, disturbing film that explores the masculine ego and what happens to it when its pushed to its breaking point. When the character Colin (Ray Winstone) discovers his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), is having an affair, he goes mad. But when his friends kidnap his wifes lover so he can get revenge, can Colin go through with their plan of making him pay?

Ian McShane of HBOs Deadwood fame stars at Meredith, an arrogant and flamboyantly gay control freak. Playing a gay man is nothing new to McShane; hes experimented with several roles in his career that spans over four decades.

Out caught up with McShane to get the inside story on 44 Inch Chest, something he calls a fucking good film. We also found out why Richard Burton loved kissing him, the secret to his marriage of 30 years, and where he keeps his numerous awards.

Out: You recently said about 44 Inch Chest: It was as close to having a good time acting as I've ever had. Why is that?
Ian McShane: When you get a lot of good actors together and youve got good material and the director has his vision but leaves you alone to get on with it, its always worthwhile. Ive known John Hurt for a long time. Hes older than me. I need to add that. Ive worked with Tom Wilkinson before. And Stephen Dillane, Ive always been a big admirer of, but Ive never worked with him. Hes the real thing.

What did you think of the script when you first read it?
I loved it. Ray Winstone and I have been involved with it since we were doing Sexy Beast. We always wanted to do this film together. We said we wouldnt do it without each other. We did other projects over the last six or seven years and finally it came together and was picked up at the right time. We made it on obviously a small budget in England, and it was a pleasure. It was a great exercise in acting

How do you think an audience will respond?
Well, its a chamber piece. Its never going to be everybodys cup of tea, but its kind of a follow-up, companion piece to Sexy Beast because its the interpretation of the male macho and misogyny of all different kinds of male animals.

And do you think about the theme? Is fear stronger than love?
Me personally or me as Meredith?

I dont know. It depends how passionate you were at that moment. I think Meredith is the most emotionally mature in his own way of the group. He is what he is. He goes his own way and is a fearless kind of guy. Hes got his priorities, as far as hes concerned, worked out. He knows what hes capable of and what he isnt.

Do you have that male ego, though?
Oh, I think so. Pushed -- absolutely.

This is your second time playing a gay character in a film written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto. In Sexy Beast you played Teddy. How is Meredith different from him?
I think Teddy Bass was even blacker than Meredith. Teddy would do it with a frog if he stopped hopping long enough.

In 1971 you did the film Villain with Richard Burton and again you played a gay character. In fact, your two characters were lovers. What was that experience like?
Some say 44 Inch Chest is a modern version of that film. I must tell you that before we did the scene, Richard and I felt some slight trepidation about it. Richard turned to me and said, Im very glad youre playing this part. I said, Whys that? He said, Because you remind me of Elizabeth [Taylor].

Why was that?
Well, at the time I had long black hair down to my shoulders, so you know.

Do you think the gay community will be able to relate to Meredith?
Well, Ive met people like that. Pretty scary. I mean, were all human beings. Why cant we all just get along? Be it black, gay, white, straight, whatever. Its not a big problem in the entertainment industry, but it seems to be a big problem everywhere else -- well, actually, its not a problem anywhere else. Its made one by focus groups and all these people who want to see the status quo just carry on, which hasnt seemed to work particularly successfully within the past 100 years. I think Meredith stands out as a beacon.

Did you have an inspiration for the character?
No, I think some of it comes from within. Every character has a certain small amount of oneself in it. I loved the character. Everyone likes to get a character who is vain, sophisticated, funny and works within his own parameters.

There is a lot of profanity in this film. Was it too much? Was all of it needed?
They [Louis Mellis and David Scinto] write beautifully. Not one swear word; not one piece of vernacular was added. Its all as they wrote it. Theyre saying something to the way these characters speak in their normal lives, which includes a lot of swearing.

This is the first film for the director, Malcolm Venville. What was it like working with someone who had never done a film before?
Hes a big teddy bear of a guy. Hes done a lot of special photography books. Hes a well-known commercials director too. I think he chose a very simple way of telling the story. Another director, because it was all done in one room, wouldve applied numerous camera tricks, but he didnt do that. He let the material speak for itself.

Something I found interesting that you once said was in the end, its always the woman who is in control. The man may think he is, but thats because they let him. How did you come to that conclusion?
Well, Ive been married three times. I think you pick up a little along the way. The woman always has control, and they let the man think he is. Until something like this [the affair in the movie] happens and the man realizes he has no control; just as no one does in the end. The more control one thinks he has, the less he has.

In August you and your wife, Gwen, will celebrate your 30th anniversary. Is she in control?
Absolutely. Oh yeah! Absolutely. Its all about that word surrender.

What is the key to a successful relationship in show business?
She had a good career going when she met me. Then over the years I got [to work in] more exotic locations. I dont think absence makes the heart grow fonder. Prolonged absence doesnt do anybody good, so we made a deal early on that we would not go without being together for more than three weeks or a month at a time. Thats part of it. Also, we really like each other. I really like my wife, and apart from her being the sexiest thing Ive ever met, shes also very smart.

I bet she loved it when People named you TVs Sexiest Villain. What did you think?
Well, its like all awards. Somebody else can win it next year. Enjoy your second of brief, fleeting fame as the sexiest bartender or sexiest villain. I think you take it with a pinch of salt. Its nice to be mentioned, and then you get on with your life. Its nice winning a Golden Globe or Critics Award, but they all go in the bathroom.

You keep your awards in the bathroom?
Yes, because they are all gold and glass. Where else does that go except for the bathroom?

Your next film is a thriller called Case 39 and you co-star with Rene Zellweger.
We did it a couple of years ago. Were just waiting for it to come out. Bradley Cooper is in it too, so maybe they are waiting to see what happens in their relationship before they release it.

What was it like working with Rene?
Delightful. Shes very down to earth. She plays a caseworker who thinks this girl is being abused by her parents. I play, for once, this very regular, straight, married cop with two kids who helps her out when he can.

Straight? Isnt it more fun playing gay?
Oh yeah, but by that I meant a guy who is married and is solid. I dont usually play guys like that. No, the character of Meredith was a pleasure to play. I got to wear the best clothes in the movie.

Last year you appeared in the NBC show Kings. What were thoughts on the cancellation? Was it given enough time to find an audience?
I always knew it was going to be canceled. At first we were going to take over for ER. Then ER was taking another six weeks to say goodbye. Then they announced Jay Leno would be taking over at 10:00. I said, We have these 13 episodes, and we can do whatever we want. And we did. We made the 13 episodes under the assumption that NBC wanted something different, which they said. Then, of course, when they do get something different, they havent got a fucking clue on what to do with it!

Over the years youve also lent your voice to animated films. Most recently you were the villainous (again) snow leopard Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda. What do you think of doing animated films?
It takes about a three- or five-hour session, and thats it. Its interesting because you get to try various things. You dont have to see anyone else. You dont have to work with anyone else. And then suddenly youve forgotten about it and a check comes in the mail.

44 Inch Chest is in theaters now. For more information visit

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