Catching Up with Ian McShane


By Dustin Fitzharris

Is fear stronger than love or is love stronger than fear? That's the question the new movie 44 Inch Chest asks. It's a dark, and at times, disturbing film that explores the masculine ego and what happens to it when it's 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 wife's lover so he can get revenge, can Colin go through with their plan of making him pay?

Ian McShane of HBO's Deadwood fame stars at Meredith, an arrogant and flamboyantly gay control freak. Playing a gay man is nothing new to McShane; he's 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 you've got good material and the director has his vision but leaves you alone to get on with it, it's always worthwhile. I've known John Hurt for a long time. He's older than me. I need to add that. I've worked with Tom Wilkinson before. And Stephen Dillane, I've always been a big admirer of, but I've never worked with him. He's 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 wouldn't 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, it's a chamber piece. It's never going to be everybody's cup of tea, but it's kind of a follow-up, companion piece to Sexy Beast because it's 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 don't 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. He's got his priorities, as far as he's concerned, worked out. He knows what he's capable of and what he isn't.

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, 'I'm very glad you're playing this part.' I said, 'Why's 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, I've met people like that. Pretty scary. I mean, we're all human beings. Why can't we all just get along? Be it black, gay, white, straight, whatever. It's not a big problem in the entertainment industry, but it seems to be a big problem everywhere else -- well, actually, it's not a problem anywhere else. It's made one by focus groups and all these people who want to see the status quo just carry on, which hasn't 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.