Q&A: John Hannah
John Hannah on becoming a movie star alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, mugging it up in the Mummy films and parodying television copy shows in his new comedy series
Hello John, I remember you from Sliding Doors!
Being in a big movie changes your life a bit. But it happens one step at a time. It doesn't freak you out –you just sort of get on with it.
You go through cycles and then you're disappointed when there's a bit of a lull. You think ‘oh my god, it's over now'. And then there's a burst of ‘what the hell do I do now?'
When you’re making a picture with Gwyneth Paltrow, do you think ‘wow, this is going to be huge hit?’
You are pretty much committed to everything you are in. You are attracted by the script in the first place. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie. Usually, you believe in it all the way — until you see it at least.
Did you enjoy appearing in the Mummy movies |— or was there too much acting against |special effects?
You know, that didn't really bother me. I'm not from an overly theatrical background. When you're on stage, you have to walk out there and hit your marks and pretend the audience isn't there. Which is essentially the same as what you do on film. You play your scene and pretend the camera isn't there. I think it gets disingenuous for people to suggest one is a more valid means of expression than the other.
Nowadays ,you mostly work in TV — you were in Spartacus and are about to star in season two of Sky’s cop show satire A Touch Of Cloth. Which medium do you prefer?
Television can become real hard work, if you are doing a long series — 12, 13 episodes say. It can really become like going to slog in a factory. With film, you may be doing less per day but are working towards something very tangible. Whereas, with TV, you may not know what the long-term story line is.
You haven’t really done comedy before — was Cloth a challenge?
It was so much fun, you just can't believe what you are allowed get away with. We play it very straight. You try to get all the laughs out of the way off-camera. Whenever there was a suspicion someone was winking, the director would tell us to do it the way [dour UK cop show] Luther would.
Of course you’ve played Ian Rankin’s deadpan Inspector Rebus on TV. Now you’re lampooning the very same genre.
I understand they wanted a certain cop TV cred. With me having done the very stuff they are sending up, it seemed to work. Actually I'd just come back from doing Spartacus in New Zealand and told my agent ‘I don't want to do any more cop shows'.
So you’re as sick of boring British procedural dramas as the rest of us are of watching them?
I haven't done a lot of British TV recently, it’s no coincidence that most of my work has been in America. In the UK, I've done what there is to be done. All they seem to make nowadays are cop shows. Apart from the odd one-off, there isn't much that excites me. A Touch of Cloth was very different — it was crying out to be done.
Did you have misgivings about working with Sky, which doesn’t have an especially huge track record in drama?
Bizarrely, most people working from Sky have come from the BBC. They've got a great big cheque book and are investing in quality. Because they are screening all these large- budget shows from the States, they can't really put their own stuff up alongside them without investing in them in a big way. They're also subscriber-based, which means they don't have to chase ratings. They're not trying to do what someone else did last year.
John Hannah will appear at a screening of |the second season of A Touch Of Cloth and participate in a Q&A at Cat Laughs Comedy Festival, Langton’s Set Theatre, Kilkenny, tomorrow at 9.30pm