Exclusive: Part 2 – Jason Isaacs Talks New Projects, Harry Potter and Things He Dislikes

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by Donna Cohrs and Erin Conrad

Jason Isaacs, star of the recently completed event series DIG, talked exclusively with threeifbyspace. For the first part of our interview, click here.

You’ve got some other projects coming up, one of which I think is going to be very interesting to our threeifbyspace readers – London Fields. (ed. note: Clairvoyant femme fatale Nicola Six has been living with a dark premonition of her impending death by murder. She begins a tangled love affair with three uniquely different men: one of whom she knows will be her murderer.)

That’s very interesting that you mention that, because London Fields is a book set in the ’90s (by Martin Amis), I think, in a pub in London. But the director, Mathew Cullen, did something extraordinary with it, and put it in the future. So though it was written to be very realistic, and a period piece in some ways, he moved it so the whole thing is seen through a very different prism. So it’s still the spirit of Martin Amis, but now it’s something that I certainly didn’t expect when I arrived on set. I have a very small part, I just come in right at the end of the movie. I was thrown, and rather excited by what I saw around me. The designs of the sets and the costumes and some of the scenes that Mathew showed me, he’s a bit of a visionary. He has a multi-media company that does some very futuristic avant garde stuff. In fact I downloaded Mirrorworld – he’s got a fantastic app called Mirrorworld – a Cornelia Funke adaptation, lots of her short stories – and once I saw that, I knew that was a man who wasn’t going to make something mundane. I have no idea what the film’s going to be like, but I can’t wait to see it because it’s certainly not going to be like what everybody expects.

London Fields

It looks very interesting, and we’ll be following it, and hopefully previewing it and writing about it when it comes out. So we’ll look for you towards the end. 

You’ll hear my voiceover messages all the way through, I had great fun – they aren’t in the book necessarily, but Mathew enjoyed them, so he added a whole bunch more of them, we were improvising. He’s a particularly obnoxious and repulsive character that I play, and it was more fun than it ought to have been.  It was fun seeing Billy Bob (Thornton) – I hadn’t seen Billy Bob since we did Armageddon and we’ve both been through a bit since then, so it was nice to catch up.

And Theo James is in that? He’s a young and upcoming…

When I was on set, the big secret that was being whispered about, and that I wasn’t supposed to tell anybody about, was that Johnny Depp is in it. That secret it out now, they were all really excited about that, he does good work. He also makes very bold choices when he’s acting, so I’m excited to see what he does.

We were excited to see that you’ve done so many voice overs for video games and animated films.

I have, over the years I’ve done a ton of video games. And recently, I’ve done Star Wars Rebels, which took up very little of my time, and I didn’t realize it would be so huge. Obviously I knew there were milions of Star Wars fans in the world, but I had no idea of the sheer scale of it.

Partly because of that, and partly because my on-screen son in Harry Potter, Tom Felton, made a great documentary about conventions (Tom Felton Meets the Superfans), I thought maybe I’d start going to some and seeing what it was like. It seems like a very, very interesting world.

We will be at ComicCon in San Diego this summer – so if you end up at Comic Con, it would be great to meet and say hello. 

I’ll have to fit it in between acting jobs. It’s a strange and interesting phenomenon which seems to have exploded, there are ComicCons and wizarding festivals all over the world, and frankly, it’s nice to meet the fans. I’ve never met anybody that doesn’t get excited about… or rather, I’ve never had a bad experience with a Harry Potter fan. People just love it, and they love to meet people from it. Normally the pleasure I get from work is from doing the work, and what happens afterwards is nothing to do with me, but with Harry Potter, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’s nice to see how excited and what pleasure people get just by seeing an idiot like me walking into the room, and it makes you feel good to give other people a thrill.

Harry Potter is one of my all-time favorite movie series, and I always thought you were spectacular in that. My mother is a big Harry Potter movie fan, and I told her I was interviewing you, and she said, “LUCIUS MALFOY!” She was so excited. 

I have to say, all of us on it were as much fans of the show as the people who bought tickets. It was such a privilege to be part of something that you knew the world was enjoying that much. Mostly when you film things you don’t if people are going to watch it or buy tickets, or whatever, so with Harry Potter by the time I arrived, it was beloved. You’re arriving a party that’s already in full swing. And the challenge as an actor was that all of my favorite actors on the planet were already doing spectacular work on it, so you had to hit the ground running, and make some huge choices, and there’s no way to cheat doing Lucius Malfoy.

Your performance in the 8th film, where we could see Lucius falling apart, his belief in Voldemort was going to hell, and what was happening to his son was going to hell, you were spectacular there. It was really interesting to watch. 

I think that I did have an opportunity that many of my colleagues and friends didn’t have in it, that Lucius changed so much. When you first met him, he was supremely confident and arrogant; by the time we finished the show, he was completely emasculated, if not castrated, with his wand being snapped . And clearly Voldemort was going to have no place for him in the evil order, his wife and kids had no place for him, he was absolutely paying the price for the kind of racism and egomania he had been displaying, and that stuff is meat and potatoes for an actor. It was a real joy.

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That being said, that part will live for a very long time. My kids are 18 years old, they’re twins, they started watching Harry Potter every year, that would be our big thing, we’d go to a theater and we’d all watch. They grew up with it, as the characters grew, and it starts over again. Now there are younger kids that are watching it that are going through the same things, my kids are just overjoyed that I got to talk to you today, they got on the phones and texted everyone that their mom was talking to Lucius Malfoy.

My kids watch – I’ve bred them on a diet of classic films, and they’ve watched The Sound of Music, and Wizard of Oz, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and all the Pixar films, and the thought that I’ve been any small part in something that will live forever – it’s a privilege, because it’s a rare thing that will last the weekend. Mostly down to the wig and the elves, but I’ll take it.

Just one last thing, and this may not be something you’ve heard of, but we thought we’d mention it to you. Up in Scotland, they’re filming Outlander, I don’t know if it’s something that’s ever crossed your path…

Haven’t seen it.

You were the top fan fantasy casting choice for one of the big roles that is in it, and unfortunately, we didn’t get you, we got Tobias Menzies instead, who is fantastic…

I’d like to think I was working instead, but who knows? Unfortunately most movies are not cast by the fans, and if only they were put to an open ballot… but sadly that’s not the way the world works.

This is a multi-season TV show on the Starz network, but it was mostly because of your role in The Patriot, everybody could picture you as a Redcoat, which is one aspect of this character.

Well, one of the things that happens to actors is that people ask you to do things that you’ve done before. and if you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have enough work to keep a roof over your head, you try not to take those jobs. There’s no point – I thought the part in The Patriot was superbly realized, with a great director and a very special storyteller, and there’s hundreds of great villain parts I was offered after, but I walked away from, because they were pale imitations of Col. Tavington. He was just ruthless and horrendous but completely believable, to me at least, so I’m unlikely to play some lesser version of him in the future.

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I think had this ever come up, you wouldn’t have thought this was a pale version of anything. A sadistic evil torturer, and the other part is a modern-day historian. But I thought I’d tell you that your name kept coming up.

I do like a lot of the stuff they’re doing on Starz, and at the moment I’m doing DIG, and we’ll see what comes afterwards.

We can’t wait to see what happens at the end of DIG.

You should know that whatever impact it has on you, it had a more permanent impact on my body – a couple of stunt things that I will be talking to doctors about for years.

Do you have any interesting stories you can tell us about DIG?

Not without giving the story away. That was one of the things they did rather brilliantly . Initially when I found out that this came from the minds of the men who had created Homeland, Gideon Raff and the creator of Heroes, Tim Kring, and they were doing something together, and that I might get to be in it, I just said Yes. When you hear things like that, you frankly don’t care if they’re telling the story of the development of toilet paper, you’re in. And then it turned out to be a brilliant story. Even though I knew what the overall story was,  they continued surprising me. Mostly by killing the people I liked hanging out with, but the characters are not what they seem, and situations are not what they seem, and things don’t take the turn of events that you would imagine they would. And that’s partly, not just because they’re very good at their job, but because it’s a proper event series, with a beginning, middle and end. It’s not like most American TV shows, which although they’re written by very talented people, once they’re created a beginning, they spin the middle out for as many years as possible, until the audience wanes, and then if they’re lucky, they’ll bring it to an end. Whereas this was always a proper complete story with a full arc, and that’s something that audiences have been cheated of for years, I think.

If you could get us a couple of autographed pictures that we could give away at the series’ end…

I don’t have any autographed pictures. I live my life digitally, and don’t have anything printed any more. I haven’t signed anything for years. I used to sign things all the time, but now people just want selfies. That’s all anyone ever wants.

If you could give our readers a little something about you, the person – likes and dislikes, favorite music…

You know what I don’t like? One of my strong dislikes is that nowadays, audiences like to know stuff about actors. And when I was growing up, and watching those great films of the ’70s, with those iconic actors, those modern American actors, DeNiro and Pacino and Hoffman, I didn’t know anything about their personal life. And consequently, I bought their characters entirely. And I think one of the shames nowadays – and it’s part of the deal, I get it, and I do it, as much as I’m asked to, but something I find slightly regrettable, is that I now know when I’m watching an actor, whether they’re gay or straight, or religious or atheist, or where they’ve come from, how much money they’ve got, I know all kinds of stuff about them. And it makes it harder to suspend my disbelief. So, not that I have anything particularly exciting or secretive to tell you, I get to lead a very very exciting life through the characters, and so my life is as dull as it can be, But if you ask my what I dislike, I don’t want to know too much about people I see on screen. And I’ve read too much about the stories I see on screen. And by the time I watch the movies at awards time, say, because I get a pile of screeners, being an actor in the Screen Actors Guild, I get all the awards movies, I actually kind of know the plot,and I know how they’re put together, and I think it’s a shame for modern audiences that they know too much.

That’s true, I can see your point. But you have been very gracious in granting us this interview.  We just love DIG, and we love you, I’ve been a fan since The Patriot, even though Tavington was a pretty nasty fellow, you had my heart from that part there.

When you go to a theme park, nobody wants to ride the cup and saucer ride. You want to ride the ride that makes you scream and gets you scared. In the same way, almost all plots and stories are only as good as the antagonist and the fear factor in them. In DIG, the end of the world’s coming. If you put out a story about a cake shop, I doubt people would be watching it.

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Erin Conrad