20 February 2008
Actor and author Shane Briant kindly answers Hammer fan questions about his work
How did you become an actor?
I studied law at Trinity College Dublin but always wanted to act. So I joined the University Theatre Company and was soon a member of Irish Equity.
I played Hamlet at the Eblana Theatre and many other productions theatrically and on Irish television until I was in a play calledChildren of the Wolf that transferred from the Irish Theatre Festival to London's West End (The Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue). A three hander with the late Yvonne Mitchell (a British Film Oscar winner) and Sheelagh Cullen, that showcased my work. After that I was put under contract at Elstree Studios by Michael Carreras to do four pictures. From then on it's blur.
Hammerweb: What was your first memorable role and what do you remember about it?
Playing Dorian Gray in a two part Movie of the Week special for America's ABC network. Glenn Jordan (four times an Emmy award winner) directed, and Dan Curtis produced. It was my first visit to Hollywood and I was only 22, playing the lead in a huge TV event. Very exciting. I should have stayed in Hollywood but I returned to do BBC plays. A mistake, looking back.
Steven M. Cowan asks "Achieving actor status is no easy task, what inspiration (or who) kept you heading towards this goal?"
In the early days I went from job to job and it wasn't so hard to get good work. there was a lot of it around and I was very lucky. As I get older there's not quite so much because I am not a young man any more. But now I can't face doing a hard days work! So I started writing in 1994 and all my four thrillers are available in Australia through Harper Collins.
This brings in the cash when I'm not acting. The last two books, Hitkids and Bite of the Lotus have been optioned as films and I keep my fingers crossed that they may go into production very soon.
Mel asks "We enjoy your work and wonder if there is a particular approach you take when portraying a character?"
I always try to make every character unique and exactly what the audience do not expect. Everyone can play a bad guy - few can play a 'memorable' bad guy. Sometimes I make the bad guy have one flaw - maybe he loves children but kills adults. Maybe he loves birds and kills everything else. In Till There Was You, Rex was a savage kind of guy but loved playing around with this little black kid. Eventually it kills him. That was my idea and they kept the new ending in the film.
Alejandro Martínez Turégano asks "Which was the role you always wanted to play, and the one you played and hated more?"
I've always wanted to play Raskolnikov out of Crime and Punishment but was never asked. Don't think they ever made the film. Now of course I'm too old! I would love to have a crack at 'Lear'.
I think I liked least playing Pierre in The Flame is Love (a US telemovie). Very silly dialogue. Made Linda Purl and I laugh, but ultimately it made us both look a bit dumb. Even Tim Dalton looked foolish. But it was work and the money was okay.
Hammerweb: Who do you think is the person who has influenced you much in your way of interpreting a role?
Paul Newman. I worked with him in The Mackintosh Man. A genuinely good bloke. Worked with all the actors as equals. Never the star.
Showed me how to work a camera -- by that I mean look after myself and look good. Also showed me a few great tricks. Best was how to do the Cool Hand Luke smile. That's easy - but a secret.
Hammerweb: If you have one piece of advice for aspiring actors, what is it?
Give things a go for as long as you can. But be practical. If everyone says you stink as an actor, do something else.
Steven M. Cowan asks "You worked with Peter Cushing in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and some other fine actors, what are your fondest memories of these times?
Working constantly for three years at Elstree and Pinewood with fine actors and learning every day from great people. Having my own parking spot with my name on it. Being rich for that time. Lots of pretty girls around at the studio always. Having Peter Cushing as a friend - a lovely guy.
Rosa and Bruce ask "I got to know Ralph Bates quite well in the 1980s. He and I nearly did a film together called Grave's End, which I wrote. I know that you and he were friends. What memories can you share of Ralph?"
He was the nicest person I have ever met (barring my partner Wendy) He was such a gloriously happy man. And a real and true friend who would do anything for you. Everyone loved Ralphie and I still miss him - every week I think of him and see his smiling face at the Christmas parties he and Virginia Wetherell, his wife, and their kids, would have in Chiswick. Invited were his friends, and anyone he knew would otherwise be lonely. I wish I were half the man he was.
Hammerweb: You've said in a recent interview that your favourite Hammer role was Simon Helder in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, because you got to work with Peter Cushing. What are your memories of him?
A dedicated actor. Loved his wife so dearly that when she died I think he felt he couldn't carry on. Very hard worker. Very generous actor. Very private person.
Alejandro Martínez Turégano asks "During the filming of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, how was your relation with Terence Fisher in his last film for Hammer? Did he seem to be tired of working or feel disappointed about the way things were going?"
No, he wasn't tired. Even at his age he loved working and was as fresh with his ideas as ever.
Mel asks "The ending for Monster from Hell certainly left room for yet another instalment. Now that Hammer is up and running again, has there been any mention of you inheriting the formidable mantle of Peter Cushing's Dr. Frankenstein and continuing his...work.?
I'd do it in a flash. Find the funding, I'll be there. It's the right time. People are ready for these escapist films again. I wish some money people would come to the table.
Hammerweb: What do you recall of Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter?
Not a great deal, actually. Nice people. I remember Caroline Munro was a particularly splendid looking girl in her tight costume. Wasn't a great movie but fun.
Do you think such a character could work on film today, given the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or would it be considered copycat?
Yes, I think it could make a great TV series.
Alejandro Martínez Turégano asks "Who contacted you for acting in The Makintosh Man? How was the experience of being conducted by John Huston?
How were your feelings interpreting Dorian in The Portrait of Dorian Gray?
Working with Huston was magic. Actually, he only talked in person to Newman and Mason and Sanda. Everyone else got messages relaid through the Ist Assistant Director.
One day I was doing a scene with Newman and he comes up behind me, slaps my head down at the desk, and pulls my head round. When he filmed it, he hit me so hard I split my lip wide open and Newman was suddenly faced with a wash of blood. He dried. Then he shouted out to Huston: "Shane's got blood all over his face."
There was a pause, then we heard Huston shout from his position 50 feet away where he was puffing on a stogie, "Tell the boy to keep it there. We'll go again."
Huston was very complimentary about what I did when I left. As for Dorian, that was an easy role. I loved the book and the interpretation was always very clear. Working with Nigel Davenport and Finnoula Flanagan was great.
Hammerweb: When did you realise that you wanted to write?
I always wanted to write but never got down to it. Then I eventually thought - why not give it a go. So while I was trotting round Europe doing the series Mission Top Secret
I researched a book and wrote it as I went along.
Hammerweb: Who is your favourite author?
Martin Cruz Smith and John le Carre. And all the Russian greats -- they are the tops.
Hammerweb: What's your advice for anyone wanting to write themselves?
Begin writing. When you pass 50 pages you'll keep at it. If you stop before then and get depressed - forget it!
• The Unofficial Shane Briant Tribute Page: Go
interview first published 21 April 2002