No matter what Ian McShane does over the next few years, it might take some time before people get over him being the foul-mouthed Al Swearensen from HBO’s Western “Deadwood,” but playing Merriman Lyon in the Fox Walden adaptation of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising might be one way for Mr. McShane to make himself a big more kid-friendly, even though his gruff and cynical nature remained when ComingSoon.net spoke to him from the Bucharest set.
ComingSoon.net: Did they come to you for this part? Ian McShane isn’t the first person one might think of in terms of a kid’s film.
Ian McShane: Why not?
CS: Because of “Deadwood” mostly.
McShane: I don’t know. Maybe they wanted something different. I’ve just done a big movie with Andy Samberg, a crazy comedy that will be out in the summer. (He’s referring to Hot Rod.) This is just something different to do again. You should ask the director why he wanted me. He probably hates me now. I haven’t stopped moaning about being in Romania. As long as you go on the set and do your thing. Thank God, I was professional on the set.
CS: It seems like you could bring the edge that is sorely missing from this type of genre.
McShane: I think it is a bit of that, yeah. As I said, the reaction with the kid… he’s a good kid, but its tough. He’s in nearly every scene. He has an allergy today. Thank God he’s all right. His eyes are a little blurry. But we just get in there and have a good time.
CS: For people unfamiliar with the book, can you talk a little bit about your character? He plays a pretty pivotal role. Can you explain that role?
McShane: I don’t think they’ve been very faithful to the book. I don’t know how many of you’ve read the book. I know they sold a few copies, but I couldn’t read it very well. It’s really dense. It’s from the ’70s, you know? This guy is a shooter. He’s the mentor to the boy, Will Stanton.
CS: How did you make him different from Dumbledore? Is he less like a wizard?
McShane: (Screenwriter John) Hodge has made him a butler. He’s sort of this strange, old guy that lives in the house on the hill. I have never done a science fiction movie, or anything of this ilk before. I’ve never worked with kids or special effects. The whole process is incredibly laborious. It’s like doing a musical on the stage. There’s less concentration on the acting, and more on the special effects. There’s more emphasis on the “in and out.” It’s a little distracting, but that’s how it goes. The kid is great. Alex (Ludwig) has really worked his ass off. It’s very rare that you get the kids in nearly every shot of the movie. It really is. In real life and in acting, we’re backing it up. He’s the one that’s got the message, he just doesn’t know it. We have to guide him through the various processes. He’s the last of the Old Ones to be born. There’s me, and there’s Frances Conroy and there’s James Cosmo, and Jim Piddock, and they survive through the ages. And the kid comes in, and he is the last one to be born. He doesn’t even know it. Of course he’s got the twin who has been imprisoned by the Dark for all these years.
CS: Where you familiar with the books before signing on to this?
McShane: No, I never heard of them. I did try to read the book, but they were a little…I think…I don’t know how…There’s four of them apparently. Or five. Oh, god. That means I might have to do a sequel.
CS: When you found out about this project, what was it about the character that made you want to do it?
McShane: Well, in the book he’s about seven foot three, if I remember correctly. I just decided to play it. Alex and I have a great relationship. I told him, when we go on the set, whatever is happening we’ll get on with it. It’s true. You just have to get on with it. You play it where you don’t talk down to him, and he doesn’t talk up to me. We play it like two people who just met, and that’s really what we do in the movie.
CS: What was it about this project that specifically interested you, though?
McShane: The check… as it always is basically. It certainly wasn’t Romania. No, it’s been an interesting experience. Maybe a little too long. Twelve weeks is a little long to shoot, but you need all that time.
CS: What is your personal opinion about fantasy? Is it something you don’t like to watch?
McShane: No,it’s not that I don’t want to watch it. I’m just more of a detective guy. I like the thriller. You know, reality. But I understand science fiction. I want to do this because it’s about time I did something my kids or rather my grandkids could watch, you know? They can’t watch “Deadwood” or something like that. This will be good.
CS: What are you trying to bring to this role?
McShane: You bring reality to it I suppose. The special effects take care of themselves. You do it and play it for real then you let the other stuff take care of itself. I think the sets are enough. The sets are great.
CS: When you look at a script like this, do you sit down with the director and say, “There are a few things I would like to bring to this myself”?
McShane: No, I think the one thing I wanted to bring to this was reality. It was written in Old English. I wanted to make it as natural as we could, without altering it. They weren’t characters out of some restoration comic book. They weren’t shouting Shakespearean dialogue. I just wanted to make it a little more real. They sound more natural, even though they look wacko. People in England do tend to look a little like this.
CS: The writer says that your character is the exposition machine.
McShane: Oh, God, yeah…Thank God he’s done that very well. It’s not every time. A little bit, he does have to give the information away. Doing the film, you find a lot of ways to explore that. With a subtle line, or whatever.
CS: You’re not doing any of those big, cumbersome dialogue scenes where you tell everything that is going on in the movie?
McShane: No, no, no… I think he catches the audience up with where the story is going next, but there hasn’t been any long dialogue passages. No, there hasn’t been any of that.
CS: Can you describe what kind of director David Cunningham is?
McShane: You know, I think he has the toughest job. On this, he’s always thinking about something else, so he tends to gloss over the acting. He has to trust the actors to do what they do with that dialogue stuff. He’s constantly walking around with, at the very least, three cameras at all times, which can get very annoying. It sometimes gets in the way, I think. These are very big sets. It’s very rare that we are in an intimate situation. It’s hard when you find yourself in a one-on-one, and you don’t know where he has the camera. I think he knew that the more natural it was, the better it was. Easier. More fluid.
CS: In the scene we saw being shot, you were wielding a mace?
McShane: That’s my weapon. That’s Merriman’s special weapon.
CS: Did you do any training with it?
McShane: No, that just comes naturally. Absolutely. There have been no accidents with it so far, but there are still a couple of days to go.
CS: How much action is involved with your character?
McShane: Well, in the script you have the sequences where we’re helping the kid. That’s the main thing. The battle between light and dark, which they’ve been fighting for years before this kid showed up. I just like that with the kid, they get a little exasperated with him. I have to say to him, “Deal with it. This is what you are.” So, it’s kind of playing around with the kid thing. I really tried to inject a little humor into it. That wasn’t always there in the script. The humor thing always helps. I think the family, which they shot first, was very good. With John (Hickey) and Wendy (Crewson). They were great. I must say; this has been a great cast of people. That’s what’s been really nice.
CS: Can you tell us about the scene you shot with the snakes?
McShane: Oh, yeah, there were about twelve hundred of them.
CS: How did they prepare you for that?
McShane: They didn’t. I told them, “Put three thousand of them on me and get me out of here a week early.” So I was happy when they said they would. But they lied to me. I grew fond of the snakes. I’ve never worked with them before. They were nice, you know?
CS: Were they crawling all over you?
McShane: Yeah, yeah, I was especially fond of this big python. He was this thirty footer, you know? But they are very heavy. I had these two that just kept looking at me…but he’s very good, the snake handler. You just have to sit and relax. As it were, you know?
CS: Was it difficult working with snakes all over you?
McShane: No, I was supposed to be tied down anyway. It was very easy. None of them were poisonous. They only bite if they get in a highly nervous situation. They didn’t bite. We were okay.
CS: How long did that take?
McShane: I laid down for about twenty minutes. It’s a long time, twenty minutes, if you think about it, but no, they were cool. My handlers were great. Then James did it, then Frances did it. Jim Piddock was a little more nervous than anybody, but again, he was fine.
CS: Have you really been out here for twelve weeks?
McShane: No, I’ve gone back every weekend, and if I want two days off, I can get it.
CS: Where do they put you up?
McShane: While I’m here in Romania? Well, they got me in the Hilton, but it’s like being in a Hilton anywhere in the world. The sad thing is, its not the most inspiring place to walk around. The people are very nice here, and you can walk around, but its not exactly got…You know, whatever…
CS: There are a lot of feral dogs.
McShane: Actually, they’re not feral. They’re very sweet. They turned a lot of the property into apartment houses, and you can’t keep a dog in an apartment, so people just left them on the street. Frances will tell you about that, because I think she is taking most of them home with her. She never stops feeding them.
CS: Did you ever get to be social with the rest of the cast on your off time, or did you just go about doing your own thing?
McShane: No, I go to my room and cry. Or I go on the Internet a lot.