Friday, November 22, 2013

Doctor Who and Louise Brooks

2009 Doctor Who comic book
The connections between the silent film star Louise Brooks and the contemporary science fiction TV series Doctor Who are unexpected. Nevertheless, the actress has appeared as a character in a Doctor Who comics, and one of her biggest fans is an actor who once the played the Doctor himself!

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the Louise Brooks Society looks back to this 2012 interview with actor Paul McGann, who played the eighth Doctor. McGann is as well a BIG fan of Louise Brooks. In 2007, the celebrated actor wrote an article for the Guardian (UK) about silent film star.

Who is Paul McGann? As an actor, he first made a name for himself in 1986 as the lead in a historical BBC drama set during WWI, The Monocled Mutineer (this once-controversial series is out on DVD in the UK). McGann is also known for his role in one of Britain's biggest cult films, the 1987 black comedy, Withnail and I. Other credits include parts in Empire of the Sun, Alien 3, Queen of the Damned, and the BBC's Our Mutual Friend and Hornblower series.

McGann may be best known, at least to science-fiction fans, as the Eighth Doctor, a role he played in the 1996 Doctor Who made-for-television movie. Its story, of the Doctor's regeneration and attempt to save the earth, is set in San Francisco in 1999, on the eve of the millennium.

McGann is, as well, a patron of Bristol Silents, a group formed to raise awareness and knowledge of silent film among the English film going public. He has introduced screenings of films from the silent era and written about them for newspapers including the Guardian in England; his piece on Louise Brooks, with whom he shares a birthday, is well worth checking out.

Recently, McGann answered a few questions about his interest in the silent era and what he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Actor Paul McGann and LBS Director Thomas Gladysz
Thomas Gladysz: When did you first get interested in silent film?  

Paul McGann: About ten years ago after becoming a patron of Bristol Silents. I'd had a general interest since my student days in London, during which the restored Napoleon was premiered, Kevin Brownlow's Abel Gance and David Robinson's Chaplin were published, and Louise Brooks was being 're-discovered.'  

Thomas Gladysz: Tell me more about your involvement with Bristol Silents. How did that relationship come about?  

Paul McGann: I supported one of their early events, I think it was a screening of The Big Parade, and met Chris Daniels [a founder of the group]. He's kindly involved me in quite a few of their projects since, each bigger and better by the year.  

Thomas Gladysz: Any favorite films? How about favorite directors or stars?  

Paul McGann: The first director I worked with, Bruce Robinson, told me when we met that if I thought Jaws was the perfect movie I plainly hadn't seen The Gold Rush. So I did. He was right. I've been a fan of Louise Brooks since first seeing Pandora's Box on television. I remember thinking they must've had that girl playing Lulu parachuted in from the present.  

Thomas Gladysz: You've written and spoken about Louise Brooks, and introduced her films. What is it about the actress that attracts you?  

Paul McGann: She appeared to find, if only briefly, the perfect working spirit. Matchlessly beautiful, fully intelligent and a total natural; most screen actors would kill to be so blessed.  

Thomas Gladysz: At this year's San Francisco Silent Film festival, you're narrating South, Frank Hurley's documentary of Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica. What can we expect?  

Paul McGann as Doctor Who

Paul McGann: Musician Stephen Horne and myself will try to recreate at least a flavour of the public screenings Shackelton hosted at London's Philharmonic Hall in 1919 when he read from his memoir while Hurley's film played.  

Thomas Gladysz: Have you narrated the film before?  

Paul McGann: Twice, in Bristol and Pordenone, Italy.  

Thomas Gladysz: Are there any films you're especially excited about at this year's Festival.

Paul McGann: Aside from the thrill of seeing a beautifully restored Pandora's Box, I'm really intrigued about Little Toys from China and Erotikon from Sweden.  

Thomas Gladysz: You played a Time Lord in Doctor Who. Were you to travel back in time and return to the silent era and be cast in a film, which film would that be?  

Paul McGann: That's easy, Murnau's Sunrise. I'd gladly (my wife might say naturally) take over George O'Brien's duties as the man caught between Janet Gaynor and Margaret Livingston.


*****

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