The English actor and father of two, who stars in Red Dog: True Blue (and, of course, the Harry Potter films), tells WHO why he is actually quite a fan of the tall-poppy syndrome.
You star in Red Dog: True Blue. Surely you must love dogs then. Do you have one?
We have a basset hound–shih tzu mix. Her name is Little Missy and she’s the most amenable dog that you will ever meet. She climbs in bed with whoever is sickest and needs her most. Or whoever goes to bed last, which is me!
But I didn’t originally want a dog. Because when I lived in Los Angeles with the kids, I was away all the time. And I said, “Let’s just wait.” But one day I came home and there was this dog there and I went, for about a nanosecond, “WHY?!” But then I started filling up my phone with slow-motion film of her running towards me like Bo Derek on the beach.
Red Dog has been such a successful film. Did you ever feel the pressure of being part of the prequel?
I didn’t, because I’m English. So I hadn’t seen or heard of Red Dog and I just thought, “What a lovely script this is.” But when I got to set that’s when I started to feel the pressure, because the film was a gigantic hit in Australia. But luckily by then I was already in too deep. But in the end, what saves me from that pressure is the work. It’s a brand new story and it’s far more about people than the dog.
What is it about the film that made it so successful in the first place?
If anyone knew why films would be successful the formula would be repeated a million times. I was asked for many, many years on junkets, “Why are the Harry Potter films successful?” Everyone wants to sound credible and say it’s about “friendship, loyalty and magic.” But so are a million other books on the shelf. The fact is, some people are just really good storytellers and other people aren’t.
"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" celebrated its 15-year anniversary last month and it’s still as popular as ever. Are you proud to be part of that?
Those films are just like Red Dog. Why does it work? It’s because [JK Rowling] is a brilliant storyteller and everything else is just a bunch of people talking pants. She wrote stories that resonated and she’s doing it again with Fantastic Beasts, her first screenplay. She’s got the gift. And weirdly, with Harry Potter, it’s the gift that keeps on giving because my 11-year-old just finished reading all the books again. They will always be around and I’m thrilled to be part of it.
You’re no stranger to working in Australia. You also filmed "Peter Pan" here in 2003. Why do you keep coming back?
I loved it. When you’re in England you think it’s the best-kept secret in the English-speaking world, and then you come here and you keep coming across English people and Americans living in Australia. I asked them why and they were like, “I came here on holiday and I realised it was just way better than where I was from.” And I kind of feel that every time I come. I love the work–life balance. Everything about the culture. And I like the whole tall-poppy thing. It plays into everything I think about the world. I like the way people talk to me. They don’t let you get too big for your boots.
You’ve managed to do what Meryl Streep struggled to do, which is nail the Australian accent. Congratulations!
Thank you. I’m glad you think so. I’ve always had a bit of a musical ear for accents. I have a very slim hold on my own personality and I end up sounding like the people I am talking to. And of course, now that I’m with my kids they find it very embarrassing. They will go, “Dad! Stop it, you’re not Irish.”
The film comes out right after Christmas. What are your plans for the holidays?
I’ve been away filming a lot this year and I came back to find I’ve slightly lost my place at the round table [in my home] and there was a mutiny, as it were, that all the family wanted to go out on Christmas Day and have a Chinese meal. I don’t where it came from. I was violently against it and watched with delight as they phoned around unable to find a restaurant. So we are staying in.
"Red Dog: True Blue" is in cinemas on Boxing Day.