as “Richard Burton” (NBC, 1995)
A Touch of Evil and Laughter
by Louis B. Hobson, Express Writer
BEVERLY HILLS – Scottish actor Angus Macfadyen has traded his brave heart for an evil soul.
Macfadyen played Robert the Bruce in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning epic ‘Braveheart’. In the fantasy epic ‘Warriors of Virtue’, Macfadyen plays the evil emperor Komodo.
The fantasy sequences of ‘Warriors’ were filmed in Beijing. It proved quite a culture shock for Macfadyen.
“The studio was literally falling to pieces and safety was very lax. One day a light fell into one of the man-made lakes. If anyone had been in the water, they would have been electrocuted,” Macfadyen says.
“Whenever something went wrong, the Chinese would light incense and pray.”
Like several of the exotic characters in ‘Warriors’, Komodo flies through the air.
That’s not Macfadyen winging his way from cliff to pillar.
“They couldn’t have paid me enough to do those stunts. Several of the stuntmen broke bones during the fight and flying sequences.”
Macfadyen is proud of the final product because he got to tailor much of his role.
“When I arrived on the project, the villain had no sense of humor. I also wanted him to spout philosophy so he would be amusing to adults.”
Though he had worked on stage and TV in Britain, Macfadyen didn’t have a major film role until ‘Braveheart’.
“I was so fortunate to have Mel as my first feature film director. Now I know how rewarding making a movie can be. Mel is an actor. He knows that tension and nervousness are the enemies of all actors, so he works hard to create a carefree atmosphere.”
Macfadyen recalls that Gibson “was a real madman. He has no reverence for tradition. He messes around with the script so that it works for the actors rather than making them bow under the weight of the script demands.”
One of the first projects Macfadyen got when he moved to Los Angeles was the TV miniseries ‘The Elizabeth Taylor Story’ in which he played Richard Burton.
“In researching my part for Burton, I learned how to drink and not fall over. The man had an incredible capacity for liquor. It was his defence against self-loathing.
“Burton hated himself for being born in this little Welsh mining town. He had been taught to believe he was inferior and he never shook the feeling no matter how famous he became.”
Macfadyen made his professional acting debut six years ago in the BBC film ‘The Lost Language of Cranes’.
In the past year, in addition to ‘Warriors of Virtue’, he has filmed ‘Brylcreem Boys’ with Gabriel Byrne and the independent films ‘Nevada’, ‘Snide and Prejudice’ and ‘Still Breathing’. He is currently filming ‘Death Valley’ [‘Facade’] with Eric Roberts and Chris Penn in Montreal.
Angus Macfadyen: Delivering Truth Through a Lie
(Articles in this section were kindly donated by ‘Fritters’. Misspelled names corrected throughout by Deejay.)
by Christina Nunez
Angus Macfadyen seems laid-back, on the surface. Although he is playing Orson Welles in Tim Robbins’ ‘The Cradle Will Rock’ and will be seen with Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins in ‘Titus’ later this month, his acting ambition is not all-consuming. “I’m not a workaholic,” Macfadyen claims. “I don’t like to work consistently, go from job to job. I like to have a lot of down time, and in that time I do a lot of writing.”
Sometimes he combines the two: The actor says that when a script is bad, he will rewrite all of his scenes. If this sounds troublesome, Macfadyen avers that his help was welcome on 1997’s ‘Warriors of Virtue’. “I had agreed to do this role so long as I was allowed to rewrite it. It was written as a bad James Bond thriller and I rewrote it as a Taoist villain, a character who spouted philosophy. …And it was welcomed, in a way, because it was an improvement on the material.”
Presumably, Macfadyen had less script doctoring to do on his two most recent projects. Though the films were radically different from each other; one a ’30s drama set in New York, the other a Shakespeare adaptation filmed in Rome with ‘Lion King’ musical stage director Julie Taymor; both featured directors who had written their own scripts.
“[For Taymor and Robbins] it was a very personal vision,” says the 36-year-old Scotsman. “Both of them had insisted on a three-week rehearsal period, which was incredibly necessary, considering the films were so technically complicated. So once we got going it was a question of relying on those three weeks in which we’d done a lot of character work, because there wasn’t much time for anything else with all the technical difficulties.”
Macfadyen concedes that the ‘Titus’ shoot was particularly tough, with an intense “heart of darkness of man” theme complicated by the project’s $20 million budget and technical ambitions. Though the Rome shoot stretched from three months into five, the actor says that just meant more time “soaking up the sights and sounds of Rome.”
He also credits Anthony Hopkins for off-camera entertainment. “There are actors, and Hopkins is one of them, who love to joke around. [He’ll] do his impressions of Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole, and you name it. He’ll do them all. Just to try and alleviate a bit of the pressure.”
Playing Orson Welles in ‘Cradle’ was a different kind of challenge. Macfadyen has built a good deal of his career on playing real-life figures: He was Richard Burton in the NBC movie ‘Destiny: The Elizabeth Taylor Story’, Robert the Bruce in ‘Braveheart’, and Peter Lawford in HBO’s ‘The Rat Pack’. But the actor says all of the research can help as well as hurt.
“You can sort of start drowning in it to some extent,” he notes. “…There’s got to be something, you know, like a key, or some little hidden piece of knowledge which you know, which is sort of the secret, out of which everything else sort of emanates.”
That key came a few days before filming, when Macfadyen unearthed a piece of ’40s rehearsal tape revealing Welles’ more playful side. “I was worried about [the role] for awhile, until I found that piece of tape. …At that point I had let go of anything I; I threw it all out the window and had fun. That’s what I heard: a scenery-chewing, intense, huge, generous spirit of Dionysian quantities.”
Macfadyen, who is single and plans to spend his New Year’s Eve on Scotland’s Isle of Skye in “the middle of nowhere,” is slightly more retiring but no less intense. He abandoned ambitions of being a diplomat when he realized “I wasn’t going to be able to go out and have to lie in the real world for a country when I’m sure it would have created some sort of moral dilemmas. So I chose something like acting; in a sense, telling the truth through a lie, through an illusion. The ultimate paradox of life.”
Macfadyen’s next projects are a play called ‘Back When/Back Then’ by Raymond Barry and the role of Zeus in ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, but he hasn’t given up the pen. “I do have my own voice, as it were, and vision of the world,” he says. “I have things I’d like to say about it. So it’ll lead there somewhere down the line, in the next few years.”