In what sounds in parts like a delicious two fingers (one finger to Americans) held up to the kind of people who believe that, when he signed up for one year as Doctor Who, he signed away all rights to a life and career of his own, this interview with Christopher Eccleston plugging his new “Thor” film is sure to piss off all the right sort of people.
‘I primarily do these films for the money,’ declares Thor: The Dark World star Christopher Eccleston cheerily, much to the amusing alarm of his publicist, who is sitting in on our chat.
‘But I seem to remember you were a fan of Marvel Comics when you were a kid…?’ she prompts brightly. ‘As a kid, I was not particularly drawn to comics,’ Eccleston persists. ‘I wasn’t much of a reader, I was always playing out on the street.’
Marvel certainly made him earn his cash. As new Thor baddie Malekith, a pointy-eared Dark Elf entirely bald but for a long, thick white plait, Eccleston had to endure ten hours of physical preparation each day before he’d even start shooting.
‘I would get up at 2.15am, be picked up at 3am and sit down in the make-up chair at 4am,’ he says. ‘At about 10am, I would leave the chair and it would be another 20 minutes getting me into costume. Then there would be two make-up artists and two special effects people around me all day. I was a special effect. It was a challenge keeping your patience and focus.’
I suggest all that prep must have been frustrating, particularly when he had so little dialogue. ‘I didn’t know the length of the make-up,’ he admits. ‘I wish I had. They always say acting with prosthetics is like washing your feet with your socks on. But the make-up was very organic.
‘I always felt that Malekith’s face was my face, I am recognisable: my big hooter and cheekbones are there. And having done two big Hollywood films before [GI Joe: Rise Of The Cobra and Gone In 60 Seconds], I knew the emphasis would not particularly be on the dialogue. It is a visual party you are going to.’
At this point, I’d expect to throw our conversation back to his spell as a certain Time Lord. However, a condition of my interview is that ‘Christopher Eccleston will not answer any questions on Doctor Who’.
One presumes he’s fed up with the ongoing ‘Who’-ha over why he – the ninth Doctor, who reinvented the character and helped refashion the show into one of the most successful series on 21st-century British TV – has refused to participate in the 50th anniversary special.
Instead, I ask if he’s excited about seeing his own Thor action figurine. ‘I’ve experienced that a number of times,’ he says. ‘I’m a bit jaded.’
If Eccleston comes across as at all narky or ungracious in print, in person he’s warm, affable, fully engaged and charmingly free of media bulls***.
‘I don’t have any memorabilia,’ he continues. ‘I have always thought it was a bit vain to be surrounded by that kind of stuff. All the awards I’ve got I gave to my mum but I don’t think she likes them because, as you know, most awards are pretty ugly.’
For a ‘serious’ actor who built his career on meaty roles such as Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure (on film) and Hamlet (on stage), isn’t a superhero flick a bit of a sellout?
‘The straight answer is that I am an actor,’ answers the working-class Lancashire lad, ‘and 90 per cent of actors have regular periods of unemployment. I didn’t work for seven months after Thor. I am open to any kind of work so I can pay the mortgage.’
It’s a natural ‘provider’ instinct for the 49-year-old, who became a father last year. ‘But I don’t feel I have particularly sold out working with a director such as Alan Taylor [The Sopranos, Game Of Thrones],’ he continues. ‘I think it was very clever of Marvel to choose a director of that calibre to do a film of this scale.’
Eccleston prefers a more intimate stage. ‘My goal was always to be in Britain, doing brilliant British television. I think sometimes there can be a bit of a snobbish attitude among film people towards television. I don’t share it.
‘All our great film talents came out of British TV: Mike Leigh, Albert Finney. British theatre is the most important to me but I’ve dedicated most of my career to British TV.’
That said, he’s just signed to HBO series The Leftovers. Set in post-Rapture America, where Eccleston plays an evangelical who has been left behind, it’s adapted by Damon Lindelof, who wrote the screenplay for Star Trek: Into Darkness.
‘As a kid, I hated Star Wars but I loved Star Trek,’ says Eccleston. ‘And I’ve since realised the reason I love Star Trek is because it is entirely about character. You have villains and some space but it’s basically a brilliantly written love triangle between Kirk, Spock and Bones – lieutenant Uhura being the “beard” from what I could see.’
So is it his ambition to star in a Star Trek movie? Eccleston pauses, ruminating intently. ‘Never say never?’ the publicist butts in helpfully.
‘The original Star Trek series was important to me,’ Eccleston concludes. ‘But I wouldn’t whore for it’.
If you’ve ever seen the interview (included, I think, on the Series One DVD box set) where CE pretended to have tuned into DW as a boy for the bits where you saw the inside of a Dalek, then the parts where he shrugs off his spin doctor trying to get him to fake a childhood interest in Marvel comics is a wonderful contrast to all those tooth-pulling 2005 promo interviews he had to do.
I’ve always found CE’s refusal to pander to DW fans a cheering contrast to the sort of prospect which was presented to us this week. A whole season of Matt Smith and David Tennant starring alongside each other as the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. Just the thought of that car crash waiting to happen, as any mystique in the character of the Doctor is sacrificed on the altar of damp fan underwear, makes me all the more proud that CE won’t pander. Anyone willing to pander deserves two black eyes.
How often does a thought niggle at the back of your mind for ages without your being able to quite put it into words until one day you experience a punch-the-air moment when you hear someone manage to crystallise the thought in one sentence? That happened for me this week on the admirable Aussie podcast Splendid Chaps when someone said about that annoyingly smug Series Two relationship between Rose and the Tenth Doctor that “it was like they both knew they were on television.” That’s exactly how I imagine a series-long pairing up of Smith and Tennant. The show would have become all about not those two Doctors but those two actors. It would have been the apotheosis of the neurotic behavioural tic. The thought of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors trying to outdo each other as one stuck his lower teeth out as far as possible while burping mid-sentence and the other pranced around like the Childcatcher on hot bricks going “ooh that’s cool” doesn’t bear thinking about.
Leave us with our memories, please, Doctors. Leave us wanting more, not just wanting closure.