Christopher Eccleston doesn't consider himself a hardcore fan of SF, fantasy and horror, but a peek at his credits might prompt one to think otherwise. He's appeared in eXistenZ, The Others, 28 Days Later, The Second Coming, Doctor Who and Heroes, and now he's co-starring in The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising.
Based on the Susan Cooper young-adult book series, The Dark Is Rising features the British actor as the Rider, an evil figure out to destroy Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig), a 13-year-old boy who's only just learned that he's the last of the ageless warriors called the "Old Ones" and that his fate and actions will determine who wins the ultimate battle between good (the Light) and evil (the Dark). SCI FI Weekly recently spoke with Eccleston about The Dark Is Rising, his time on Heroes and his career in general.
What compelled you to sign on for The Dark Is Rising?
Eccleston: It was paid work. It was back in Europe. I'd been in America for nine months. And it was a dual role, which appealed to me.
What, if anything, did you know of the Cooper books?
Eccleston: I knew nothing of the Cooper books. When I auditioned for the role I realized that they had been adapted from the books, so I went and read one. And I enjoyed it.
Give us a sense of the Rider, and how close or dissimilar to the character in the book is the character as presented in the film?
Eccleston: I think there are many, many departures from the book to the film. The obvious one is that now the child is an American [rather than British]. The novel has been hugely Americanized in the film. The Rider is reasonably close, and he is the nemesis. He is the dyed-in-the-wool bad guy. There is nothing redeeming about him whatsoever.
You were about 27 years old when you carried your first film as a leading man. So how impressed were you with the job Alexander Ludwig did on this?
Eccleston: I was very impressed. He has boundless energy, was always optimistic and up for the challenges, as indeed he should be at that age. He was also always very, very polite, and he was great to work with.
What did you make of working with your director, David Cunningham [The Path to 9-11]?
Eccleston: Mr. Cunningham and myself are very different animals, but we got the job done.
You got the job done all the way out in Romania. Some actors complain about it and others love it ...
Eccleston: That's usually Americans that say that, but as a European I'm quite protective of Europe. The Romanian crew were absolutely fantastic. The sets they constructed, as the film will testify, were extraordinary. The level of crewman over there and the welcome we received were exceptional. Making a film like this is always tough. It's a cocktail. There's American movie money. You've got a mixture of nationalities both in cast and crew working under incredible pressure. Sometimes the strain showed, but we got out to Transylvania, which is a very beautiful and interesting part of Romania. Shooting in Bucharest, like shooting in any major city when you're in a studio, can be incredibly dull.
How about the physical end of it? You spend a lot of time in the film riding a horse.
Eccleston: I'm physical. I'm a runner. I've always kept fit. So I was pretty comfortable with the physical side of things. I wasn't a rider before the film. This film was thrown together very quickly, so I wasn't able to turn myself into a great horseman, but I had two great teachers who taught me the rudiments. And the rest is movie magic.
What's your gut instinct on the film?
Eccleston: I have no gut instinct. All I know is that everybody worked very, very hard. I haven't seen the film myself. I have learned over the years that gut instincts about product are rarely right. You can never predict with films or television what's going to work and what's not.
Let's quickly revisit a couple of your more recent genre credits. How was Doctor Who as an experience?
Eccleston: I was very proud to play the Doctor, yes.
What about Heroes [on which he played Claude, the grumpy invisible man, for five episodes in the show's first season]?
Eccleston: That was a great experience. I was very proud to be a part of that show, also. I think what interested me was, having made British television for, what, nearly 20 years now, I wanted to experience American television. The process is slightly different. Scripts are less tied down than they are in the U.K. There's a lot of secrecy around the Heroes scripts. And I just thought Claude was an interesting addition to that cast of characters, dropping a Brit in there with a Japanese and the Haitian, etc. It was a good time. They're a great company of actors and crew there. They're enjoying their success and they're very, very welcoming and positive about the show. They're fostering a good feeling of togetherness.
When you talk to some actors, they consider film and television somehow less respectable than theater. If you talk to some other actors, they think film and television are just as respectable. What are your thoughts?
Eccleston: When I'm dead and gone, there are some television and film projects, off the top of my head [that he'd consider respectable]. I would say the film Jude and the television program Hillsborough, which I'm deeply, deeply proud of. From a purely creative perspective, theater is an actor's medium. I think it's fair to say that film and television is a director's medium, by and large. If you're playing the leading role [in a film or TV show] you have more influence, but an actor has the edit in the theater. And I personally feel there's a huge gap in my career. I've not done enough theater, and it's a shame, really. I think it develops you as an actor in a great way. You can be respectable in theater, and you can sell out in theater, just like you can in television and film, but creatively I'd always go for theater. Financially you can't always justify it.
So will you be back on stage any time soon?
Eccleston: I would hope to be, yeah. I'm working away on a couple of projects, speaking to a couple of producers in London, but it's very difficult to get straight plays, contemporary or new plays, or plays that basically are not musicals, on in the West End at the moment.
You have a film, the post-Katrina drama New Orleans Mon Amour, coming out soon, but you actually shot that before either Heroes or The Dark Is Rising. Have you completed anything since The Dark Is Rising?
Eccleston: Nope. I'll be returning to America in October and doing the dance again.
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