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In love with Loach
Thrilled to be in a cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp, Christopher Eccleston tells Steve Pratt about his other heroes
HAVING Terence Stamp play his father in Song For Marion was an odd coincidence for Christopher Eccleston. “Strangely, Terence started his career playing a young innocent who was hung for something he didn’t commit in Billy Budd and I started my career playing Derek Bentley, who was hanged for a crime, in Let Him Have It,” he says.
“Around that time I happened to read Terence’s books, which I enjoyed, and actually met him briefly when I was in pre-production for Let Him Have It. So it makes an odd sort of sense and we’ve got along really well, I’ve enjoyed his company and acting with him and Vanessa (Redgrave) who’s always been a hero if mine. One of our greatest ever actors.
“If you’d told me at 17, when I was starting out 20 years ago on this road, that I would make a film with Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp, I would have been more than happy.”
Who were his other heroes or inspirations? A former Doctor Who, Eccleston has a long list to offer. “They were always writers really. I loved a writer called Jim Allen, who wrote a lot of British television and worked with Ken Loach. I loved Loach’s films, Kes being the greatest film I’ve ever seen. And Alan Bleasdale, Dennis Potter.
“Actors I’ve always admired - I really loved Albert Finney’s work and the films of Lindsay Anderson. Jeff Bridges has always been a favourite of mine. Jimmy Cagney. I saw Cagney’s films, White Heat and Angels With Dirty Faces, and then the idea that Cagney could tap dance. He was such an explosive presence. He seemed real to me.
“Albert Finney was, of course, from the same city as me, the city of Salford, and was a huge hero. Saturday Night And Sunday Morning was a massive film for me.
As was If, This Sporting life, Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner. I was lucky enough to work with Tom Courtenay in Let Him Have It.
A lot of British television of the 1970s and 1980s proved an inspiration, notably the work of director Alan Clarke - “the greatest British television director, who did Scum and The Firm among other things”, he says.
“He made issue-based television in a very urgent and non po-faced way. He was obsessed with real truthful performances.
He gave Gary Oldman, Ray Winstone and Tim Roth their first major roles. He had a real eye for talent.
“Potter had too, plus a real belief that British television was a very Important tool, culturally and politically and socially, particularly for the working classes who perhaps don’t have the culture of going to the theatre.”
Eccleston has filmed in the North-East before, notably for the BBC-TV series Our Friends In the North, and scenes for historical drama Elizabeth were shot at Durham Cathedral and Alnwick.
“The North-East has always been great to me,” he says, although looking back isn’t his favourite pastime. “I tend only to look forward. I’m going to look back when I’m an old man. I’ll have a look at what I was up to as a young man when I’m an old man. At the moment I’m looking forward.”