Ian McShane on reviving Lovejoy and becoming the saviour of America

Posted on: April 11, 2017 by in Backyard Pool
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As the king of the mullet returns as one of Neil Gaimans American Gods, he shares his idea for a Lovejoy comeback, forgets the names of his own films and reveals all about his bizarre new portrayal of Dr Dre

Ian McShane went under the knife recently but the operation and its aftermath have done little to curb his foul-mouthed joie de vivre. I had surgery in the shoulder over Christmas, says the 74-year-old Mancunian, fixing me with eyes full of mock sorrow, before dropping his voice a comedy octave. Ill never bowl googlies again, never deliver a chinaman to a left-hander. He cackles as he explains the cause: Too many action films and too much sport. Takes about four months to get over it, but Im not down.

We have met to talk about his latest role, in the unexpectedly pertinent TV adaptation of Neil Gaimans 2001 novel American Gods. America, he says, explaining the premise of the series, has turned into this place of madness: new media, bullshit, oratory, control of everything just like Trumps America. And that place of madness worships new gods with names like Technical Boy, Mr World and Media (the last played by Gillian Anderson), who personify its specious new values.

Who can save America? Step up McShane. He plays Mr Wednesday, a shifty, silver-tongued conman who is not all he seems. When I found out who Wednesday is, I thought itd be a great gas to do. Its about immigration, religion and lack of faith. Immigration? Sure the old gods are immigrants from the old world.

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Bringing down false idols McShane with Cloris Leachman in American Gods. Photograph: Jan Thijs/Starz Entertainment

Mr Wednesday is the Norse god Odin operating under a pseudonym. Hes putting together a team of old gods to bring down the false idols. It is, you might well think, about goddamned time. Among these immigrant deities is Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god of death, and Mr Nancy, the African trickster god better known as Anansi. Theres also an incredible scene I wont give away in which Biliquis, the goddess of love, swallows men whole. And not through her mouth, if you know what I mean, he says, giggling again.

Across the room, the PR woman looks worried. McShane is giving away too much, but Im loving his tendency to go off-message. After briefly starring in Game of Thrones last year, he summed up the franchises appeal with the words: Its only tits and dragons.

McShane, who has flown in to London from his California home, reclines in his seat and starts to explain how much is wrong with the world. Brexit followed by Uxit the world is going through a weird period, and this is what this show is about. By Uxit, McShane means how Donald Trump is messing with his idea of what the US should be.

Ive been there on and off for 40 years. America is great. Its just who the hell wants this lot? Especially now Trumps speaking from the bully pulpit. Its remarkable to hear his gibberish. Have you ever come across anything like the current president before? Yes, I have actually but it sounded better in the original German. You know what his name is in America? Let me get this right. He pauses and looks out of the window of this Soho Hotel suite. Clown Von Fuckface. No, thats not it. Fuckface Von Clownstick. Thats it. Thats what he is!

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Its only tits and dragons Ian McShane in Games of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

If McShane feels strongly about whats happening to his adoptive homeland, its because he knows he owes it a debt. The US straightened him out. It happened like this: he spent the 1970s hell-raising. Richard Burton, his co-star in the 1971 film Villain, taught him the delights of vodka for breakfast, while his relationship with Sylvia Kristel star of the Emmanuel soft porn films, whom he fell for on the set of The Fifth Musketeer was, if her memoirs are accurate, an unsustainable coke-and-booze-fuelled rollercoaster ride. In 1980, though, he settled down in Venice Beach, California, with his third wife, American Gwen Humble, and grew up. He started going to AA.

McShane subsequently won the acting roles that made him iconic on both sides of the Atlantic: as antiques dealer Lovejoy in the BBC series watched by 16 million viewers, and as the South Dakotan saloon bar and brothel owner Al Swearengen, in HBOs western series Deadwood. It still rankles McShane that Deadwood was cancelled after three series. Hubris and ego, thats what did for it. Thats my favourite show. David Milch, who created it, is the one true genius of TV. He let us be creative.

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They keep saying would you do it again? Ian McShane and Caroline Langrishe in Lovejoy. Photograph: Alban Donohoe/Rex/Shutterstock

As for Lovejoy, he says: I have fond memories of it but no wish to do it again. But they keep saying, Would you? And I say, Go ahead and write it. He does have an idea of how Lovejoy could be revived, albeit without him. You know he had a daughter? Well, you could have 30 minutes of Lovejoys coming back and then this gorgeous blonde walks through the door. That could work.

Since Lovejoy and Deadwood, McShane has become a much-sought actor, playing everything from Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean to enigmatic hotelier Winston in John Wick. There are also films whose names he cant quite remember. Jack and the Giant Killer, was it? he says. Jack and the Giant Slayer. No, hold on. Jack the Giant Slayer!

Then there was the time he and Ray Winstone were, counterintuitively, among the seven dwarfs in 2012s Snow White and the Huntsman. They were called Beith and Gort, when they should really have been named Surly and Surlier. The less said about that the better, he says. We were the best things in the movie. But by the time wed spent six hours getting fake asses and prosthetics, we only had three hours to shoot in. These people pay you a lot of money and you want it to be good. But sometimes you want to say, Hey guys, you know, get it together.

I look sidelong at McShane enviously. He has a healthy tan and a fine head of hair swelling over his neck into that oxymoron: a not-unbecoming mullet. Whats more, decades ago he decided on a look (dark sports jacket over dark T-shirt tucked into belted jeans) and still works it with aplomb. Acting-wise, hes been around the block. Hes played Disraeli, Judas, King Saul and voiced Tai Lung (the snow leopard with martial arts moves) in Kung Fu Panda. In the 1960s, he starred in the original London production of Joe Ortons Loot. In the 70s, he played Sue Ellens slimy Limey love interest in Dallas, and a British cockfighting aficionado in the original Roots.

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Were the last of the breed John Hurt and Ian McShane in 44 Inch Chest. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

I ask if he has any regrets, fully expecting him to cite the 2000 West End musical version of The Witches of Eastwick. But Im wide of the mark. Yeah, I do. Johnny Hurt died before we got to make another film together. Were there plans? No, it was just that he was my dear old friend. McShane and Hurt, who died in January, were at Rada together in the early 60s. Johnny was two terms ahead of me and then he left and I got the lead in a movie he was already in. He suggested me for it. That film was 1962s The Wild and the Willing, in which he played a rebellious, randy university student expelled for his misdemeanours.

Then we did our first play together and we shared a flat. Its funny thinking of him as gone. Were the last of the breed, us lot. You know you move from TV, you go to theatre, you do film thats what you were brought up to do. Proper acting. Thats what you enjoy doing. Thats what he did.

Hes too busy to get mired in nostalgia, though. We will next see McShane in a Dr Dre six-parter called Vital Signs that sounds like hip-hops answer to Pixars Inside Out. In it, three actors play different aspects of Dres psyche, while Dre plays himself. Sam Rockwell is Ego, apparently, and Michael K Williams (the charismatic Omar from The Wire) is Negativity. Im Vengeance and were all battling it out inside his head.

Finally, I ask McShane if he has any unfulfilled ambitions. Id love to do a Ken Loach movie, but hed never think of me. Why not? Youd be great some terrifying Manc loan shark, perhaps, or a no-less-scary Alex Ferguson in Looking for Eric 2. Nah. Soon as you do Sunday night TV, they go, Sold out! Hes sold out! Thats how they think of me. But what do you think about yourself? There are some films I cant remember being in, thats true. But sold out? Nah, Im having too much fun to think that way.

American Gods begins in the US on 30 April on Starz, and in the UK on 1 May on Amazon Prime Video.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/apr/10/ian-mcshane-american-gods-interview-neil-gaiman-adaptation

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