Q & A with Billy Connolly about Quartet
With the DVD and Blu ray release of Dustin Hoffman Directed film Quartet on Monday we have this great Q & A for you with one of the stars of the film. Billy Connolly is a well known Scottish Comedian.
Dustin says this is a film about characters in their “third act”. Would you agree?
Yeah, the people in the home all have great life about them, but they don’t have the ability to do it anymore. Except it doesn’t really matter to them, and if you see the original documentary – Tosca’s Kiss – there’s an old lady in singing a little aria. And she’s singing away and then she forgets her words and she goes, “dee-dee-dee-dee, da-da-da-da-dee-dee” not fazed at all by it. They just accept it totally, and it’s all about ageing. It’s about life, generally, and it’s lovely.
Your character Wilf is an incredible human being.
Well, Wilf is full of life, my character. I don’t know how people accept it because I’ve got such a working class accent, and opera’s such a non-working class genre. He doesn’t care. He likes women, he’s kind of horny, kind of randy, and he’s always getting little double entendres going. He gives life to the thing and if you’re ever in a place where people are retired, the first thing that strikes you is that they’re not talking to one another. Some of them are being fed, some are looking out the window and some are reading. They’re all separate, but Wilf’s character kind of gets them together and gets them going, which is a rather useful job.
Do you enjoy the flirtations with Sheridan Smith’s character?
Oh, yeah. An absolute joy and she’s great, Sheridan. She’s lovely. She acts very very well and she’s so attractive that it works really well. The funniest thing is, when I’m chatting away to her and doing these things, I feel like an old guy. I’m not an old guy, I’m in my sixties, and I’m the youngest of everybody, I’m the baby of the family.
Is it true Dustin thought you were too young initially?
It’s the funniest thing because Dustin came to see me in Los Angeles. He’s come to a few of my concerts in America. And he said, “I’m going to give you a phone call.” And then my agent said, “Dustin Hoffman’s been on, it’s about a movie,” and I went, “Ooh!” Then he didn’t want me anymore because I was too young. I’m so alive in concert he said, “You’re just too young and full of life,” and then he went to another couple of old guys whose names I won’t mention, but they’re kind of legends. But they were too old. They decided not to do it for various reasons, and he came back to me. So they greyed and white me up a little and it seems to have worked.
Do you feel young at heart?
Yes – I’m not young by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve got life. I refuse to accept the number. I don’t act my age. I’ve always felt that acting your age is as sensible as acting your street number; there’s no sense in it at all. My young brother used to always say, “Oh, for god’s sake, grow up.” But you’ll notice in your life that lots of people will tell you to grow up, but nobody ever says it about themselves, “I must grow up.” It’s just one of those states of life that doesn’t actually exist. What it means is: for Christ’s sake, get boring. Get a beige cardigan, settle down, and be boring.
Dustin has been an actor for five decades and this is his first feature film as a director. What’s it like to work with him?
He’s a brilliant director because he’s such an actor, so he directs like an actor. He knows your weaknesses, he knows your fears, and he doesn’t leave you dangling. The biggest fear most of us have is to be left looking stupid standing there, saying something you don’t really believe. He spots it before you. You arrive there trying to work up the nerve to say, “I don’t think Wilf would say this.” He says it before you. We get, “Listen, I don’t like this line. Just drop it. Say something of your own.” He thinks like an actor, behaves like an actor, and it’s fantastic. It’s such a privilege.
You’re a musical man, but how much of opera were you familiar with?
Well, I like opera and especially when I lived in Los Angeles I used to go to the opera with my wife. I saw a few operas and I liked them but I could see great flaws in them. I actually do a routine about opera. That it’s three times longer than it should be. They say everything three times in three different ways. It always made me laugh.
Does working with talents like Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins make the process easier for you?
No, they make it harder. It’s like acting with Elvis. Eric Clapton’s a friend of mine, but I’m still nervous when I meet him. I’ve known him for twenty years, but I still think he’s a star. He’s still the guy. That fame thing is so odd, but that goes away very quickly working like this. One of the great things is we’re working in this house most of the time. We’re not traveling to various places. So we come to the same place every day and so we’ve got to know each other very well. And my trailer’s right next door to Tom’s so we see each other a lot. I can hear him play his ukelele and all. So we’ve got to know each other and it’s softened off a bit. The feel of that great fame, top of the game thing has lessened a bit.
What do you think this film says?
Don’t die until you die. Don’t be dead first and then die. Stay alive until the very last second. Stay interested, stay in it. Don’t let them feed you, feed yourself. And don’t pee your trousers.
Quartet is released on DVD and Blu ray on Monday 6th May