Villordsutch chats with actor and writer Paul Darrow…
I was given the chance to interview Paul Darrow, very much a childhood hero of mine, last week and I jumped at it. The day it was supposed to happen I fell ill and him being the gentlemen agreed to put it back to the following morning. I’d set out with seven questions expecting it to take no more than ten minutes tops and instead I came off the phone after forty minutes wishing I had the entire day to carry on speaking with him.
After the introductions and Paul’s enquires about my health, I was rather in awe that I was speaking with quite possibly the epitome of cool when I was a child watching television (and quite possible still is); whilst not attempting to babble at Paul, he asks if he can get a cigarette as it helps him think and begins to explain how he became a smoker.
Paul Darrow: I became a smoker when I did a play when I was 19 and I played twins one was sort of a geeky and the other flash a cool; the flash and cool one smoked that’s how you knew the difference between the twins.
Taken aback that for 50 years Paul has smoked because of one play I asked the title and it was Ring Around the Moon by Jean Anouilh. To make matters worse, Paul went on to tell me that the stage hand had to sit in the wings smoking the cigarette so it would be the right length for Hugo (the cool one) when he needed it. The poor girl may have become an addict to!
I take to my questions:
Villordsutch: Big Finish productions have managed to create something more than an audiobook with their productions, was this something that made you want to bring Avon back to Blakes7 with Big Finish or did you see something different you could germinate and grow?
PD: Well I’ve been involved with Big Finish before doing other stuff. For example I’ve done a Doctor Who audio with them and I and did another drama with David Tennant actually before David became Doctor Who. Very, very good David, a great pleasure to work with him and he said the same of me so that was nice. Then they got the rights as it where, or part of them, to Blake’s 7 and asked me and everybody else if we’d do the audio the work on Blake’s7 and we said yes of course! I haven’t as yet written any scripts, I’ve written a couple of books – I’m finishing off the third of the Lucifer trilogy and I’ve done and audio recording of that and what I do enjoy very much is reuniting with the character as it were, which I created and then with the writing and the recording with what I have written is exploring him a little bit more and putting my edge to him.
V: What was it like working with the old team again? I know you must have met at conventions and such like but to actually be bickering with Blake or deriding Vila again. Were they easy boots to put back on or did they pinch in the wrong places?
PD: Oh I just slipped back into the roll. The recording system varies, I don’t always work with them, I record separately.
V: (I break in here) I did wonder how it works, when you see the actors in Pixar films you see a couple of actors bouncing off each other, is that the case at Big Finish? Would you have yourself and say Paul Spragg over at Big Finish just reading the other lines to you?
PD: No…No…I tend not to worry about what the other actor is going to do as I know what the other actor is going to do; I’ve known them for so long. For example the first one I did was with Michael [Keating] and he wasn’t there as he’d already recorded his and the director said, “Do you want me to read Michael’s lines?” and I said “There is no need” and I’ll say my lines because I know exactly how Michael will have done it and he would have known how I would do it; sometimes they’ll read back to me if the director wants to but normally I just say it and so I get through it quite quickly.
I then spoke to Paul about how quite astounded I am about this information as I’d just listened to the latest Blake’s 7 release in which Vila, Blake and Avon are heavy in conversation with each other throughout the story. Telling Paul that with the delivery of the lines being spot-on you’d swear they were all in a room together…
PD: No we weren’t. The thing is we’ve been together for such a long time and we worked well. The success of Blake’s 7, the budget was the equivalent as a coffee break for Star Trek, the scripts generally speaking were good, though we had a few duff ones. I suppose that’s inevitable, but the chemistry between the actors worked either by luck or by judgement; the casting was pretty much bang on.
I agreed with Paul and highlighted that when I’ve tried to introduce older episodes of Doctor Who or episodes of Blake’s 7 to friends in the past they’ve struggled to get past flimsy sets, poor special effects or costumes.
PD: At conventions in America when I’ve met a lot of actors, George Takei said to me, “Blake’s 7 scripts are so good, that’s why it did well even though it couldn’t compete against Star Trek for production values.”
Again agreeing with Paul (and this time George Takei) we discuss the foresight of Terry Nation from his politics and use of technology in Blake’s 7. It appears that in Paul’s last book he received comments about his use of science being applied incorrectly on an alien planet, for which Paul answers, “How do they know?”
V: Other than Kerr Avon is there anything in the background that Paul Darrow does at Big Finish?
PD: The Lucifer (the first one) is out on audio disc and I had an email asking me to record the second and third, though I haven’t finished the third so it’s going to be a while. I’ve written something that I can’t tell you about really which they liked, that’s been fun to do but we haven’t recorded it. I’ve written it and now I’m re-writing as the producer sent me some notes saying, “This is a fabulous sequence that you written visually but you’ve forgotten that it’s for audio so you’re going to have to re-write it.”
Our conversation takes us to the recording of the Big Finish audio productions and Paul tells me that actors like to come to Big Finish due to the quality of work produced and they know they can easily deliver an episode within a day. He also tells me how the people at Big Finish know what they are doing and trust the actors too. He tells me about his dog and the fact he doesn’t like to leave alone to long, at home, and one day he entered the studio with Lousie Jameson (excellent of course, according to Paul) and was told that they were there for the full day. Both Paul and Louise rattled through it completing the full day’s work by lunch and were home in early.
V: Stepping away from Big Finish now and back in-time to 1998 and Terry Pratchett and “Guards! Guards!” if the opportunity ever arose for a stage/TV/film or even audio presentation would you be up for play Sam Vimes again?
PD: Well I’ve aged a bit since then, so I don’t know. I enjoyed doing it but it would be a bit frightening as it has a very strong following, Captain Vimes is a cult figure and Pratchett fans are very demanding. I was a bit nervous, but obviously they liked what I did. I remember talking to Sir Terry and I asked if he was happy with it and he said, “The most important thing is that the fans are happy with it and they are!”
Discussing time being a cruel mistress and wondering where the last 16 years have gone, we quickly departed 1998 and turned to reading Terry Pratchett instead…
V: Did you ever get the opportunity to read any further Terry Pratchett “Guards” books after the production; thus seeing the evolution of Sam Vimes?
PD: I had never read Terry Pratchett at the time, except of course Guards! Guards! and I met Terry’s agent and I mentioned this and he said that he would send me some… Some! A huge box was delivered with tons of books in! With a guide to the world and all sorts of books in I thanked him of course. I remember years ago I was in New York and Issac Asimov was a guest and I got talking to him and he had this deep voice and he said to me, “So have you read Science Fiction?” and I said well to tell you the truth I was never that interested but I suppose I ought to and he said, “You might start with my books.” So I said alright, as you don’t say “No” and I read some of his stuff and read some Philip K. Dick and now I enjoy it. Issac Asimov was quite forbidding, but he was fine with me as we were guests, Anthony Perkins was there…
V: You’ve mingled in some circles haven’t you?
PD: This is the joy when you go to conventions or signings or whatever, you’ve got your table at a signing and I just wander around and introduce myself to people.
V) Do you ever get star-struck?
PD) Not particularly, obviously I know a lot of the people from meeting Richard Keil, David Prowse and if I don’t know them I go over and say hello. I remember talking to John Saxon from Enter the Dragon and so on and he was looking bewildered so I wandered over and I said, “Oh, Mr. Saxon.” And he told me to call him John so I introduced myself as Paul from Blake’s 7 for which he replied, “Paul, I’ve never heard of it.” So I said there is no reason why you should, and he asked me, “My God what do I do here?” so I told him to sit and people will come over and ask for your autograph and stuff like that and he said, “Do you think they will?”. He was a nice man and very interesting to talk to; also Tony Curtis, sadly passed away but a lovely man.
I take to discussing Paul’s past career taking in his stage performances, film and TV also computer games and his latest TV performances
V: You’re a recurring figure “Law & Order: UK” as Judge Prentice. Do you think the image think it’s the image of Kerr Avon that is burnt into some casting directors minds from their childhood when they think, “Cruel vicious sociopathic swine” that places you in certain roles?
PD: (Laughing) The crew of Law & Order: UK used to say, “God Paul if you were a real judge I’d hate to come up in front of you!”
Turning to our previous computer game conversation I bring up Paul playing the role of Grand Moff Tarkin (in Star Wars: Empire at War), one held in the past by the late Peter Cushing.
PD: Peter Cushing was a lovely man and when Lucasfilm came to me and said they don’t want me to do and impression of Peter, but we think you could do it as well in the game but could you do it? So I did. I’ve done a couple of things for Lucasfilm games, I was a Sith!
Paul talks about the radio station (JackFM) he’s works for, and will be recording at later in the day, which has won a number of Sony Awards (a Gold and a few Silvers) and tells me a joke which is one used on the station “Screwfix, not being a dating agency”. I moan about my dislike of Radio DJs, for which he tells me, “JackFM has no DJs”, and then I attempt to push film scores by Clint Mansell on to him (which I hope Paul finds) and the film Moon.
V: Finally when you’re not working what as a person do you like to do for yourself?
PD: Writing I enjoy as I like making things up though I wouldn’t call that a hobby. I watch movies though they tend to be old movies actually, I don’t watch much television. I’m a Manchester City supporter and have been all my life, well most of my life and I read a lot. Now I have a Kindle, given to me by my PA who has said if I don’t use it she’ll put it on eBay, but I’m using it and now I have my classics on it.
We end our conversation with talk of books, films and getting to the travelling fish monger for the best fish before everybody else.
I’d like to thank Paul Darrow for taking the time out of his day to give me the interview and also Paul Spragg at Big Finish his help setting it up.
Villordsutch likes his sci-fi and looks like a tubby Viking according to his children. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter.