Henri Szeps “Edward McLean”
Q 1. What attracted you to the role?
What attracted me to the role of Edward McLean was his cunning and his duplicity. He wants to get his sons to understand the meaning and the values of life, but he doesn’t want to just spoil them So he’s going to test them, and find devious ways of making them sit up and listen – he hopes!
And I’m playing a very wealthy guy. I get to ride in a helicopter, and live in a wonderful mansion. The sets were terrific, great to work in, though I didn’t know that at the time. I just looked at the script, and I thought it was fun.
Q 2. How did Gerald explain the character?
Gerald loved the concept of examining very wealthy people. He showed me a couple of paper clippings – and I won’t mention any names – of very rich people who had dropped their own children into the poo. Deliberately. “Don’t sponge off me, it’s not going to happen! ”. And also the theme of how tough a parent can be. I find that interesting. Plus, there’s a dog in the film!
Q3. Were you the first choice for the film?
Bud Tingwell was going to be playing this role, and I was going to play a drug pusher. And then dear old Bud died, he passed away. And Gerald thought: “Why not use Henri for that role? ” So here I am.
Q 4. What do you like about working in Newcastle?
It’s always good to go back to a community that knows you, where you’ve broken the ice. They’ve got your measure, they know what to expect, they know that they’ve enjoyed you in the past, God willing. Newcastle has always been good to me. And I’ve just been there again, since doing the film in a very funny play called “It’s My Party and I’ll die if I want you”, which was a lot of fun. It was a huge tour, I’ve only just got back. I don’t even know where my guts are! The tour went for 22 weeks, and covered places stretching from Darwin to Davenport, literally. So I’m glad to be home. But any community you re-visit is exciting.
Q 5. You seem to be playing a lot of characters who are facing death. Why is that?
They say that your life passes before your eyes at the instant of death. But I think that it happens as one approaches death, many years before. I can feel myself doing it. I reckon I’ve got another 30 – 40 years! Someone asked me whether it is going to be difficult playing Sigmund Freud, as an 83 year old. I replied that I’m going to have to age down, because, in fact, I’m 89 years old! There is something about maturity where you begin to see things with a broader lens, with a bigger picture. The production line that we’re all on – little babies coming along, older people dropping off. And of course, the normal thing is to say: “No! No! No! I don’t want to drop off ! ”. But if you sit down and really look at the stars, look at the sunset, look at your close relationships, look at your life and the miracle that existence is, the existence of the universe, the existence of you, I think it is a much nicer thing to say as you head off into the sunset: “Thank you! ” Just a simple generous thank you for the miracle; and that it’s been an amazing ride.
I think that is what happens to reasonably happy people at the end. But I imagine there are also quite bitter people, who are out to hurt their friends: “I’ll bloody serve him! ”. But generally, I think there’s a wisdom and an assurance that comes along, because basically, you already know the end of the story.
Q 6. What’s your favourite scene?
There’s the idiotic scene where one of my daughter-in-laws comes to visit. And I have been pretending to be extremely ill, on death’s door – it may or may not be true, I’m not saying. But I’m certainly not as sick as I’m making out to her. And the way in which my character manages the scene, I enjoyed that very much. Also, the swim was good. And I did a fantastic dive, but it’s not in the finished film! So imagine, when you see me swimming, that you’ve also seen me do a fantastic dive.
Q 7. What’s it like making a low-budget film?
One of the differences between a really well funded project – such as doing a TV episode for the BBC, where you might have 10 huge trucks on location, each costing, God knows, many thousands, if not tens of thousands of pounds; and an army of 200 people. They are there to give you the freedom to do what you and the Director feel should be happening.
But when you’re alone in a paddock with a camera, and the Director and a Cinematographer, and perhaps two other stray actors hanging around (I’m exaggerating here), there is actually a greater freedom and a greater responsibility on you to do something that’s going to carry the story; and there’s nothing supporting you, there’s no strings, there’s nothing there.
So there is a sense of adventure and independence, whereas with a big budget project, there is actually a tremendous responsibility. You have to fight some kind of pressure that you feel of having to fit into this massive machinery. You have to have the courage to establish yourself into all that. You don’t have that with a low-budget film – just the fact of being there is contributing.
Q 8. What was it like working with the local actors?
I don’t want to mention any names, but there were 3 or 4 local actors, who are not earning a living from acting, who were as good as, if not better than most of the actors I work with. Truly.
So you can’t just fob off somebody who is an amateur.
The French word ‘amateur’, means not just somebody who may not be earning a living in that field, but is also a lover of that field. I like that. This is what I felt from an awful lot of the cast. They were there because they really wanted to be.
Q 9, What was it like working with Gerald Lawson?
I like creative people who have the courage to not know where they are going! They’ve got the general idea, they’ve got a general pattern, but they haven’t made up their minds exactly. They are willing to change on the spur of the moment if something else comes up, which looks better. I admire that creativity because hopefully, no matter how skilled you are, and how much experience you have, you should always have your antennae open for new possibilities “I never thought of that for this moment, but it would work better.” And have the courage to go with it. So he was great to work with.
Q 10. What do you think of the recent award from Los Angeles?
I thought it takes a big city, a big centre to actually look at a project and give it a fair judgment. The extreme statement that I love – which has nothing to do with what we’re talking about here – is that it takes talent to recognise genius. I like that. Because generally, genius is seen as mad, incomprehensible, pointless. Yet here is a professional gig, that can quite easily see a very low-budget movie and recognise entertainment value in there. Which it does have. It does!