You will be seeing more of Shane Briant in the coming year, he is slated to play the governor of Bombay in the unreleased $40 million film “Singularity,” starring Josh Hartnett and directed by Roland Joffe (The Mission), which will possibly open the Cannes Film Festival.
Shane Briant is an actor’s actor, a leading man who’s starred in 36 films in the U.S.A, the U.K., Europe and Australia, 14 television plays and mini series for the B.B.C. and I.T.V. but is best known in the USA for playing Dorian Gray in Glenn Jordan’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, and Sir Chatterley in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” He’s also starred with Timothy Dalton in ‘The Flame is Love’ for NBC; and guest starred opposite Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland in NBC’s ‘Murder is Easy’. He worked with Paul Newman and James Mason in ‘The Mackintosh Man’, played Jack Palance’s son in ‘Hawk the Slayer,’ starred opposite Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson in ‘Shaker Run’ to name but a few films during this period. His most notable television appearances in the U.K. are Jack Gold’s ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ with John Hurt. AMFM talked with Shane about his past and “Singularity.”
He is also the author of 6 best selling novels – “The Webber Agenda” (1994), “The Chasen Catalyst” (1996), “Hitkids” (2000), and “Bite of the Lotus” (2001). All have been optioned for film. His sixth novel, already optioned, was published in October 2005 – “GRAPHIC.” His latest novel, ‘WorstNightmares’ was published by publisher of the year 2008, Vanguard Press in America in May 2009.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS, LIKE THE ROLE YOU HAVE AS THE GOVERNOR OF BOMBAY IN THE NEW FLICK “SINGULARITY.”
Yes, that’s fantastic, It was over a year ago, and I thought I was going to audition. In the old days, I didn’t audition, I’d just go see the director. Everyone took it for granted that the director knew you could act. Nowadays in Australia, whatever it is you have to audition and prove that you can act, even though you’ve done 36 films. I was told I was going to meet Roland Joffe, he was one of my heroes since “The Mission” (and I wish I’d had Jeremy’s part in the “The Mission,” it’s fantastic.). He’s a twice nominated academy award winning guy, and when I went to meet him he was so FRIENDLY! Such a nice guy, and we just chatted. I thought “Oh My God, can I just get this role please!” And eventually I got it. We did the rehearsals and shot it in Australia. I just found out three days ago it’s either going to be opening the Cannes Film Festival in May, or it’s certainly going to be there. That’s my latest film, and I am so thrilled about it, because it’s a seriously respected film. Joffe’s respected, whatever he does the critics take seriously, and there’s a good chance he’s come up with a really good film which will be well thought of. Who knows? He may even be nominated for an Oscar as director. So suddenly, I’m in a film that’s possibly up for an Oscar, and I’m so excited about that. I’ll certainly be in Cannes, one way or another I’ll be there!
SO THAT WILL GO INTO WIDE DISTRIBUTION?
Yes, I think it will be big. I think that it will do the festivals, and then be revered at Cannes. Shows quite often either live up to their hype or else they don’t. Sometimes the films you think are going to be good turn out to be a big disappointment, but this one is a GREAT film.
TELL ME ABOUT THE PLOT OF “SINGULARITY”
It’s really complicated. If you look it up on Wikipedia, it’s to do with the theory of time, when two times intersect. It’s about a man (Josh Hartnett), we see him as an officer in India in 1887, and he has an affair with an astonishingly beautiful girl, who’s played by Bipasha Basu (who’s a huge Bollywood Star) and something happens. There’s a ring involved, and I don’t want to give too much away. In the end, it’s Josh Hartnett living in America in the present day, something bad happens to him on a diving expedition. The only way to save his life is to interact and cross time. He’s married to a different girl, but somehow the two of them….it’s really difficult to explain, that’s why it’s such a fascinating film. Half of the film is set in Mumbai in the 18th century, and the other is in America in the present day. It’s going to be really interesting, I loved the script.
You can see the preview posters online. You can see Josh Hartnett, whom all the girls in the crew called Josh Heartthrob. All the production runners and girls on the show thought he was as cute as hell. He’s 6’2’, got a wonderful figure, what girl wouldn’t fall in love with him?
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE THAT YOU WANTED TO BECOME AN ACTOR?
It was always there. When I went to my very first prep school, and I think I was five, it was a school that every year had an end of school play. There was the five to eight year olds and eight year olds onwards.
I was in the five to eight year olds. There was a production of “Little Miss Muffet,” and I thought to myself WOW! And even in those days, I thought I can’t play the lead, I can’t be Miss Muffet (I had a big ego even then!) but tell you what, I want to be a spider. Because the spider was kind of cool, it was threatening, and the bad guy.
So I started off that way. And every year I would look forward to the end of school play. The second year it was a play in French. I learned all the French, it was a great education for me. I played the whole thing and I can still remember every word. I’m not a fluent French speaker, but nowadays when people ask me “Oh…Shane, can you speak French? Are you fluent? Instead of lying and saying yes I am, I just repeat my lines. And they say OK, Shane, don’t worry, I get you!
THAT’S A SNEAKY TRICK.
So when I went to my next school, which was an English public school (Hallbury?), again, they had a fantastic reputation for doing plays. We took plays to Europe every year, all the students would be put up with families and we’d perform Shakespeare and all sorts of plays. It was great.Then I left and went to University I couldn’t wait to act there. When I went to Trinity they had a wonderful tradition there just like Oxford and Cambridge with the Footlights (Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club), they are judged as being professional companies. Trinity is the same, it’s just in Dublin. So when I started acting there, within two years I had turned professional, even though I was still a student. We had Shakespeare, and I played Hamlet. So I realized so early on that’s what I wanted to do, even though I finished my law degree I could have gone on and become a Barrister or Solicitor. When I was offered a play in the West End and a two year contract with Hammer Studios, I thought it would be more fun to be a movie star.
When you’re 21 and someone asks you, what do you want to be Shane, a movie star or do you want to be a boring old fart solicitor in Tucson? I said, no, I think I’ll be an actor, so that’s what I did.
SO YOU DID COMPLETE YOUR DEGREE EVEN THOUGH FAME WAS CALLING, AND THAT’S QUITE A DISTRACTION. CAN YOU THINK OF ONE ROLE IN PARTICULAR THAT PROFOUNDLY AFFECTED WHO YOU ARE? I KNOW THAT’S AN UNFAIR QUESTION BECAUSE ALL OF THE ROLES AFFECT AN ACTOR.
I don’t think any of them actually changed me in particular, but some roles were more important than others.
A good example of what I mean is suppose I was an in the closet gay guy, then I played a gay guy and suddenly realized i was gay myself. Then maybe it would have changed me. But every role I just get so immersed in what I’m doing, but in terms of changing my career, there are several roles that did just that. Dorian Gray was one, because up until then I’d never been to America. I was interviewed on a Wednesday, and flew in on Thursday and was acting in Hollywood on Friday.
That changed me because suddenly I was “somebody,” I wasn’t just another actor, I was playing a lead in Hollywood. That profoundly changed me in a way, but a good way. A lot of the people that I’ve met, the moment they become famous or well respected they become a real pain in the ass. I’ve met a lot of those people, that kind of think they are “somebodies.” “If I’m walking the red carpet, I’m important, I’m someone better than you are.” I’ve never ever felt that way. I’ve always felt surprised when someone comes up to me in the streets and says “Hey, you’re that actor, gee what’s your name? I’ve seen you in so many things, I can’t remember one of them, but I love your work.” Well, that makes me feel terrific.
There are a lot of people I’ve been working with, I won’t say they’ve gone the opposite direction, but when I started acting there was Anthony Andrews, Jeremy Irons, about five or six of us, all my friends. We’d always go up for the same role. Some of them, like Jeremy, have become very famous. There’s always that temptation to believe that you’re someone special. Now, I haven’t won an Academy Award. If I had maybe then I would think I was cute or special.
WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE ROLES TO PLAY?
They key roles that I’ve done are “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” because that introduced me to Australia, and “Dorian Gray” because that introduced me to America, and the Hammer Films, because there are still so many people out there that loved them, and they are my fan base.
ON DORIAN GRAY
Dorian Gray was so exciting because not only is it a great story, unusual and kind of unique, it happened to me at a time when I was at my most fearless. As you get older you think, “Oh My God, am I going to be able to do that?” We only had 12 days to film 3 hours of it. We had 12 days rehearsal and shot the whole lot in four days. I was told more or less I couldn’t make a mistake, because they didn’t have time for mistakes. But it didn’t bother me because I was completely fearless. I don’t think I fudged a scene in the whole thing, whereas now I’d be pretty scared. As you get older your memory just goes apeshit and you can’t do it. But it was thrilling for me, we were working on the “Gone With the Wind” lot, I was very young, I was surrounded by famous actors, and I was working in Hollywood and being treated really well. It was absolutely thrilling, cars would come and pick you up and that sort of thing.
ON LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER
The other role that would compare to that would be “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” when we went to one of the last really big openings in Paris, In Normandie and the Champs d’Elysee. You can imagine the Champs d’Elysee, arriving with the director Just Jaeckin, hundreds of people and the red carpet, searchlights in the sky. The first time it happens to you (and you’re in the center of Paris in a white suit) you think WOW! This is so thrilling, this is why I didn’t become a lawyer. Nowadays, that only happens to a certain amount of films, like “Twilight.”
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE AUSTRALIA OVER AMERICA, IF YOU WERE GOING TO MOVE?
That’s a good question. When I did Dorian Gray, I should have stayed really and given it a go in America, but I didn’t have much money. It would have required me to move and live in America, and I didn’t have an agent and couldn’t buy an apartment, I was quite young. I took the easy option, and said “Meanwhile, I’ll go work at the BBC.”
I went back to London to work for the BBC. You can easily get forgotten. I was forgotten for years, and nobody came after me. I should have gotten an agent who said “Hey, he’s got really good notices for Dorian Gray, how about him playing somewhere else?
Much later I went to Australia in 81 or 82. I went with Fox Columbia to do some promotions. In the ‘80s, Australia was in the boom years of Australian film, much in the same way as Mexico when everyone was making films in Mexico. At that time there weren’t making too many films in England.
But in Australia I was doing at least two films a year in leading roles, and also mini-series. The place is just so beautiful, for anyone who hasn’t been here, it’s just fantastic. I was making money, I bought a house, I was living with my Australian girlfriend who’s now my wife, and I was having a great time.
If you’re having a good time and you’re living in Australia, that’s where the work is. If you want to go to Hollywood you have to go there and wait at least a year with a good agent. While the money was good and the work was good I stayed in Australia, and suddenly 20 years had passed.
LET’S TALK ABOUT SHANE THE WRITER. DO YOU ANTICIPATE MAKING ANY OF YOUR BOOKS INTO A FILM?
Because I started off as a theater actor, then I became a movie and tv actor, (my preferred medium). So when I started writing my books in 1995 all of them were written with a view to a movie. When I wrote them I would conjure up in my mind frame by frame the picture of the movie. Everything is like Beethoven, when he used to write his symphonies, and he could hear them in his head.
When I was writing, I would pick actors. One of my books was called “Bite of the Locust.” I decided, and this was 15 years ago, that I wanted Cate Blanchette and Russell Crowe to play the lead. So yes, they were all movies in my head. I got really close with one of them. “HitKids” was almost made into a movie by a lovely American director, Kevin Conner. He lived in the Hollywood Hills, and his next door neighbor was a Travolta’s producer. He read it and hey said, “By God, Kevin, it’s great, I’ll have the money by Monday.” Over the weekend he had a falling out with Travolta over that gigantic movie they were making about space, which lost everyone millions. Then we never heard from him again, because he was so busy doing other things, and rescuing his career. It never happened but we got really close with that.
I’ve made screenplays they’re all available should anyone want them. Once I write a book, I then write a screenplay based on the book.
In fact, I did a book called “Graphic,” which was a little bit like Sin City, and I’m working with a director in New Zealand called Adam Strange, which is a great name for a movie director, I think. We’re working on getting that film up. We’re getting quite close with that. That will be half animation, and half real stuff. One morphing into another. That’ll be a really cool film.So I’m still trying to plug my books as movies, because they’re fast action, and perfect for movies. I’d love to see them made.
LET’S TALK ABOUT FAME… WHAT HAS FAME BROUGHT YOU THAT YOU PARTICULARLY LIKE, AND THEN THE OPPOSITE QUESTION. WHAT IF I HAD BECOME A BARRISTER, WHAT WOULD LIFE BE LIKE THEN?
Well, when you say “what’s fame brought me,” I’ve never really become famous like my old buddy Jeremy Irons. In my limited amount of fame, what I like best is I love going to these reunions and festivals and meeting people. I think it’s fantastic to be at Don Ferney’s event and there are 300 people sitting in a room and they all want to talk to you, and they’re all really nice people. I just can’t believe that they all want to see me and talk to me, and you feel so much affection. It’s really nice to be loved in that respect. That’s one of the things, the feeling of genuine affection coming through to you.
The other thing is, the more famous you become, the better the roles you have to choose from. I’m so glad I didn’t become a solicitor or a Barrister, I’ve had such a good time. I’ve never worked with horrible people. There’s only one guy who’s ever been nasty to me, and that’s in a career of 40 years. I’ve worked in Hollywood, Hamburg, France, Germany and Holland on vacation and it’s all been paid for. I worked in Vanahuatu with Mark Harmon in “Then There Was You. We had 8 weeks there right on the water, you know? What kind of a deal is that? Fantastic!
What you have to do is what you love, which in my case is acting, and now I’m excited about having a holiday at the Cannes Film Festival and being able to mix with my heroes, like De Niro. The Deer Hunter is one of my favorite films ever. I think it’s the best work ever done by De Niro, Walken, Streep, Savage. Who knows who’s going to be at the festival? Christopher Walken might be there. It would be great to say “Hey, I’ve always been a fan of your work,” just be like a fan. Who knows, maybe Al Pacino will be there too.
I think a lot of actors give their best performances at a crucial moment in their lives. I think that moment is between 25 and 35, in my opinion. Sometimes they get better, of course they give good work afterwards, but really that’s where they’re giving their finest work. They make me gasp sometimes when I see their work. Fantastic.
SO YOU THINK THERE’S A PRIME TIME FOR ACTORS?
Yes, mid-thirties, maybe, and a little before. You look at De Niro and “Taxi Driver,” one of his best performances ever and I think he was in his late 20s then. He seems to just get better and better, but when he went into comedy, that’s fine for one or two movies, but De Niro should be doing really strong stuff. It’s ok to have a comedy occasionally. It’s a bit disappointing, I’d sooner he do less.
YOU’VE MADE THE BRIDGE FROM ACTOR TO WRITER, ARE THERE ANY OTHER THINGS YOU’D LIKE TO DO, PERHAPS DIRECTING?
No, I’m one of the few actors who’ve walked the face of the earth who doesn’t want to direct. I’d sooner produce, but I’ve got no idea how to do that. I like to write, and be allowed to write and not have everything changed.
There was a film I was in, with an American Director, and he said “Shane, that’s fantastic, your book Worst Nightmares is brilliant. Just brilliant! I want to do it. If you come to Los Angeles, we’ll work together on it.” So I went to Los Angeles, and I said “Well when are we going to do it?” and he said “Well, the title is fantastic, but if you could just change the cast. You’ve got people in their 30s and 40s. We want them in their 20s. We want the girls to have lovely bodies and big breasts. And we want the guys to be big hunks.” So I said, well what is it about my screenplay that you liked? And he said “well, the title, really.”
THAT’S TERRIBLE. DID HE READ THE BOOK OR NOT?
Your fanbase is looking forward to the next thing you do. You’re a very lucky man.
Well, I’m no spring chicken anymore, but I’m not ready to go sit and smoke a pipe, or lay down and die. There are plenty of things I still want to do, like get my book made into a film. One that I’m working on with Adam Strange, I will be a producer, so no one will be able to screw around with my screenplay because I’m the writer, he’s the director, and we’re both the producers. So that’s a thrilling thing, but you only realize these things late in your career. I was very nieve, and when someone told me they would keep it exactly the way you want it Shane, I would think wow that’s great, and I would believe them.
THAT’S WHAT LAWYERS AND CONTRACTS ARE FOR. HAVING THE BACKGROUND YOU DO, I WOULD THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE AN ADVANTAGE THERE.
I am having great fun, every day I love to get up, and if I’m not working in a film, I like to create…anything actually. In any week if I haven’t created something, because I paint pictures too…
THAT WAS THE NEXT QUESTION. CREATIVITY USUALLY BLEEDS INTO OTHER AREAS IN LIFE TOO, YOU JUST CAN’T CONTAIN IT. SO IT’S PAINTING FOR YOU?
HOW ABOUT MUSIC TOO?
No, I love music, I used to play the violin and guitar, but very badly, so that’s my weakest artistic thing. I’m still not very good at painting, but I love having fun and doing paintings in the mode of someone famous. At the moment in Sydney we’ve got the Picasso exhibition. There’s a very famous picture of a cat, and it’s called the Cat and the Bird. It’s quite simple, so I thought I’d do a copy of it and I’ll do it in my own way. I put it up on Facebook.
I SAW THAT
Freddie’s head (Shane’s cat) is on it. By the way, President Obama is here today in Canberra. We’re thrilled, Wendy and I both love him. We respect him, most Australians do. We get a little concerned when we hear the gaffes about him.THERE’S A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO LOVE HIM HERE AND MANY THAT RESPECT HIM AS WELL AS THOSE THAT DON’T. AND THEY ALL EXPRESS THEIR OPINION. BUT THAT’S AMERICA.THANKS VERY MUCH SHANE. WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU IN “SINGULARITY.”