At London Film and Comic Con this past month I got to interview Sylvester McCoy, Doctor Who star, who now sports a beard. But why the new beard, you may wonder. Well, I asked him this and other hard hitting questions.
The beard is for a part that Sylvester is, as yet, not allowed to talk about beyond ‘it’s for Netflix’. But what clues can we glean from this? Well, not much, admittedly. We also talked a bit about how he got his start in showbiz and Sylvester told us how he was picked out for the Ken Campbell roadshow while in his late 20s and never looked back.
Also, it is now 20 years since he and Paul McGann starred in the Doctor Who TV movie, so we talked a bit about that, too. There are some audio issues on the video, so you’ll find a handy transcript below.
SFFN: Sylvester, nice beard.
SM: Oh, thank you, yes, I grew it for a part.
SFFN: One you’re not allowed to tell us about, I understand.
SM: Yes, you must be a mind reader! How did you know? Because here we are, just met! Yes, no, I’m not allowed to talk about it. It’s for Netflix.
SFFN: We’ll be on the lookout for that. It’s now been 20 years since you did the TV movie with Paul McGann. I understand you knew Paul McGann before the movie. Could you tell us a little bit about how you met and what it was like working with him?
SM: Yes, I knew Paul before. I knew all the brothers. And the sister. Because one of my best mates was best mates with them. So I kind of met up with them, went to see them in the band. So I knew them over the years and was delighted when Paul got the part, taking over from me. It was great fun to work with him in Canada, where we filmed.
SFFN: I understand that when you first got into acting it was Ken Campbell who got you into it with the roadshow. What was it that kept you coming back to acting? Was it that you just got ‘bitten by the bug’ and just couldn’t get enough?
SM: Yes, I suppose it was. Ken Campbell, and someone else it was… Brian Murphy of George and Mildred and Last of the Summer Wine, he recommended me to Ken as an actor, and then Ken came up to me and said, ‘Eeh, do you wanna do this job?’ and I did it. And I took to it like a duck to water, as they say.
I enjoyed it immensely because I’d wandered around my life, wondering what to do, and then suddenly I was doing it!
SFFN: And how old were you at this point?
SM: Twenty seven.
SFFN: So you’ve been doing it now for quite a big portion of your life. How have you seen the industry itself change over that time?
SM: I suppose technically it’s changed, you know technology. You can now watch a film on your phone. I’ve got one of these watches [he shows off an Apple Watch] my son bought it me. You can watch things on this! When I was a child it used to be Dan Dare in a comic had one of these, and as a child you thought ‘wow! one day won’t it be wonderful if we had one!’ and now I’ve got one!
I was actually using it the other day. I was standing at a corner, and a friend rang, and I was going to meet him, and I was chatting to him on this [indicates Apple Watch]. And I was working out if I wanted to get a bus. So I was looking around, talking to him, and this man, an old man, came up to me and he said, “Are you alright? Are you lost?” and I said “No, no, I’m talking to my friend!” [points at watch] and he looked at me as if I was mad! Talking to his phone! ‘Cause he’d never heard of it, this new technology. So it was very funny.
SFFN: You’ve done a lot of acting on stage, and screen, and audio with Big Finish. Which aspect do you take most naturally to, where do you feel most at home?
SM: Everywhere, really. They’re all different techniques, but I’m just at home acting.
SFFN: You’re in The Hobbit, where you played Radagast the Brown with bird poop coming out of his hair. How much like your Doctor was Radagast? Because I noticed he has this kind of slightly clownish exterior but with a hidden power beneath him. Is that how you played him?
SM: I don’t know if it’s like that, so much. Peter Jackson, it turned out, was a Doctor Who fan. And he obviously knew what he wanted for his Rrrradagast! So he must have seen that in my Doctor and wanted me to bring that to him, really. He saw that I could do the kind of comedy with a dark or a deep side to it. And that’s what I did, really.
SFFN: So you’ve been doing Big Finish now for quite a while. And there’s some coming up with both Mel and Ace - Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred - has that been a different experience having them both on the team?
SM: No, it’s been great, really! It’s been good fun! Because there’s kind of… it’s interesting, the writers have written in kind of little competitiveness between the two, you know? And also then they gang up on me as well! So there’s all sorts of, all that kind of extra fun going on. They’re very different characters, themselves, and the gel and it’s lovely to see them together, they get on really well.
SFFN: So, other than this secret Netflix show you’re not allowed to talk about, what else are you working on? What’s the next big thing for you?
SM: Well, I’ve just finished doing a horror film called ‘Slumber‘! With Maggie Q, who’s in Divergent, and she’s also very famous in the far east as a kung fu artist. She’s lovely. Anyway, I just finished doing that. Where I get, you know, taken over by an evil force and try to strangle a child! It was great fun! [laughs]
I was bouncing off the walls, because I was all [does imitations of being possessed] aaaggh fighting the monster that was trying to take me over, or the evil force, or something.
SFFN: All that to look forward to, and obviously, more Big Finish, thank you, Sylvester!