Suave, debonair and charming, Jason
Isaacs is the latest in a famous procession of actors to convince audiences
everywhere that the British make magnificently sinister villains. Earning the
revulsion of filmgoers and the respect of his peers for his performance in his
role as Colonel Tavington in 'The Patriot', Isaacs is a multitalented actor
whose depictions include a drag queen, a priest, a scientist and now an
iniquitous wizard in JK Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'.
The tall, commanding, blue-eyed actor has won worldwide admiration and is being hailed as one of the most exciting British exports of the early 21st century. Femail.com.au had the good fortune to enjoy a morning with Isaacs and talk with him about Lucius Malfoy, Peter Pan and what it was like to wear a sequined frock.
You play the Villain very well, in fact you're a magnificent bastard.
JI: Thanks very much (laughing) that's my job. Actually no I'm not really, it is that JK Rowling is a magnificent storyteller. I've been a villain in some movies that have flopped terribly yet I am the same actor who gets all the praise for Harry Potter and all the applause for The Patriot. It's because these were magnificently well written stories and I just come in and take the credit.
Do you enjoy playing the Villain?
JI: I enjoy well-written roles. I don't mind what I play, good guys, bad guys, sheiks, drug dealers it doesn't really matter to me it makes my job so easy when it is a well-told story. The thing about Harry Potter you've got this character that kids hiss and boo at and they hate me, but grownups look at this genocidal racist character, who is obsessed with keeping wizard blood pure and wants to wipe out all Muggles and they see the parallels all around the modern world.
The film works on every level. And on a personal level as well. It wasn't really in the script but something we worked on, on the set and that was that I was a terrible Dad. Thinking that you should raise children through fear and humiliation - and that makes perfect sense because you look at the child in the film and you see the child reacts in the same way and goes to school and bullies other kids.
And because it is so well written and truthful all I had to do was put these fabulous clothes on and wave my wand around. It is so easy to depict on film. So my job is so easy. I enjoy it when my job is easy.
Did you work much with Tom Felton developing both of your characters?
JI: Yes we did. Actually there was a big scene cut, which Chris (Director) promised me will be on the DVD where I give him terrible stick. He is a lovely boy. Stupidly having seen him in the first film, I arrived expecting him to be a nasty little kid, which was a bit amateur in my approach but he is very handsome and charming. What I didn't quite work out because it wasn't on the page was quite how I was going to treat him in the scenes. It came to me naturally that I should grab him by the ear and wrench him across then rap him on the knuckles with my cane and when I did it, he looked up at me with big eyes all kind of hurt that I wasn't sure if it was the actor that was upset or if it was the character. He is such a good little actor though that in fact he was milking it for all it was worth.
You would never think that you could earn Draco any compassion but after you see the film you feel a bit sorry for him.
Now you played a drag queen in Sweet November, how did this come about?
JI: Having just played the villain in The Patriot I was offered every villainous role under the sun but most of the roles were so poorly written that the hero would just have run rings around you from the first minute and you had no power. They thought I would be able to bring the same qualities to it that I brought to The Patriot. But they were wrong, because I am only as good as the script. So I thought, "well if I am only offered villains and there aren't any good ones around I had better make sure I do something else."
Best thing to do is get in a sequined frock. Nobody seems to connect me with that too much.
You were quite beautiful though.
JI: Thanks very much (laughing). Actually I thought I was a Dog, but it's very nice of you to say that. I thought I'd be quite sexy and fancied myself that I might get a whistle as I walked across the car park from my trailer. But after a close up look I looked like a heifer.
I loved working on it. It was really nice to have come off from working on The Patriot, having commanded an army, being surrounded by blood and gore and nastiness to being suddenly so cinematic; standing by the gay best friend
What was it like working with your young co-stars in Harry Potter? Did you enjoy that?
JI: Yeah it was great. I mean acting is a really childish job anyway you know, essentially, certainly on films like this you know you're just putting on silly clothes and prancing around with a silly voice. And being around kids reminds you of that because they're not bound up with any other stupid professional nonsense. They really are like running around in the garden with sticks pretending they are swords. The thing about them is they'd been playing their parts for a year and a half before I got there so it wasn't like I could patronize them in anyway at all; they were better than me at playing their parts. They were completely in the groove and it was me that had to get up to speed. And they are just fantastic kids I think it must be their parents because they were unlike any other acting children I've ever come across. They were really humble and normal and terribly courteous all the time. There were hundreds of kids on the set. I don't know how they do - I think their parents probably deserve a medal.
After being on a set like Harry Potter or even doing Peter Pan, is there ever a temptation to go all 'Panto'?
JI: Oh yeah, absolutely, I was sitting in the makeup chair one day talking with Kenneth Brannagh and I said, "How's it going mate?" and he said, "Alright love, how's it going with you?" And I said "I think I'm being a bit big for Chris" he said "Oh don't worry I am absolutely off the scale". So I said, "Chris only ever says to me, 'take it down a bit'", and Kenneth said, "Well he only ever says to me 'stop doing that'". So I mean, Chris used to come up to me after each take and say, (Jason goes into an American accent) " that was great, perfect. Can we do one more? Could you just maybe pull it back by like 90 - 95%?" And I'd go "Oh alright, is that a bit big?" And he'd smile, look at the ground and shuffle off. You know you put on this big velvet cape and carry a giant stick with a snakes head on the top and there is a temptation to play to one hundred thousand people in the park. Because you know, you're not really let off the leash very much as an actor.
The first day there was a very dangerous precedence set, I had to mince out of a door somewhere and Chris said "Could you shut the door behind you?" and I said "I could or what about if I just wave my cane and the door shuts by magic?" And he said "Yeah ok, no problem we can do that."
So I thought, "Oh wow, this is just going to be a riot".
We were doing a scene with Dobby and of course there is no Dobby there, he is in a computer somewhere in San Francisco, so you can do whatever you like and wherever you look is where they have to put Dobby.
So I was walking out of Dumbledore's office and I swung my cane violently in the air, we finished the take and Chris asked "What was that, with the cane? Did you trip" And I said "No, I smacked Dobby across the top of the head". So he looked at the special effects guys, then he kind of shrugged then looked back and went "ok cool".
What is it like working with Chris Columbus?
JI: Well he is a really family man and the reason he is not doing the third Harry Potter Film is so he can have dinner with his children. So the set always had children there, he would have his children there every day that I worked I brought huge bunches of kids with me, my Godchildren and my friends children all came and Chris would give them the headphones and let them shout 'cut' and 'action'. I can't imagine what kind of pressure you must be under when the first film was so successful and the second film the kids can only work a certain limited amount of hours every day and yet it never felt any more pressurized than us being in his back garden making a home video. He is a really really lovely man and that translated to screen. I think this film is much better than the first one. It is more exciting and it's much funnier and I hope he comes back to do the fourth one. He really creates an atmosphere on set where you can do your best work.
There is a really great line where I say, (in Lucius Malfoy character) "Let's hope Mr. Potter will always be around to save the day" and Daniel says, "Don't worry, I will be."
None of that is in the script and I was just about to leave in the scene and I said, "Chris I really feel like I should say something else," and he went "What?" And I said, "Well I don't know...how about...?" So I came up with the line and Chris said "Yeah!" And then Daniel said, "Well how about I say this?"
A lot of directors wouldn't have the confidence you know, especially dealing with the sacred text and the pressure is on and the kids have to go to school. He is so relaxed that he can be creative and it is very hard to be creative in the atmosphere.
What about Malfoy's profile in up and coming Potter tails/JK Rowling stories?
JI: Well no, God knows - damn! My cheques were all returned the envelopes all unopened (laughing). Like everybody else I am on tender hooks for book five just to see what happens as a fan. But professionally I am dying to know what happens.
Have you read all of the books?
JI: Oh yes. Well in fact I hadn't read the books and I thought there was something rather odd about grownups who were recommending that we read these children's books. Then I read them and I read them all in one go.
So I am in book four, but I don't know what they are going to do about book four because it is 700 pages long and it could be the longest film ever made. No that the kids would care, I mean this latest film is two and a half hours long and as far as the kids are concerned it is two and half hours too short.
I don't know what she has planned. I keep reading these interviews with JK Rowling where she says "this book is very painful for me to write as I have to kill of all of these characters that everyone loves." Now that's good for me because I know everybody hates Lucius Malfoy, so I must be still alive. But I don't know what she is going to do.
I am very much hoping that book five is "Harry Potter and the romantic adventures of Lucius."
Now you have Peter Pan coming up, is that right?
JI: Yes, I'm living on the Gold Coast shooting Peter Pan. Which is incredibly exciting because it's actually the first film of Peter Pan that has ever been made. When I say that most people frown slightly and go, "What about ....?" And then they realise they have nothing to follow up with. Then you think "What about the cartoon?" then they realise it's not a film it's a cartoon. Then there is 'Hook' but that is a story about a middle-aged man who can't stop using his mobile phone and Wendy's story doesn't even get a look in.
Ours is done just how JM Barry wanted it. It's about a 12-year-old girl living in Victorian London who is told she has to grow up and so runs away to this place that maybe is real or maybe is in her head. And the same actor gets to play Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, which is fantastic for me. It does mean I work twice as hard.
It's wonderful because it has all the special effects and the extravaganza of a big budget film. But that's not half of it because it is a beautiful story of the coming of age of a young girl. In the Victorian days there was no such thing as adolescence, you were a child and then you were a woman being prepared for marriage. I can't imagine how terrifying that must have been.
So far I have only shot the Mr. Darling Victorian London stuff and as Mr. Darling's character I'm terribly constricted of course by Victorian Society, so I can't wait to throw all that off and play the loose carnal Hook. It's going to be wonderful.
- Michelle Palmer