by Clare Thomson
Describe the suitcase
that you use most often.
What always goes
in your suitcase?
How long does it
take you to pack?
What is the biggest
packing mistake you've ever made?
If you could pack
only 3 things, what would they be?
If you could take
only one book, what would it be?
Have you ever lost
Which luggage stamp
brings back the best memories?
What extra things
come home in your suitcase?
would you next like to put on your luggage label?
The Guardian, February 4, 2000
Q: What was the first
film you saw?
Q: What's your favourite
Q: When did you last
walk out on a film?
Q: What's your most
erotic cinematic moment?
Q: What's the most
annoying habit in the cinema?
Q: When did you last
snog in the cinema?
Q: When did you last
hide under your cinema seat?
Q: When was the last
time you cried?
Q: What's your favourite
line of dialogue?
Q: Which actor would
you most like to be?
Q: Which actress?
Q: Which film character
would you like to be?
Q: Why is the monster
in your film more like a zombie flesh eater than the traditional 'Mummy'?
Q: You've worked with
Oxfam in campaigns against the arms trade. Are you doing any more campaign
work against the weapons trade?
The day I spent naked with Eddie Izzard
By Garth Pearce
It should have been idyllic – just John Hannah, a beach and a nude co-star. Except that it was a freezing cold day in Brighton and John was with Britain’s most famous transvestite.
John Hannah has fond memories of the day a girl crashed into his car. He swapped names and addresses with the other driver and they ended up marrying.
‘We didn’t know each other very well and we went off for a picnic, in separate cars,’ he says of his actress wife Joanna Roth.
‘We reached a set of traffic lights and I stopped and her car hit mine. I looked in the mirror to see her slumped over the steering wheel. ‘I though: “Christ, she’s hurt.” I got out and pulled her out, but she was more upset than injured. I gave her a hug and a kiss, reassuring her that everything was fine.
‘People in the nearby bus queue were amazed, thinking I didn’t know her at all. They even started applauding.
‘It made me feel like a romantic hero. It made a useful impression with Joanna, too.’
Joanna, 29, and John, 37, married four years ago after he made his name in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The success of the film transformed his career, with the big box-office hit The Mummy bringing him recognition in America. He’s about to star filming The Mummy 2.
John will next be seen on screen as the lead in the action thriller Circus, which includes an unusual nude scene with Eddie Izzard.
John plays Leo, a conman being pursued by an assortment of chancers, including a bookie (Eddie Izzard) who insists on meeting on Brighton beach to talk things over. The condition is that they both have to be naked to ensure that neither of them is concealing a tape recorder.
‘The wind was cold, the stones under our feet were sharp and the sea was freezing,’ says John, recalling the scene.
‘I was more worried about lurking photographers, to be honest, than doing the scene itself. I’ve done nude scenes before, but the scene with Eddie takes some beating. I’ve always said that this is a crazy way to make a living. That’s what makes it fun – the surprise and the people you have the chance to work with.’
John used to be an electrician and also worked in a market in his home town of Glasgow.
‘The guy I worked with on the stalls was a master at selling,’ he says. ‘He could sell net curtains like no other man. When he took his breaks, I used to have a go. It’s an art, like acting. You have to imagine you’re a larger-than-life character.’
A friend suggested that he became an actor. ‘I was always rabbiting on about something or other,’ says John. ‘He said: “You may as well get paid for talking. Why don’t you take it up?”’
John spent three years at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, doing part-time jobs as he studied. He began as an actor in low-paid regional theatre.
‘There was absolutely no sign that Four Weddings would change anything for me,’ he says. ‘Before it was released, I was out of work for more than a year except for a car advert, a little student film for a week, then a play in Leeds that ran from September to November.
‘After that, I wasn’t in anything until Four Weddings started filming in April the following year. I often though to myself: ‘Where do I fit in?’ So much of the work depends on having a good public face.
‘I’ve never had that. My dad wasn’t famous, I didn’t make my name in a TV series which ran for years and I was too old to be a new discovery. But everyone remembers me reading that poem at that funeral.’
Hollywood took an interest and John went to Los Angeles to talk to movie executives and cash in on his new-found fame. While there, a meeting with renowned producer Sydney Pollack clinched the cash for Sliding Doors, which John was dying to make but had almost given up on due to lack of interest.
‘I was talking to Sydney, who’s so relaxed I didn’t feel as if I was being interviewed,’ he recalls. ‘He asked me, conversationally, what I was doing next. I told him about this great script that we couldn’t get made.
‘He took it off me, read it, loved it and, in one phone call, organised the finance. Just like that. It gave me a lesson in the power of certain people in the film business.
‘It also caused a bit of a panic. I had to play someone who had a lot of sex appeal and was really attractive to women, without being an obvious seducer. How do you do that?
‘It’s like walking on stage as a stand-up comedian, with no clothes and no script. I’ve never regarded myself as a guy with sex appeal, so the casting and the success of that film came as a bit of a shock.’
He keeps in close touch with his family in Glasgow: father John, mother Susan and older sisters Joan – who works for the city council – and Elizabeth, a nurse.
He says: ‘I’ve reinvented myself in many ways, but my family and friends know the reality. I’ve been unemployed, struggled, suffered doubts and sometimes wondered what the hell I’ve let myself in for.
‘But so far, it’s all been worth it.’
Fame is Horrible!
By Daphne Lockyer
Woman Magazine, 17 April 2000
A succession of great film and TV roles have made John Hannah a household name – but he’s still wrestling with the consequences…
John Hannah doesn’t need to wear a kilt for our interview in Edinburgh for me to know he’s as Scottish as bagpipes. ‘If you cut me in half you’d still see the words East Kilbride written through me like a stick of rock,’ says John, now based in London.
His recent stay in an Edinburgh flat with his actress wife Joanna Roth (also a Scot) wasn’t some kind of Celtic refresher course. They were back on home territory to star together in two TV adaptations of Ian Rankin’s Rebus thrillers – the first of which will be shown later this month. The project, however, could be said to have damped down John’s appeal to female viewers, as he’s dressed in the downbeat style of his character, Inspector John Rebus.
‘He doesn’t dress, speak or act like a hero and yet he gets our sympathy,’ explains John, 37. ‘Maybe his appeal is that he’s just like the rest of us – he’s trying to make sense of a world in which horrific crime seems to be everywhere we look.’
Playing sympathetic characters isn’t unfamiliar to John. In fact, it was one such role which catapulted him to fame. Since delivering that heart-rending WH Auden poem in Four Weddings and a Funeral, his agent’s phone has barely stopped ringing. ‘It took 10 years for me to become an overnight success,’ he smiles.
John’s career began at 20. The son of a toolmaker, he left school at 16 to train as an electrician but with the optimism of youth he applied for a place at drama college. ‘It’ was more a loathing of building sites in the winter than a love of acting that motivated me at first,’ he admits.
When he left college, he made his share of appearances in shows such as Between the Lines and Boon. Right now, however, he has a raft of big projects on the go. There’s a British gangster movie, Circus (to be released on May 5), in which John stars as a con man, plus he’s just started filming The Mummy II. And he’s rumoured to be starring in the film version of the 1970s BBC cult cartoon, Mr Benn.
No one could accuse John of being typecast. One minute he’s playing Gwyneth Paltrow’s unassuming romantic hero in the hit movie Sliding Doors, the next he’s portraying the darkly troubled pathologist in the TV show McCallum. In that series, McCallum often walked around his flat naked which, John admits, called for some frantic trips to the gym. ‘Obviously we all sometimes wander around at home unclad – I know I do. But we don’t do it in front of millions of viewers, all looking to see if you’ve got a beer belly.’
However, any females hoping to catch him naked in Rebus might be disappointed. Rebus, John points out, is ‘sexually bemused’, so when Joanna’s character tries to get him into bed, he doesn’t cotton on and turns her down.
‘Yeah, right,’ adds John, as if the idea of rejecting his wife in real life is, well, unthinkable. The couple met 10 years ago when working together on a National Theatre production of Measure For Measure and married in 1996. As yet, neither feels ready for the responsibility of having children.
‘Other actors go home and do the school run, whereas I like to play golf and spend time alone with Joanna. We’re still enjoying the childless life.’
Although his own production company, Clerkenwell Films, is producing Rebus, he denies absolutely that he engineered the part for Joanna, 34. He insists his business partner saw her in a London stage play and offered her the part.
Even if this wasn’t the case, you couldn’t blame John. ‘The kind of absences from each other that we have to deal with can be very hard,’ he admits.
John says that time spent with Joanna is vital to counter the more negative side of success. There was a time after Sliding Doors when separation from her, plus work overload and unease about the whole fame issue, put him into a tailspin. He went into therapy which, he says, was challenging and left him with a game plan: ‘To take time out when it’s there, to spend more time together, to have a life and not be so obsessive about things.’
He remains a worrier though. ‘Fame,’ he says, ‘is horrible, it’s invasive, it’s cancerous.’
You have to feel sorry for him when he tells you the story of a trip to the chemist he made recently. ‘I had this nasty ear wax build-up thing and plucked up the courage to whisper a question to the shop assistant. She yelled: ‘Oh, you’re that actor, aren’t you? Now, what have we got for ear wax!’ The other customers must have thought: Yuck! Btu I’m only human – why can’t I have ear wax?’
Why not, indeed.
Great Night In
The Times, 22 April 2000
[Actors and others are asked their choice of viewing for a 'great night in'].
The Scottish actor selects the 1943 war drama 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' directed by William Powell and Emeric Pressburger, for a great night in.
Why is this film
When and where did
you first see it?
The best performance?
Which scene would
Has this film influenced
your own work?
Who do you watch
And for refreshments?
by John Mosby
Dreamwatch, 2 September 2000
On first meeting JH, you expect him to be the solemn, slightly world-weary character he has often portrayed on screen. The likes of McCallum and Rebus have painted the image of slightly dour individual who thinks smiling would be too much of an effort. In reality, the actor is prone to manic giggles and loves telling stories of the wacky world of filming. Here’s a man who simply loves acting and is making a success of that.
But when I ask him if his growing celebrity means that he is ready for ‘leading man’ status, surprisingly, he hesitates. “I’ve never really considered that or thought of it that way. Circus was the first time I’d played that kind of a lead in a film,” Hannah muses. “With TM, I was more the comedy relief. It’s funny, really, because your ego keeps prodding you and says: ‘You’ll look a [prat] – don’t do that!’ But when I found my function and found my stride, I enjoyed it. I guess that when they were editing the film, they found they liked my character and made a little bit more of it.
“It’s nice and surprising when people refer to TM as being one of ‘my’ movies. I just though it was a different thing to do and would be a bit challenging and dangerous. I thought I’d just have a go.”
Hannah has managed to combine doing small-scale projects alongside Hollywood blockbusters. Is it part of a plan to do ‘One for the wallet, one for the heart’?
“Yeah, to a point, though I think I recognise that pattern retrospectively. It has become a process of trying, from a business point of view, not to let anybody pigeonhole me. If I’m not pigeonholed, there’s the chance that I’ll be offered something surprising and different. That keeps me interested and challenged.
“For instance, when I’d just done TM for four months and I was knackered, I decided to take the rest of the year off. I needed a break. But I was in LA, met Norman Jewison and TH came up. That was another four month’s shooting in Canada. I was tired, but it was Norman Jewison! If it had been anything similar to TM I think I would have passed on it. I’m very fortunate, but all you can do is follow your instincts.”
Recently, we’ve seen as much of Hannah on the small screen as we have at the multiplexes. The role of Rebus gave him the opportunity to sink his teeth into a gritty detective role and he happily admits that whether it be cinema or television, he’s happy to go where the quality projects are being made.
“I started a production company (CF) and we’ve done two Rebus TV films so far. I’m happy to continue working on TV as well as film. Essentially, the crew you’d work with on a British television project is the same crew that you’d work with on a film. Given good material, you can make a good TV film. It doesn’t have to be the poor cousin of big-screen film. I’m not going to be getting involved in a 13-episode deal, so hopefully the Rebus material will be seen as ‘events’. If I happen to bring any film kudos to that, well, great.”
Filming on the sequel to TM (currently known as TMR) has already begun, and though there will be overseas locations used, the film will have several major scenes set in London.
“Oh yeah, I’m sooooo heroic in this next one,” he laughs. “I get to jump a double-decker bus over Tower Bridge and wear a smoking jacket too! I really loved the director, Stephen Sommers. Steve got me to do this really dumb bit of slapstick. The rushes were great but I wasn’t convinced. Just before it was released I saw a test screening and everyone clapped, just as he’d promised they would. On that night, I told Steve I’d trust him whatever he asked me to in the future. He’s a great guy. I missed that fun atmosphere and when the opportunity came up to do the sequel, I jumped at it.”
The other project that has created a stir in the press is the news that Hannah will be involved in the big-screen version of the animated BBC children’s series Mr Benn. Benn, for those too young to remember, was the animated resident of 52 Festive Road, who each week would venture into a fancy-dress shop, run by a mysterious man who appears ‘as if by magic’. By taking the wrong door out of the changing rooms, he would end up in a different adventure determined by the costume he had chosen – think Quantum Leap’s Sam Beckett meets The Avengers’ John Steed.
“There’s a great script…I mean it’s a great script!” Hannah confirms. “I am attached to it. So’s Ben Kingsley and I believe that Jane Horrocks is involved, too. I love this idea of a British film that isn’t a Ken Loach-type (though I love his work). It wouldn’t be Merchant Ivory either. It would be a ‘British’ film. I have neighbours and recently lent their little boy a Mr Benn tape. He loved it. It may be British, but there is something universal and international about the whole idea.
“If I had to explain the concept of Mr Benn, I’d compare it to a cross between Field of Dreams and the [quest for the] Holy Grail. It’s a man who goes on a linear journey through the film. I really hope this happens, but I have little faith in the imagination of the British financiers.
“This is what makes me sick about British financial institutions. Unless there is a precedent, something to compare it with, they don’t want to know. It was the same with Circus (financed through Columbia) and Sliding Doors (financed through Sidney Pollack’s company, Mirage). Unfortunately, all the profits from these films are leaving the country."
Hannah’s Life on the High Wire
By John Millar
OK! TV Guide, 6 May 2000
John Hannah grins like the cat who has got the lion’s share of the cream as he steps forward to greet OK! You can understand why he’s smiling because the handsome 37-year-old Scot has just become a million-dollar man.
That’s the deal that the actor – who starred in Sliding Doors and became a noted scene stealer in Four Weddings and a Funeral – has struck to make the sequel to adventure blockbuster The Mummy.
‘Yeah. It’s pretty cool,’ says John when OK! Asks him about the big money contract that will see him team up once more with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz as they tackle the ancient mysteries of Egypt.
John’s new million-dollar status was revealed by his manager in an announcement to the film trade publications.
‘This way everybody knows that is what you are getting paid,’ explains John. ‘It means that the next time you go for one of these films, that’s your quote.’
Although he’s happy, you can tell that this working class lad from East Kilbride on the outskirts of Glasgow is just a little bit shy about discussing his new million-dollar financial status.
‘You know what it’s like being British… when I worked in theatre I was all for actors saying what they were being paid… now it becomes kind of embarrassing to be paid more than others. But yes, it’s nice.
‘I am here to make a living out of making films. But that’s not to say that’s what you will get paid for ever film.’
His wages will certainly be in proportion to the movie’s budget. But John wasn’t after a big pay when he agreed to make the low-budget production Circus. He was attracted to this plot-twisting story of con artists – which also features Bond girl Famke Janssen, Fred Ward, Peter Stormare and British funny men Brian Conley and Eddie Izzard – because the script grabbed his interest.
‘It was different and intriguing,’ says John, who portrays a character whose life is one enormous gamble.
He chuckles when OK! Wonders whether he’s a gambler. ‘I’ve never ever put on a bet and only recently learned how to play poker,’ he disavows.
Right now, of course, this actor is hard to ignore – he starred in ITV’s gritty new cop drama Rebus, and has recently been seen opposite Oscar-nominated Denzel Washington in the boxing biopic The Hurricane.
His role in The Hurricane, as a Canadian campaigner fighting to have boxer Rubin Carter released form prison, was one that John thought he had missed out on.
‘I had gone to Los Angeles to meet director Norman Jewison, but I knew they were looking at other actors. I think that Greg Kinnear – who starred with Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets – was pencilled to do it, but I guess he was asking for too much.
‘Anyway, I was back in London when I got a phone call on Friday night saying that Norman Jewison wanted to see me in New York on Monday. So I flew over the next day, met him on Monday and got the job that night. It was really exciting.’
Hannah realises that The Mummy has made him recognizable to Americans, but they still get a bit confused over exactly who John Hannah is. ‘A lot of people in America think that I’m Irish. Then, of course, in The Mummy the character that I played was supposed to be quintessentially English. And then after The Hurricane people out there are really confused. They now think I’m Canadian… well, sort of,’ laughs John.
The Scot, who trained as an electrician, might have had a career in catering, but he was rejected as a waiter in a pizza restaurant chain because he ‘wasn’t sufficiently career motivated’. His motivation as an actor however has never been in question.
It’s almost 15 years since John departed form Scotland, where he had built up a reputation as a television actor, and moved to London. He and actress wife Joanna Roth recently bought a new house near the Thames.
‘I am settled here. We live in a nice area near the river and have parks and lovely restaurants nearby,’ he says. ‘I have a big mortgage just now but, hopefully in the next couple of years I’ll pay it off.’
However, John says that he’s just as comfortable in California, where, because of his film work, he now has lots of friends.
‘Quite recently we stayed out there with friends. One weekend we went snowboarding and then we asat overlooking the Pacific, watching dolphins jump.
‘Also, I have started running. I used to go to the gym a couple of times a week and hated it. The other thing I love about LA is it’s very easy to be health conscious there. So when I am there I smoke less and exercise more.
‘But I don’t need to live out there – I can travel for the movie meetings and the work.’
And it is in this side of the Atlantic that John hopes that he and Joanna might eventually raise a family.
‘I come form a big family and like kids. So the idea of having children doesn’t worry me because I don’t’ feel as though I’d be giving up as much,’ he says, thoughtfully.
‘The more comfortable I feel with myself the less I have to be obsessed about myself and work. Right now, I’m feeling pretty good.’
Heat Q & A
by Paige Schuppan
Heat, April 20-26, 2000
So can you sum up
'Rebus' in a nutshell ...?
Er, OK, your company,
Clerkenwell Films, produced this film. How did you find the leap from acting
Could anyone else
have played the part of Rebus?
Do you still want
to play Ian Brady in the Moors Murderers film?
getting paid £5m for 'The Mummy 2' but now you're working in TV.
Is money not an
issue for you?
Had you read many
scripts before accepting 'The Mummy 2'?
You have a beetle
phobia. In 'The Mummy 2', do you have a 'not working with beetles' clause?
What's it like being
treated like a star with your every whim met?
Can you see yourself
living the movie star lifestyle in the US?
by Edward Docx
Daily Express, April 15, 2000
JH is sheltering in what must be the least hospitable hospitality trailer ever to be sited on a TV or film set. Outside, it is inexcusably cold, the rain is arriving horizontally and the wind is in such a drunken rage that it threatens to rip the flimsy van doors off their hinges every time someone is foolish enough to attempt an exit. JH has been acting all morning and will be straight back on set after lunch, but for now, he is sharing his break with me and a bowl of grimly recalcitrant gruel. We are on location for the shooting of 'Rebus', the dour Edinburgh detective series based on the eponymous character created by Scotland's foremost crime writer, Ian Rankin.
'If you think about it', JH says, 'what I am doing with 'Rebus' is quite a weird process. Ian has created this literary alter ego with all this complex psychology that he has got down on paper; then I come along and do the whole process in reverse - I pick up the fictional alter ego and morph him back into 3 dimensions again, make him into a character who looks like me, who walks around, who is real. It's quite an odd relationship we have'.
Despite the weather, JH is obviously enjoying himself. And quite right too. At present, he is living the actor's dream and is just about as busy as he could possibly be. In the past 12 months, aside from 'Rebus', he has also been in the upcoming film 'Circus' - a noirish thriller set in Brighton in which everyone double crosses everyone else (not, in my view, a great movie but 'the result of a meeting with the president of Columbia Films'). Then there's been 'The Hurricane', which is showing at the moment, plus 'The Intruder' (with Nastassia Kinski) and 'The Mummy' (a US smash in 1999). Meanwhile, soon to come: 'Pandemonium' (about the Lakeland poets) in which it is rumored he will play Wordsworth, and 'The Mummy 2' which he has signed up for. And then there are all the voiceovers (for the BBC Predators series among other things) and rumours of more TV and so on and so on ...
His big commercial breakthrough' came, of course, in '4WaaF', when he played Matthew, the bereaved gay lover to whom it fell to read out Auden's finest elegy 'Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking...' (Says JH, referring to that performance: 'What some actors don't seem to notice is that people usually try not to cry and what you leave out of a scene can often be as telling as what you put in. So I kept it dry'). But since that, the litany of films really has become ever more blockbusting - including 'SD' with the lachrymose Miss Paltrow, in which he truly established himself as a plausible leading man.
So why a flinty TV detective whose rain soaked life is bounded by senseless murder and 3 day old Pot Noodles?
'I was attracted to the complexity of the character', he argues. 'Rebus is worth doing as a performance because he's so rich and multi faceted. Sure, he's disaffected and hard bitten but, at the same time, he is always driven to solve the crimes; he's a Catholic and he's got some sort of moral imperative inside him. In so many big films, you play what turn out to be glorified bit parts, but here, I felt, was a real chance to engage with a much more sophisticated role. And technically, it's challenging because of the difficulty of keeping such a contradictory creation consistent from scene to scene - especially since so much of what Ian writes about is psychological'.
Then there's also the whole Scottish thing. After all, JH has just traded his role as a Scot in London in the successful series 'McCallum' to return north. 'Yes, well, it is great to be back in Scotland' he grins. 'I am proud of the standard of writing up here and the work.'
JH (now 37) has just moved from East London to the more affluent West, in Richmond, where he now lives with his wife, JR, who is also in the acting business (she plays Eve Kendal in 'Rebus'). He claims that theirs 'was never a marriage about having children straight off and settling down', tho' he concedes, 'sometimes it's difficult being in different places all the time, but it goes with this kind of work.' They share a love of cats and being normal.
Born in EK, JH originally wanted to be a top footballer. 'I played for Eastercraigs in Glasgow', he explains, 'and a lot of the people who I played with went on to become professionals'. He left school when he was 16 with no qualifications whatsoever and became an electrician - 'freezing in the winter and stuck under the floorboards in the summer'. But he had a talent for mimicry and, one day, a workmate suggested he try acting. So he bought a recording of someone reading Shakespeare's 'Richard II' and memorised it - intonation, tone, accent and all. Some days later, he was amazed to discover that he had got himself into the very prestigious RSAMD.
I ask him what it is like now that everyone knows his face. Is it weird to meet all the ludicrously famous Americans?
'Well, I've worked for this' he says, a little sharply. 'There were some tough times and now that my career has some momentum, I don't feel like 'it's all just happened'. I meet people like Gwyneth and I work with them and it's good to do'.
Who's the best actor he's worked with? 'Johnny Depp, I think. He was truly talented. Even when we were both working with a bad script, he was totally brilliant and we made the thing a lot, lot better'.
In the flesh, JH's a slight figure with an amicable but occasionally diffident manner - not wholly convincing as a heart throb nor, indeed, as a broody malevolent presence. ('I'm jogging a lot at the moment', he says, 'listening to drum and bass. I think I'm going through' a pre-mid-life crisis'). He's better, I suspect, at playing 'injured' characters than he is at playing the guy about to do the injuring - emotional, physical or otherwise.
But is Rebus going to revive Britain's TV love affair with detective fiction? ITV certainly hopes so.
Inevitably, there will be comparisons to 'Morse', a series heading towards its conclusion and in need of an heir. Edinburgh is a 'character' in Rankin's stories, just as Oxford is in Colin Dexter's. Both inspectors are dissenting men with attitude problems who enjoy a drink and trade on maverick intelligence. Neither are particularly pleasant people tho' both are rescued from total cynicism by black senses of humor and their devotions - to high culture for Morse and to his daughter for Rebus.
JH's own production company (Clerkenwell Films) is co-producing the dramas with Scottish TV, it should be noted, so there are business issues at stake for him as well as artistic. Ultimately, though, the success of 'Rebus' will be decided on whether or not the wider public has the appetite for Rankin's chilling imaginings. There's a lot of rain, biting wind and darkness in this Rebus' life. And not much choral music.
The Inspector's Call
by Gareth McLean
The Scotsman, April 17, 2000
JOHN Hannah almost choked my granny. It was New Year’s Day some years back and we had just tucked into our clootie dumpling. Hannah popped up in McCallum, ITV’s pathologist drama in which he starred, with his buttocks bared. We thought my granny had swallowed a fivepence from her slice of dumpling before we realised it was John Hannah’s rear which caused her to splutter. She was very excited when I told her I was meeting the man himself. "Tell him I think he’s lovely," she cooed.
Sitting opposite him – he was clad in an expensive grey suit, subdued Hawaiian shirt and white suede loafers – across a silver table, I couldn’t quite bring myself to say: "My granny fancies you."
Instead, we talk about the best thing about his job – the myriad opportunities which have presented themselves since, as Matthew, he made the "Stop all the clocks" speech in Four Weddings and a Funeral – and the worst thing, missing his wife of five years, the actress Joanna Roth.
"It is difficult," he says, his ice-blue eyes positively defrosting at the mention of Roth. "Last year and the year before, I was away a lot and they were particularly tough but you have to get your head around the fact that this is the work we’ve chosen. You try to see each other when you can if you are working and there are times when we’re not working and we spend a lot of time together."
In the near future, there wouldn’t seem to be much chance of the pair spending much free time together alone, or with their cats, Flicks and Elsa. After last year’s surprise success of The Mummy (which, at last count, grossed $415 million worldwide), Hannah has been signed up for the inevitable sequel, which begins filming in May. For reprising his role as Rachel Weisz’s foppish brother, Johnathan, Hannah will receive his first million-dollar pay cheque.
"I wanted it in a brown envelope," he says, looking, as he always seems to, a bit sorrowful. "It’s one of those things you don’t really think about that much." He pauses and a grin of Cheshire cat proportions spreads across his face. "Well, not that much." He laughs out loud. "I guess it’s quite cool." Quite cool is some understatement but when he agreed to do The Mummy initially, Hannah wasn’t smiling quite so much.
"When we first started doing it, I did think: ‘This could be the end of my career.’ Some of the stuff I had to do I felt it was stupid, childish and inane and the director was like: ‘Trust me, trust me. It’ll be great.’ They’d come back from watching the rushes and they’d be full of praise; they did preview screenings and said it got a round of applause and I thought they were just buttering me up. Then I went to see it in LA and this one particularly humiliating stunt I had to do – when I had to pretend to be a zombie – actually got a cheer. After that, I said to Steve Sommers [the writer and director]: ‘What do I know? I’ll do anything you ask me to.’"
Not that Hannah is an actor who needs advice. Very much his own man, he says he’d like to think that while playing Matthew in Four Weddings signalled a change in his fortunes, it’s the choices he’s made since that define him. "I hope I convinced people within the industry that I was more than just fortunate to get the part of Matthew. I did a mini-series after that, Faith, which was a success and Madagascar Skin, a low-budget film which I loved but unfortunately got stuck with this arthouse label. Then, people questioned my reason for playing another gay character [Harry, the gay protagonist of the film had a Madagascar-shaped birthmark on his face] but I thought that was ridiculous. Does anyone ever question Michael Caine for always being heterosexual? I do parts I like and that’s that."
Since then, he has worked with Gywneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors and more recently, Denzel Washington and Rod Steiger on The Hurricane, directed by Norman Jewison. "Before starting a film with Gywneth, Denzel or Rod Steiger, you know fine well they are like: ‘Wow’, but you don’t want to go up to them and go ‘Ohmigod, you’re so f******* famous!’ You want to be casual – ‘Hi, Den ... Den-zel? Denzel? How do you pronounce it?’ – but with Rod Steiger, it was hard not to get carried away. Denzel was very intense and very method about the whole thing whereas Rod Steiger hung about the coffee machine and told jokes like everyone else.
"That was really exciting and you couldn’t help but notice everyone was standing around the coffee urn saying ‘Dr Zhivago, what was that like?’ ‘The Simpsons, what was that like?’ And Norman Jewison too. I kept wanting to ask what Steve McQueen was like but I didn’t." Hannah smiles mischievously, his natural pout creased upwards.
Now, after filming Circus in which he plays a con man opposite former Bond-girl Famke Janssen and Pandemonium in which he plays William Wordsworth, Hannah has his role as Inspector Rebus on which to concentrate.
Adapted from the award-winning, squillion-selling "tartan noir" novels by Ian Rankin, Rebus: Black and Blue is the first effort from his own production company, Clerkenwell Films. Destined for a prime-time slot on ITV, it is already a guaranteed success, even if some of the production choices border on the naff. Ill-judged voiceover, paper-thin characterisation of secondary players and an inappropriate techno soundtrack aside, Rebus is an enjoyable dark and gritty trawl through the capital’s seamier side. A vanity affair Clerkenwell isn’t and Hannah didn’t start out thinking he’d play the title role despite a love of Rankin’s books. "My wife had read Black and Blue and passed it on to me before I went off to do The Mummy and I really got into it there. I didn’t want to start by doing the things that people would think was ridiculous casting. It took me a little time to think I should take the part. It was actually Arnold Vosloo, the guy who played the Mummy, who first said I should play Rebus and from there, it just sort of happened."
Hannah says playing Rebus is a sort of therapy. He sees the detective as an Everyman struggling with life. "The way humanity behaves in this world, the way that politicians are self-seeking, the way that religion continues to be sectarian – those institutions are what Ian [Rankin] is trying to understand. He has used the crime genre as a way of investigating the human condition."
Hannah veers between this high-falutin approach to things (at one point in the round-table interview later he will casually remark "The crime thriller is the perfect means of illustrating semiotics in action") and a giddier attitude to his fame. He has learned a lot from doing voiceovers for nature programmes – "I know how birds flock together without bumping into one another" – and all about lava, tectonic plates and icebergs from being the voice of Edinburgh’s how-the-world-was-made centre Dynamic Earth. He loves Los Angeles – "The sun shines, you’re near the ocean and the mountains. You can play golf and go snowboarding" – but doesn’t crave that lifestyle desperately. "While the decisions are made in LA, you might be filming in Toronto or Africa or London. It seems kind of pointless to go and base yourself there and never be at home there either. At the moment, it seems to be working very well. I go over for a couple of weeks and have some meetings and then go film," he explains.
What he can’t explain is why he is forever billed as a former electrician in the papers. "I was an electrician for four years, I went to drama school for three and I’ve been an actor for 15, so who knows why they seem to fixate on how I was once an electrician. It is beyond me."
With Hollywood beckoning, it might seem odd to return to television after abandoning it back in 1997 when he opted out of McCallum (which continued, rather disastrously, for a series without him). Hannah doesn’t see it that way.
"It’s about the script, it’s about working in a medium. Film is more appealing in a lot of ways, especially with the relationship with the audience. They’ve paid to come and see it, they’re more prepared to see characters develop. With television, there’s a different criteria. You still want to have all the qualities of film but there are things you have to work against. It’s much quicker, it has to be more dynamic in maintaining an audience’s interest."
And working on Rebus had an added attraction: working with his wife. Hannah grins again. "Joanna is a brilliant actress and went up for the part [of Eve, a peroxided gangster’s moll] when I was away filming in Somerset. We’ve worked together before, but only on stage so we were a bit giggly to begin with. Then we settled down and got on with things. It was great though. We decamped from London to Edinburgh, with the cats and everything. It was magic." With that, John Hannah, with his trademark melancholic looks, smiles like the Cheshire cat and disappears. His wife has just arrived, you understand. They embrace. My granny would be breathless.
The Hannah File
Sunday Times, 23 April 2000
Holidays for me are a bit of a contradiction. I hate travelling but love arriving. Getting packed and getting to the airport is a drag, and I'm not keen on flying - it makes me anxious. But once I'm on the plane, I'm all right.
I was brought up in East Kilbride , a new town just outside Glasgow. My father was a tool maker and my mother worked as a cleaner. We had a big, very luxurious tent, and, each year in August, we'd go camping. My earliest memories are of our holidays in Nairn, near Inverness. The campsite was next to a beautiful sandy beach, and we'd swim, explore rock pools and play in the long grasses among the sand dunes. It was brilliant. We'd spend whole says on the beach collecting whelks and mussels, then we'd boil them up and eat them for our supper. There was always a sense of adventure.
One year, a whole bunch of leather jacketed bikers turned up and pitched their tent next to ours. My dad was all: 'Oh, my goodness!' and we almost packed up and went home. But they turned out to be dead cool. When my sister Joan fell ill, they brought sweets and couldn't have been kinder.
August is when salmon come up to spawn. One memorable year, a salmon got trapped in the little peninsula by Nairn harbour. A crowd of people gathered around to try to help it out, but eventually, they gave up. I ran to tell my dad, and he left the pub, jumped into the river in his new white trousers, grabbed the salmon and threw it out. Then we took it home and ate it for our tea - we dined on wild salmon steaks each day for a fortnight. Fantastic!
When I was a bit older, we started going to Blackpool. We'd stay at a camp site. Windy Harbour, just outside the town. There was a tidal river where we'd fish for eels, and, of course, there were the amusements. But it was the excitement of actually getting to Blackpool that was the big adventure. On the way we had to cross Shap Fell, a very steep mountain in the Lake District, and there were always difficulties getting over it, especially if your car was old, as ours invariably was. Shap Fell was famous among truck drivers. Sometimes, people didn't make it up that mountain, and if you got stuck behind some old banger pulling a caravan, you'd had it!
Blackpool was where I returned for my first holiday away with my pals, when I was 17. For some reason, going to Blackpool for 'September weekend' was almost a tradition amongst Glasgow youth. The morning we set out, I couldn't find any underpants and ended up borrowing some of my dad's. On our first night there, I got very drunk and fell asleep on the beach. The next morning, I stripped off for a swim, completely forgetting what I was wearing, and revealed my dad's awful big, baggy pants. Very embarrassing. Very uncool.
Recently, I've got into snowboarding. It all started when I was working on 'The Hurricane' in Canada at the beginning of last year. Liev Schreiber, who was in the film, took me away for a weekend's snowboarding at the Blue Mountain resort, near Toronto. I'd never even been on snow before - I'd always avoided it - but this was brilliant. I spent the first 2 days falling over. But when I finally managed to get down a slope without falling, it was absolutely exhilarating. I was hooked.
I think snowboarding came into my life at just the right time. As an actor, it's very easy to get incredibly intense and obsessive about work, and to have nothing else in your life. But being out on the slopes on a board puts everything into perspective.
I introduced my wife, Joanna, to snowboarding just after Christmas - we went for 3 days to Andorra. Then, a few weeks ago, we went off to California and spent 2 weeks on the slopes at Mammoth, south of Yosemite National Park. It was a holiday dedicated to snowboarding. The chairlifts opened at 7, and we'd be on the slopes as soon as I could get Joanna out of the door. Then at night, after a long day, we'd have a couple of beers and relax in a hot tub outside in the snow with the mountains all around us and the sky above full of stars. It was breathtaking.
Snowboarding's my thing, but scuba diving is Joanna's. We've been a couple of times, first on our honeymoon in Australia. That was our best ever holiday. We went to Bedarra, a little island on the Barrier Reef. It's very isolated. You fly from Cairns to a place called Dunk Island, then a motor launch comes to collect you. Only 32 people are allowed on the island - no children. It's perfect for a honeymoon.
Bedarra is a rainforest island. You stay in little houses right on the beach, and everything - food, champagne, all you could possibly want - is on tap 24 hours a day. The chef prepares 7 course feasts in the beautiful restaurant, with every delicacy you can imagine. Or they'll make you up a delicious hamper and give you a little boat to go off and explore the small islands nearby.
Giant turtles swim in the bay. On our first morning, I went swimming and saw what looked like a shark's fin in the water. But it was actually just a giant turtle basking in the sunshine.
I love the countryside but I'm essentially a city boy. Barcelona is the city I love most in the world. There's an earthiness about it that reminds me of cities like Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool; there's always a festival feeling and a wonderful energy. And the architecture is stunning. There are fabulous Gaudi buildings, Gothic cathedrals, and amazing museums. High above the city is the Parc Guell. Originally designed by Gaudi to be residential, it ended up as a park for the people of Barcelona. With little Hansel and Gretel homes built around walkways supported on concrete palm trees, it's like a surreal fantasy.
We've got a little house near Carcassonne in the south of France where we go whenever we can. We bought it 2 years ago after staying with friends and falling in love with the place. It's built high in the mountains by a beautiful freshwater lake where you can fish and swim. That region of France is well off the tourist map - it's very quiet and cut off - and there are wild boar, bears and wolves in the mountains.
Sometime, when we've had dinner at a little restaurant on the other side of the lake, we swim home in the darkness through' the cool water. We don't have a telephone there - our house is a simple place. It's a real escape from everything.
My Last Good...
Mail on Sunday, 27 February 2000
CD: 'Remedy' by Basement Jaxx. I unwind by going running and I always carry a MiniDisc. This is brilliant for running to - it drives me on.
Book: 'Archangel' by Robert Harris. I thought this was just great. It's a fictional thriller about the son of Stalin, who is kept hidden in preparation for taking over the world - until a journalist finds his diaries. I also enjoyed 'Fatherland' and 'Enigma' by the same author. His prose style is easy to read, he's smart, clever and engaging.
Film: 'The Big Lebowski'. I saw this recently on video. I've always highly rated Jeff Bridges as an actor and he's really funny in this. Dan Goodman was great, too.
Buy: I've just bought a beautiful dark wool Prada Combie coat from Matches, Hill Street, Richmond. This shop is very dangerous, because I always see something I like. I pass it daily as I live nearby, and I can't resist going in when they have a sale on.'
Radio Times Questionnaire
Radio Times, ?
What are you currently
enjoying on TV?
What is your favourite
What is your first
memory of TV or radio?
Whose TV job would
you most like?
Which TV programme
would you like to get rid of?
What's you favourite
What is your all
time favourite TV programme?
As a child, what
did you hope to grow up to be?
Who would you like
to play you in a film of your life?
If you could live
in a soap opera, which would it be?
Complete this sentence:
'I wish ...'
What would be your
first act as world leader?
Can you quote a
line from one of your reviews?
What would you be
doing now if you hadn't become an actor?
What would you most
like to change about yourself?
In the event of
a natural disaster, what would you rescue from your home or office?
Do you have any
What's the best
piece of advice you've been given, and by whom?
What is the strangest
piece of fan mail you've ever received?
What's your pet
What worries you
most about the future?
The Romantic Hero
By Karen Hockney
The Look (Mirror), 22 April 2000
Everything JH has done in the past 6 years, from TV series to Hollywood blockbusters, has been a huge success, but he refuses to sit back and bask in his glory. A fear that the fame bubble might suddenly burst urges him on to fresh challenges, and this refusal to be complacent also colours his private life with his wife.
'We have to try and make an effort to see each other,' says JH of the actress, JR. 'If one of us is working away, the other one tries to be there too. It's very difficult to sustain anything if you don't see each other for weeks on end.
'As you get older and more settled, you realise that commitment means being committed to making the effort to see each other. It's kind of essential'.
The couple, who met 9 years ago at the National Theatre, married in 1996 and live in Richmond, Surrey. 'We didn't get married to have kids, it was more like 'Let's get married and have a party'', says JH. 'I can't imagine being old and not having children around, but we have no plans for a family at the moment. We are happy just getting on with our lives and enjoying ourselves'.
While JR, 32, has regular theatre work and starred opposite Neil Pearson in 'See You Friday', it's JH's career which has gone into orbit. The Scot first wowed audiences in '4WaaF', followed by romantic comedy 'SD', the TV pathology drama 'McCallum', last summer's hit, 'The Mummy' and, more recently, 'The Hurricane'.
The imbalance between their careers and trying to keep their romance alive while work commitments have kept them apart, is something the couple have finally got to grips with.
'We're cool about it now', says JH. 'A couple of years ago, when we moved house, I was working away, staying in a big fancy hotel getting looked after, while Joanna sorted the builders out. She was really good about it but I was conscious of what she was doing, and I had to make it up to her with a nice holiday when I got back'.
At least his new TV project, 'Rebus' gave JH and JR the chance to work together. JH plays the brooding, cynical Inspector created by novelist, IR. In the first film 'Black and Blue', on Wednesday, JR plays a gangster's moll.
'It wasn't the first time we've appeared together - we were both in 'Measure for Measure' and 'Shining' - but it was the first time we had filmed together', says JH.
'I have really enjoyed working with her. We had a flat in Edinburgh and brought our two cats with us on the plane, so we had something of a home life while filming. It was good fun. Joanna plays a manipulative woman who tries to seduce Rebus but fails because he is so world weary.'
Talking to JH on location in Edinburgh, he seems friendly, tactile and self-deprecating. Success, and working alongside the likes of Hugh Grant, GP and RW, hasn't given the former electrician any airs and graces.
'It's great to be in the position to choose work as easily as I can now, but that might well change', he says, biting into an apple in his tiny trailer on the dockside at Leith during a break in filming. 'No one is at the top for more than 5 years in this profession. The nature of the business is that you have to keep making the right choices. You can earn a fortune in a short period and be set up for life. But once you are past your sell by date you're going to be offered rubbish because you've made poor choices for the money.
'I'd rather make choices I believe in and not be on the tip of everyone's tongue. It's like Hollywood - you get a certain profile and then you're on 'the list', but if the script isn't great, there is no point.
'Working in films, you get paid quite well and it comes in chunks so you can spend periods indulging yourself, but who wants to live in a fantasy world? Whilst I'm not working, my tastes are simple. I like nothing better than pottering around the house, fixing my sock drawer and putting my T shirts in some sort of order. I tend to get into that. The neatness only lasts about 2 days, but I love doing it.
'When you're not working, you get good at passing the time doing nothing, then all of a sudden, you're constantly working and you have no time to do anything. You have to adjust. It's weird but it's been happening for 5 or 6 years now so I've had a chance to get used to it.'
It was 1994's '4WaaF' which propelled JH from oblivion to stardom practically overnight. The film was the biggest grossing British movie of its time, yet rather than follow up his success, he chose to take some time out for a few months. 'It's true but it was a choice I made', he says. 'There were a couple of things I was offered which I didn't think were good enough. I didn't need to pay the rent. I didn't need the money'.
The break also allowed him to come to terms with his new found celebrity which brought on a bout of depression. 'I had a difficult time with it', admits JH. 'I couldn't work out why I was so unhappy. I was getting lots of work. I'd just got married ... I went to a therapist, then I realised I needed to accept my change of status. You have to learn to relish your happiness'.
He still finds the lack of privacy that comes with celebrity difficult to handle, although' when everyday life takes a turn for the dramatic, JH makes the most of it. He recalls one such instance when he and JR were first going out.
'In the days when we did not know each other very well, we went to a picnic, in convoy, in separate cars,' he begins. 'We got to a set of traffic lights, and I had to stop because the lights had turned red. She crashed her car straight into the back of mine.
'When I got over the shock, I looked in the rear view mirror to see her slumped over the steering wheel. I got out of the car and pulled her out, but she was more upset than hurt. I gave her a hug and a kiss, reassuring her that everything was fine. All the people at the bus stop nearby were amazed, thinking I didn't know her. Some of them started applauding. It made me feel like a romantic hero'.
These days, JH gets to pick and choose his roles, although' given that he walked away from the pathologist drama, 'McCallum', after just 2 series, many might be surprised at his decision to return to TV drama with 'Rebus'.
'I don't want to get typecast and spend my life playing the same character', he insists. 'Once you realise the structure of that kind of TV, it becomes less challenging and that is the time to leave. I'd argued with them about calling it 'McCallum' from day one because I knew I wasn't going to be staying with it, and yet it's a great scenario and there was lots you could do with it. But if you call it something other than 'McCallum', you don't have to worry about how it will continue.
'I've always tried to avoid being reduced to 'We need XYZ so let's get him'. That's why not doing TV as a long running thing is essential for me, because, the more you do, the more you are fitting yourself into that box. You have to constantly surprise people.
'I get bored from one minute to the next. When it's challenging you can't get bored because you are worried that you can't do it. With 'The Mummy', it was difficult to find my feet, but that was good. It was Hollywood in the sense that it was a big budget. You'd look up and see a bigger audience than at the RSC and that was just the crew! It was certainly an experience and it kept me on my toes'.
Alongside his burgeoning film career, JH found the time to set up a production company, Clerkenwell Films, with his friend, MF.
'I have no delusions about swanking around as a producer', he laughs. 'I'm very much the office runner. I make the teas and get the buns in'.
The company provided the perfect vehicle for him to bring to the small screen the hard bitten, hard drinking detective from Rankin's best selling novels.
'Rebus is struggling with the mess the world is in and he is in', explains JH. 'He is a puzzle, somebody who's always asking questions, such as what it's all about and why we are here'.
JH had reservations about taking the lead role. 'I felt too young to play the character and didn't want to compromise the film', he says. 'But I realised if I had been offered the role purely as an actor, I'd have jumped at it. It's a big responsibility because you're making creative decisions that you have to stick with. You can't blame the script or the director for anything because you are totally involved, which is good.'
There are plans to show the Rebus films sporadically throughout the year, Inspector Morse style. 'We started at book 7 and we've done 2 but we're not looking to make something formulaic', he says. 'I've had great fun doing 2 of these and I can return to Rebus in between filming commitments. These will be feature films for TV'.
JH's life today is a world away from when he was a young trainee electrician in his hometown of EK, near Glasgow.
'I hated the job, working outside in winter and spending half the summer squeezed under floorboards' he says. 'I've always liked films and I was working with a guy who asked me why I didn't become an actor. So I forced myself to change circumstances, which was a big step. There was no encouragement at school to do anything like go to university or follow an unconventional path. I'm still quite handy around the house when I'm there, which isn't much at the moment. But when something needs fixing, I usually leave it or call someone in'.
JH is off to North Africa next month to shoot 'The Mummy 2', which will take him up to the end of the year. 'I've been pretty busy for the last couple of years so I'm planning some time to just chill, play golf and go on holiday when the film is over', he says. 'There's nothing better than vegging out when you get the chance'.
Ever wary of his bubble bursting, he adds, 'You need breaks, or there is a danger of getting over tired and complacent and thinking you can just turn up and say it. You have to be enthusiastic and enjoy what you're doing, or it shows'.
“The 60 Second Interview”
By Victoria Moore
Metro, 4 May 2000
JH, who made his name in '4WaaF', plays the gritty Inspector Rebus, romanced GP in 'SD', is set to become the film incarnation of 'Mr Benn' and stars in a slick new film, 'Circus', released [5 May]. But, says the Scottish actor, who lives in Surrey with wife, JR, it hasn't always been this easy to find work.
Did you ever think
acting just wasn't going to happen?
What job didn't
What's your favourite
Pizza Express pizza?
What book is by
Ever taken evening
Do you ever buy
What would you save
if your house was on fire?
like fun to make.
And 90 minutes -
what a great length for a film.
I suspect some film
directors may disagree.
So, Sam Mendes aside,
is this really the case?
What was the last
good thing you saw at the theatre?
Who would you most
like to work with?
Favourite film of
Switched on Star
by Tina Ogle
Daily Mail's Weekend magazine, April 15 2000
John Hannah suffers from imposter syndrome - the feeling that someone is going to tap you on the shoulder and send you back to where you truly belong. 'I get that all the time. I remember reading that Humphrey Bogart was like that as well. He used to be a lorry driver and, after he was famous, was always thinking he was going to be turfed out of places'.
JH, a former electrician, and a working class Scot, once admitted to having a chip on his shoulder the size of Scotland about his background. Now, happily, it seems to have shrunk away. Yet he is still unable to relax and is open about his constant anxiety that the work might dry up. He thinks it is a genetic problem. 'My mum is a worrier' he says. 'But I think everybody knows that, when you're flavour of the month, at some point you're going to hit the ceiling of your trajectory. You've just got to make sure you're making the most of today'.
It is not difficult to believe his earnestness as his grey blue eyes hold you steadily. The lashes are extraordinary. They were first noticed as they dripped tears for the death of his gay lover in '4WaaF', a role which, ironically, made him immensely appealing to women.
Now 37, he finds himself fielding offers from both film and TV. He has made a dent on Hollywood, starring in American box office smash 'The Mummy' and currently with Oscar nominated DW in 'The Hurricane'. His turn opposite GP in the low budget British film 'SD' also caught attention on both sides of the Atlantic. It was the Americans, more thna anyone, who fell for his emotional rendering of WH Auden's 'Funeral Blues' in '4WaaF'. Strange then that it is only 7 years since JH was contemplating giving up acting entirely, and returning to life as an electrician, a trade he learned in his native East Kilbride.
Born and brought up in the new town outside Glasgow, he is the only son of retired toolmaker, John, and Susan, a cleaner. He has 2 sisters, Joan, 43, a nurse, and Liz, 40, a personnel officer for the local council. JH paints a bleak picture of what life would have been, had he stayed in EK. 'I probably would have ended up getting married, having kids and not being particularly happy,' he says, while also trying to be positive about his home town. 'It's a good place to bring up kids, plenty of green space and green fields around it. It was a good place to grow up,' he says, but adds, 'I think if you have any desire to see the world or do any more with your life, there are more exciting places to go.'
Aged 19, the young JH had something of a revelation. He had left school at 16 with 6 O-levels and went straight into a 4 year apprenticeship with the Scottish Electricity Board. He says there was no question of a different future at that stage. 'If you don't come from a nice middle class background and you're brought up in a certain geographic, industrial specific region, then the chances are that you're going to grow up and work in a factory.'
He accepted his lot for a couple of years, becoming increasingly disenchanted with life on building sites, living in a YMCA in Cumbernauld to gain a bit of independence. 'It wasn't until I was 19 that I thought, 'I hate it, and I really don't want to be doing this for the rest of my life.' I hated everything about it, I hated the security I thought it offered, I didn't like the work, I didn't feel my life meant anything or that it gave me any options at all. I just suddenly woke up. I suppose I was in this horrible downward spiral. I was working all week, drinking all weekend, and one of the guys I was working with figured there was something wrong'.
The man was Tommy Byrne, with whom JH was sent out on jobs. Tommy has since died of asbestosis. JH talks about him in reverential tones. 'He'd been a beatnik and a vagrant and he'd been to Australia. He was like a mentor, a guru figure, and he recognised a lot of negativity in me about how I was living'. JH has no idea why Byrne suggested acting, but he leapt at the possibility, quickly finding and writing off to the RSAMD in Glasgow.
His parents were utterly supportive. They still are. His mother keeps up his cuttings book and his father boasts in the pub of his famous son's latest achievements. 'They were worried about me at first but they never told me not to do it'.
JH loved drama school. 'I couldn't believe you could do it and get a grant for it. You'd start at 10 and do a bit of singing and movement, a wee bit of mime, a wee bit of voice'. He beams at the memory and his voice gets higher. 'I was like, 'You're allowed to do this and you don't get locked up?''
What followed was 8 years of life as a struggling actor. He did reportory theatre, the obligatory bit parts in 'The Bill', also joining the National Theatre and, later, the RSC. But it was hard keeping the faith, wondering whether he'd overstepped his fate, particularly when the periods of unemployment were far longer than the jobs. 'It's the hardest thing in the world to keep believing in yourself', he says.
So, at 30, and living in London, he found himself trying to find a job as an electrician. 'But this was the early 90s and there were a huge amount of unemployed construction workers, so it wasn't going to happen'. He tried a new agent instead. One week into his new contract, he got a job in a play called 'Somewhere' and, during that run, he was offered '4WaaF', after being spotted by its casting director, Michelle Guish.
He also married his girlfriend of 6 years, fellow actress, JR, in January 1996. The couple met while they were working in 'Measure for Measure' at the National Theatre. He says for him it was an instant physical attraction, but JR, who is 3 years younger, took more persuading. Best known as a theatre actress, JR played opposite Neil Pearson in the sitcom 'See You Friday' and also pops up as a gangster's moll in 'Rebus', the new ITV detective drama which is JH's own next project. Combining beauty with self assurance, she is often mistaken for 'posh English'. But she too is Scottish, and hails from a similar working class background to JH, brought up in Glasgow.
JH says he is graetful that their relationship flourished before his fame did. He is less than comfortable with his sex symbol tag, and this doesn't appear to be false modesty. 'I think in this business you just have to be the right side of Quasimodo to be described as a hunk'. He is glad, too, that he and JR had periods of unemployment together. 'We were reminiscing about that the other day. We'd go to the supermarket and get a 2 litre bottle of cider and a 2 litre bottle of lager and sit and watch movies all afternoon, it was great'.
Such simple pleasures have been pushed aside as his Hollywood star has risen. He is set to appear in a sequel to 'The Mummy' and confesses to being in love with the 'can do' attitude of Hollywood. 'I don't understand why people would want to turn it down. If I wasn't going to take those opportunities, I'd still be in EK being an electrician'.
Mindful of his roots, he is returning to British TV screens in 'Rebus', in which he plays the eponymous Edinburgh detective created by author Ian Rankin. He is not only the star, but the executive producer of the 2 x 2 hour films, in a deal struck between Scottish TV and his company, Clerkenwell Films. JH, as a fan of the books, was happy to take on the role of the seedy, morally ambiguous cop. Rebus devotees may well complain that he is neither fat nor seedy enough to play the role convincingly, but allowances have been made. The character is younger, but he still looks pretty ropey. 'He carries the weight of the world around with him', says JH.
JH is proud of his roots, and he has been interviewed at length about the joys of Bow, East London, a gritty part of the city where he lived for several years. So, is he still there? 'We've moved', he admits, giggling at the answer he is about to give. Oh yes, where to? 'Richmond' he says, barely managing to spit it out before laughing with embarrassment. Oh yes, where house prices tun to telephone numbers. 'Why?' he says, 'because I can, and it's beautiful, and if you've got the opportunity then you're an idiot to live anywhere else'.
It seems JH's worries have lightened over time, but he is still in no mood to make rash predictions of a happy future. 'I never think about my ideal role or job, because if you ever get it, then what are you going to do? I remember that story about Scott Fitzgerald - he was being feted all over the world, he was driving this big fancy car, had a big fancy house and a gorgeous wife and he started crying because he knew it was never going to get any better. I just want to keep on trying it all.'
Rebus is on ITV at 9pm on April 26.
The Talented Mr Hannah
by Shoba Vazirani
What's on TV, April 22-28, 2000
He had us crying in '4WaaF' (1994), swooning in 'SD' (1998), and marvelling at his intellect in the TV drama 'McCallum'. But despite all his hits, JH wasn't convinced he could carry off his latest role.
'I felt I was too young for the character and didn't want to risk compromising the film,' says John.
But there was more at stake for the 37 year old actor this time. He not only stars in the title role of ITV's new detective drama - 'Rebus' - but the one off film is the first project from Clerkenwell Films, the production company he set up with his friend, producer MF, and Scottish TV.
'When Murray suggested that I play DI John Rebus and also take on the role of executive producer, I had to think about it', says John, who is currently shooting the sequel to the 1999 Hollywood hit 'The Mummy' in Morocco.
'It was a wonderful opportunity to be involved at all levels. That isn't a position actors often find themselevs in, and I couldn't say no.'
'Rebus' is based on Ian Rankin's best selling crime novel, 'Black and Blue', which explores the twisted world of a copycat serial killer who appears to be imitating a murderer who first struck 15 years ago.
Rebus gets involved when he's called out to investigate the death of a convicted killer whom he helped to jail, oddly enough, 15 years earlier.
'Once Rebus' curiosity has been aroused, he won't give up until he gets some answers,' says John, who is a huge fan of Ian Rankin and has read every one of the Rebus novels. 'So Rebus ends up hunting down 2 killers.
'It's a challenging role because Rebus is a complicated man', adds John. 'He has a troubled past and carries a lot of baggage so I had to play him just right. I hope it works.'
Filming in Edinburgh took John back to his Scottish roots, but there was no separation from his wife of 4 years, JR, as often happens to acting couples. For Joanna is also in the drama, as gangster's wife, Eve Kendal, who makes a play for Rebus.
'I had nothing to do with Joanna's casting,' insists John. 'She's a wonderful actress and was offered the part while I was away, so it was a nice surprise.
'We've worked together in theatre so it wasn't a new experience but it was great fun. We took everything we needed from our house in London, including our 2 cats, and rented a flat in Scotland. It was a real home from home'.
21st Century Morse
by Leo Wiles
TV Times, April 22-28, 2000
As John Thaw's 'Inspector Morse' draws to a close, a tartan replacement is waiting to fill the void. Indeed, Edinburgh author Ian Rankin's award winning creation, DI John Rebus, is already being dubbed McMorse before viewers get their first glimpse of the ubiquitous JH in the role.
Rebus is, in fact, a character very close to John's heart. Not only is he a Rankin fan, his own production company, Clerkenwell Films, is behind the TV adaptation - the first episode of which is based on the book 'Black and Blue' and real life 60s killer Bible John.
'I started reading 'Black and Blue' three years ago and thought it would make a great film,' says JH. Eventually I read all the Rebus books. They are quite dark and complex. Our challenge has been to edit a novel into 2 hours of TV'.
John admits that Rebus is a troubled man. 'He appears not to care about anything, particularly himself, yet he has a fierce personal morality which must come from within. But it's hard work to find out what he believes in, save to say he has a sense of right and wrong'.
Despite playing such a dark character, John is the first to relay his enjoyment of the process. For starters, the EK native was able to return to Scotland to film the role and secondly, he got to work with his wife, actress JR.
She had a ball, especially, as her role involved a complete image change. 'John was a bit shocked when he saw me dressed in a blonde wig and tight dress', she laughs. 'But he soon got used to it and working together has worked out so well we are in talks to do a film'.
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