The Shannara Chronicles: Interview: John Rhys-Davies

Shannara_Ep103_6028SHANNARA_CHRONICLES_BLU-RAY_3DJohn Rhys-Davies is always a marvellous interviewee – in the course of our short chat, he castigates the Isle of Man Film Commission, which he helped set up, for never hiring him; extols the virtues of a “bach” in New Zealand; and is exuberantly indiscreet. In those portions of the interview we can print, he discusses his role on MTV’s adaptation of Terry Brooks’ The Shannara Chronicles, out now on Blu-ray and DVD, with Paul Simpson…

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Shannara_Ep101-3337I love the description of you at the launch getting so excited about The Shannara Chronicles that you jumped out of your chair! What caused that excitement?

I’m not wild about fantasy; I’m a more science fiction sort of guy, but I took this with some interest because I know Terry [Brooks] has a marvellous reputation as a writer, and when I [saw what happened with my character], I thought it was a smart move to try and do it.

As I got into it more and more, I became so impressed by the whole production. The casting is wonderful; the scripts are wonderful. When you have done as many bits and pieces as I have done, you get to tell the good ones pretty early on. No matter how good the show, you always think something along the lines of, “Well I wouldn’t have done that that way”, “that was a bit of a compromise”, or “weak casting there”. I am shocked to say I couldn’t have second guessed anything about this production. That’s unique in my experience. There is always some weaker link.

I think it’s just terrific, and I think it’s going to grow in stature as it goes into season 2 and season 3, and I think it’s going to be around for a long time.

It’s not like they are short of source material!

No (laughs).

Shannara_Ep101-3929Do you now regret your character’s exit and would you go back if requested?

Were the call to come, lad, were the call to come, I would be willing to serve! Particularly with that lovely team. It’s a very nice set-up. I did like it.

I think I am congenitally opposed to being in a well-run television series because I get itchy after a bit. My feet get itchy.

Is it that you’ve found the challenges of the character and you want something new to challenge yourself?

Well, yes. Another reason why I was happy to do this is you can completely accept somebody’s magical vision. You can’t completely accept somebody’s sci-fi vision, if they’re idiots and they don’t know any science.

That was the great weakness of Sliders – it had the basis of being the best show on television. It could still have been on. You can go anywhere in space and because of relativistic time dilation you can go anywhere in time – and what did we do? We made Twister. We made Tremors. We made Night of the Living Dead. We did The Island of Dr Moreau. We did the Morlox and the Eloi [from The Time Machine].

I think the breaking point for me was when I went in and saw the writers looking at the new DVD release of Species and saying, “We could take that little bit out there, and that little bit…” I’ve worked with real writers and have been honoured to do so. Not for me. One of the few disappointments in my life, that one.

Indy SallahI noted that you turned down a chance to reprise Sallah for Indiana Jones IV – if they invited you back for number 5, would you be interested in returning to that character?

Of course I would. But I don’t regard an invitation to come back as “Okay, we’ll send the second unit director to you and a bluescreen. All you have to do is come in, sit down in the chair, collapse, and we’ll cut it into the wedding sequence.” That cheats the viewer. I didn’t need to do that, and I’m glad now that I’ve seen the film that I managed to avoid it.

Shannara_Ep103_6014Were you down in New Zealand for the whole shoot of Shannara or did you go back and forth?

No, I have a home in New Zealand, a wife and ten year old daughter based in New Zealand, and may continue to be. I’m trying to persuade them to come back – I would like my daughter to be educated in Europe while we still have a Europe.

I must get involved with this bloody [referendum] campaign – as you may know, I’ve petitioned Parliament to give a vote to the people of the Isle of Man and Guernsey and it’s been singularly unsuccessful so far. God, what a torpid lot people are.

So you were commuting from home to the set?

Yes, that’s right. They were only about an hour and half south of Auckland. Auckland is becoming a large parking lot – three-quarters of the population of New Zealand live in the Greater Auckland Area, and it’s going to be a huge parking lot all the way from Hamilton all the way north to wherever North Auckland ends. It’s becoming really rather horrid. Think of New Zealand – but don’t think of Auckland.

For people who don’t know the Terry Brooks books, what sets Shannara apart the many other fantasy shows that are out there?

I think the many other fantasy shows that are out there don’t have the organic centre that you have when you write a series of books. You are confirming early visions, you are developing modifications of early visions but there is a central coherence with Terry’s work that it finally becomes all of a piece, and that will hold a show together wonderfully in the forthcoming years. Game of Thrones has lost its original coherence, I think. I haven’t followed it all the way through; I just caught a few episodes earlier on and thought it was quite good, I’d’ve liked to have been in this; and then I caught a couple while I was in the States last week and, oh dear me, I can pass on this quite happily!

Shannara_Ep103-6530The sheer scale, I thought, [of Shannara] seemed to me to be setting a new standard for that sort of television. If we’d been making films like that twenty years ago we’d have been damn proud of ourselves. I think the special effects are there to serve a central vision rather than have the words there to decorate the few special effects we can manage if the budget is too cheap.

I did not expect to regard it as a piece of work, before I started it, as highly as I do now. I think it’s going to be pretty major, by the time it’s really started getting an audience for season two, season three, season four…

The Shannara Chronicles Season One is release on DVD and Blu-ray from 6th June.

Thanks to Hannah Tatum for her help in facilitating this interview.

 

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