An interview with Phyllis Logan and Kevin McNally

Images: Phyllis Logan and Kevin McNally

Kevin McNally and Phyllis Logan have recently become patrons of Chiswick Playhouse. The actors, who are married and live near the theatre, have been Chiswick residents for many years. They are delighted to have a theatre on their doorstep, and in between jetting off to exotic locations for filming (and not so exotic windowless, stuffy sound booths to do radio) they are willing to do whatever they can to promote it, alongside fellow theatre enthusiast and Director of the Chiswick Book Festival Torin Douglas.

When I talked to them about it, Phyllis was about to set out for the premiere of her latest film Misbehaviour and Kevin was just back from LA.

The obvious question which everyone always asks Kevin is: ‘Will there be another Pirates of the Caribbean?’ He plays Joshamee Gibbs, who alongside Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa, is one of the few characters to have appeared in all five films in the franchise. Whether there will be another and whether Johnny Depp will appear in it has been luridly discussed over the last two years with various of the interested parties chipping in periodically to fuel the rumours. Kevin was at Comic Con in Liverpool over the weekend and was asked the question a lot.

So will there? “I hope so” says Kevin, “we need a new car”. The series has proved a nice little earner over the years, but as he pointed out, they have spanned about 20 years. It must be a laugh to film. “Yes it is” he says, “like playing pirates but with really good and big toys”. They have been shot in the most fantastic locations as well – the Caribbean, Hawaii, Australia. “on big films like those you don’t tend to shoot much in a day” he says. So you’re stuck in a fantastic location without much to do … nice work if you can get it.

Why American directors love British actors

He recently came back from LA where is has been ‘pilot season’. He was up for the part of an older man who runs a government office in Washington. He didn’t get it but the producers wanted a British actor. Don’t American actors get very put out that so many British actors are employed to play American roles I asked him (Idris Elba and Dominic West in The Wire, Eddie Marsan in Ray Donovan). “Yes they do. Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut, the ex policeman turned hit man in Breaking Bad) once said to me at a party when I’d showed up for a pilot “Oh God, another damn Brit taking our jobs”.

So why does it happen so often? “I asked a director that once” says Kevin. “He said British actors are well trained, they do their research, they turn up on time and they stand on their mark”. Don’t American actors? “I get the impression some of them seem to see it more as a form of therapy”.

Misbehaviour

Phyllis was getting ready to go to the premiere of Misbehaviour, about the Women’s Lib demonstration at the Miss World pageant in 1970. Demonstrators threw flour bombs and squirted water pistols in protest at the ‘cattle market’ parade of women in ball gowns and swim suits, turning in a line on stage so the cameras could pan across their backsides and the judges could score them on their breasts and hips. At the time it was considered perfectly normal family viewing, watched by millions the world over.

“I remember watching it” says Phyllis, who would have been 14 at the time. “We all used to sit around watching it. It’s nice to do something with a historical angle I could relate to”. She has a cameo role as the mother of the main character, Sally Alexander, played by Keira Knightley and steals the film with her puzzled and hurt reaction to her daughter’s feminist activism. There’s a great scene in which Sally is at home with her mother and takes exception to her encouraging her own daughter to twirl around like a beauty queen. “You used to love playing Miss World when you were a little girl” says the mother. “Yes and we also liked eating our own snot” retorts Sally.

The film has a predominantly female cast, was written by two women: Rebecca Frayn, who also lives in Chiswick, and Gaby Chiappe, and directed by a woman, Philippa Lowthorpe. Phyllis had worked with Lesley before and knew Keira a little from meeting her on the Pirates of the Caribbean set with Kevin. “She’s lovely” says Phyllis. “She’s very nice indeed, very down to earth and easy going”.

Patrons of Chiswick Playhouse

Though both actors have had huge success in a particular role – Kevin as Mr Gibbs in Pirates of the Caribbean, Phyllis as the housekeeper Mrs Hughes / Carson in Downton Abbey, they both have an incredibly long list of credits to their name in film, television and radio and they are both always in great demand. Phyllis is about to do a radio play in Glasgow – Weir of Hermiston, based on an unfinished novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Writer Colin MacDonald has given the play an ending based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s notes).

Kevin has been working on the second series of Das Boot, a German television adaptation of the 1981 film produced for Sky Atlantic. “I play a very rich man trying for the Senate and illegally dealing with the Nazis. Unfortunately I didn’t get to work on the submarines”.

In between gigs they will be promoting Chiswick Playhouse. “I’m very pleased to be involved” says Kevin. “Chiswick is full of actors and it’s great that we have our own theatre. I’m very pleased and looking forward to it”. Phyllis also is proud to be a part of it. “We are so fortunate to have a local theatre”.

The theatre’s third patron, Torin Douglas MBE, has done a lot of research into the literary and theatrical history of Chiswick, creating a Timeline of Chiswick Authors for the Chiswick Book Festival website. He was recently asked by Fr Kevin, vicar of St Michael & All Angels Church, to give a Lent talk on people who have influenced his life and inspired him. He chose playwright Tom Stoppard, author Lady Antonia Fraser (widow of the playwright Harold Pinter) and his teacher Philip LeBrocq, who encouraged his thespian leanings at school.

As a teenager he was inspired to put on plays, “and to believe – quite wrongly as it turned out – that I too could write entertaining and clever dramas”. Now he’s quite happy to promote the talents of those who do, in a bijou theatre within easy walking distance of his house.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Guess who’s coming to dinner – Torin Douglas invites his fantasy dinner party guests

See also: Misbehaviour