Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our twenty-fourth guest has portrayed giant spiders, Imperial commanders and Nazi lackeys – Julian Glover.
Lightsabre – Julian, welcome to Lightsabre.
JG – Thank you.
Lightsabre – You’re an acclaimed stage actor, have starred in a Bond movie and been the main villain opposite Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but you are internationally best known for your role as General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back. How do you feel about that?
JG – Well, I’m surprised to hear it because it’s such a small part. Indiana Jones is a much more substantial part. Also the part in the Bond film, though the Bond films are such a cult. I find that at conventions everybody knows me from Indiana Jones, and most people know me from Star Wars, but not everybody. Only people who are Star Wars freaks like you! I had such a small contribution, I think it’s because I had a conversation with Darth Vader and all that. There was talk of me being in the film after that, a very small part but I wasn’t free to do it anyway, and so the producer who I knew, Robert Watts, came up with a new General Veers, fulfilling the function of General Veers had he been in it.
Lightsabre – Tell us of your experience working on Empire. Was there a feeling of pressure on the set to duplicate the huge success of Star Wars?
JG – There wasn’t as far as we were concerned because we were…the stuff that we filmed was mostly me and Ken Colley and we only filmed for a week. And there was one scene with Darth Vader and me. We didn’t meet the main actors, didn’t meet the Harrison Fords and all that, and we weren’t aware of any pressure. And as far as we were concerned we had no idea of the enormous success of Empire, we got paid ridiculously low money. At that time my next door neighbour was the line producer Robert Watts, and he invited me in and I thought that’ll be nice. And I didn’t go looking for it, I just did it and thought that was alright, as did most of us. And then I thought my God, it’s so big. And I must say, despite having such a small part in it I think Empire is still the best of the lot. It’s the best constructed, the technical advances since Star Wars are introduced and it got even better. Since then I think they’ve gone so far I’m rather bored of them, although I’m not young anymore. But I still find Empire to be the best, I think it’s a terrific film.
Of course that first summer when I saw Star Wars I was absolutely staggered, most of us were, absolutely staggered. I can’t tell you, people of our generation to have that…oh God, it was amazing. Back in the beginning when those planes went through those ravines. And I found that later (the stories) got very confused and all a bit silly, but that’s my opinion and I know it’s not shared by most. Fortunately it’s not shared by most otherwise it wouldn’t have earned any money.
JG – I was at school and I had no idea of being an actor because I was just fifteen and at Alleynes School in South London, and I was very fortunate, as was most of us, that there was a young English Master there and he decided that he was going to revive the theatre of Shakespeare, because the school was founded by a Shakespearian actor called Edward Alleyne who was the second leading actor of Shakespeare’s plays. So this English Master decided to go back and start to do Shakespeare, a school habit that had long lapsed. And we did it, starting with a production of Julius Caesar using the school military corp, and I had never done any acting at all but I was quite good at doing technical reading aloud and I got the part of Marc Anthony and that was tremendously exciting and an extraordinary thing for a young lad of fifteen to do. The next time they did a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, nothing to do with this young English Master this time, and I played a comedy lead in it. And for the first and probably last time in my life I said I think I knew what to do, and my parents could tell that I wasn’t just being star struck, this was something I could do, so they helped me. That was the kick off, and then I auditioned for R.A.D.A (Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts), did my military service then started. And my first job out of the army was Butlins Holiday Camp, Skegness.
Early on I auditioned for Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company there and I got a walk on, literally a walk on, and in those days it was a very exciting place to work, it still is now, and I did three seasons and gradually built my part up to small parts, and by the time I left I was fairly experienced in the Shakespeare parts and so that’s what kicked me off really. Then I went to the Royal Court Theatre in a play there for the great Tony Richardson who was virtually running it, and he was also beginning to make films – he made the film of Tom Jones with a lot of people from the Royal Court Theatre in it including me. It was my first film, and it was a really good part. It was David Warner’s first film and Albert Finney’s second film. That set me off in films. I’d done twelve seasons for the RSC, and if you count leaving Stratford and going to Newcastle I did eighteen seasons with them, so I knocked around with that lot quite a lot. I’ve done a lot of theatre work, but as you know I’ve done a lot of films too. Hell of a lot of televisions and radios too. I’m old now, my CV’s very long. I couldn’t write my CV now, it’s too long.
(TV, radio and film) are different sorts of work. I’ll do it as long as it’s good. And it helps if it’s well paid. The trouble with the theatre is there’s a lot of really good work but it’s very poorly paid. Working for a theatre company is great but it’s only a weekly rate, it keeps you going, (but) you can’t save on it. Working at the Royal Court was no money at all. Doing Indiana Jones was quite comfortable. Doing Star Wars was £200 for the week thank you very much.
JG – Oh it was bad, even then. Then doing the last one I did, Troy, where I had a couple of scenes the money was really good, so you use one of those to set off and do those far things in untold places.
Lightsabre – You played two roles in Lucasfilm productions during the 1980’s, General Veers in 1980 to Walter Donovan in 1989. What is it like working for the company? Are they like a family or are they simply a group of people?
JG – They’re not a family, no not really. I’m sure they do but we wouldn’t be aware of that. When I worked for Spielberg I worked for Spielberg, we filmed at the studio, went abroad, went to Spain, and the actors who were on that film which was terrific. Before that I worked for George Lucas. Spielberg looked in once on the week we were there (filming Empire) and Lucas looked in once when we were doing Indiana Jones, – “Oh hello Mr. Lucas, oh that’s Spielberg over there – crikey!” But you don’t take any notice of that you just get on doing what you’re doing. And I’m sure they are (friends), they keep on doing things together don’t they, so I’m sure there is a sort of business family thing about them, and obviously they refer to each other all the time and ask each other for advice. But we’re not part of that. We’re actors, we’re just actors. That’s all we are, we’re not part of the creative process at all.
Lightsabre – You’re just set dressing.
JG – (Laughs).
Lightsabre – Veers certainly has an aura of command and doesn’t seem overly intimidated by Lord Vader. What is it about General Veers that you believe made him such a fan favourite?
JG – I said to Lucas earlier I said `This man is a General. You don’t get to be a General if you’re a wimp.’ And of course you have to be subservient to Darth Vader, he’s the guv’nor, but you don’t have to be sycophantic. Then he (Lucas) said `No, absolutely not.’ And in that one scene I was reasonably instructed by Darth Vader. I thought it made sense, I’ve forgotten it now, but it seemed to make sense at the time.
Lightsabre – You are one of only a few men to have been in a Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and a James Bond film, perhaps the only one. How thrilling is it to be a part of probably the four major movie franchises?
JG – I was only a voice in Harry Potter. I couldn’t play the part (of Arragog the Giant Spider) because I didn’t have enough legs. I feel pleased and lucky that I got to do those particular movies. I can go to conventions and hold my head up quite high that I was in them. Also in my past I was in other things that weren’t quite so big, like Doctor Who, films like Quatermass and the Pit, those kind of series in the 70’s like the Avengers, and Jason King. I don’t remember what I did in that, played a villain probably. I did three Avengers, and that thing Roger Moore did…The Saint, I did that as well. That was when I first worked with Roger, which I did again on the Bond film. In fact I saw him recently; he came to see me in a play which I was doing in the West End.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your recent stage work. You recently performed in Taking Sides with Neil Pearson, a play that focuses on the interrogation of your character Furtwangler by Pearson’s Major Steve Arnold, an American interrogator working for the De-Nazification Tribunal in post-war Germany?
JG – Yeah, I did another play since then which I finished a month ago, The Dresser, I was doing that and Roger came to see that. Everybody came to see it, I have to say. I did it with Nicolas Lyndhurst (Rodney Trotter from Only Fools and Horses).
Lightsabre – Because you’ve been so versatile in your roles, have you ever come across typecasting, being asked to constantly play the same thing?
JG – The only problem with typecasting is if people only ask you to play younger brothers or a layabout. That’s typecasting, if you’re always asked to play the same things. Actually rather like Nicolas, he knows that job (Only Fools…) was very good to him, very good to his career. He doesn’t resent it, he knows it was a very important thing for him and he knows he was damn good at it, that’s why he was so popular. None of us mind being recognised for a particular thing. Nicolas isn’t only recognised for that, people remember Butterflies for instance. I’ve been lucky in that my face fits all sorts of different categories so I can play a down and out and I can play a general. I’ve been lucky.
Lightsabre – Star Wars is a worldwide phenomenon. Do you enjoy interaction with the fans.
JG – Yes I do, as long as they’re not silly. I could do with a few less requests for autographs every week, takes up rather a lot of my time. It’s extraordinary for such a small part, what the leading actors get I just can’t think. I could do without that, but it’s all part of the game. If I don’t do it then they won’t like me. I go to conventions, I certainly work very hard at them, I do my best to go out and meet them and talk with them.
Lightsabre – Do you enjoy conventions?
JG – Not very much frankly, they’re rather hard work just signing those autographs. I was at one last week, I was in Metz in France which was quite a good convention. You get about a bit. Indianapolis, that was alright, one in Dallas. But you don’t stay there long enough to enjoy the place. But I do like meeting the fans, that’s good. As long as they’re well organised, and frankly if you’re looked after properly then they can be quite fun. But otherwise, not inspiring work let’s face, it the creative juices don’t flow. But you do your best and you meet some extraordinary people on this side of the camera too. Some of the actors who do those things are extraordinary.
Lightsabre – What was it like to be directed by Irvin Kershner and the master Steven Spielberg, and what are their differences in directing style.
JG – (Kersh) doesn’t really do much directing, he’s got a fantastic eye for shape and crisis. The difference between the two of them really is that Kershner loves the cinema but Spielberg is in love with it. He just worships it, and he does almost everything himself. I’m sure if you asked him to do a set up he’d operate the camera himself, he likes all that thing. Whereas Kershner is happy to trust us to do that as long as we do it correctly. He’s more of a patrician is Kershner, and I liked him, a very pleasant man.
Spielberg is simply in love with the cinema, but his respect for the actor goes beyond respect, it goes for a great liking. There’s no question of it being silly people who stand on boxes (actors) we are a positive contribution which is why he gets such good performances out of people. The reason that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was such a good choice, because it was a love story between two men (Indiana and Henry Jones Snr), and those two men were played by people who were not just film actors, they’re fine actors. And Spielberg arranged that, he got that combo together. That’s apart from all the pyrotechnics and the wonderful things that happened in it. That is, for my money, the reason why that film was so successful. He’ll say to you “Do such and such “ and you’ll say “Why have I got to do that?” and he’ll say “Well just do it for me because Spencer Tracey did it in such and such.” “Oh I see, I’ll do that.”
Lightsabre – What do you foresee for yourself in the future?
JG – Tremendous financial success! No, I don’t know. I’ve just done one of those Lynda La Plante things for television, quite big on television and I’m talking about doing a play later in the year, possibility of a film coming up but things are very quiet. I was a tremendous success, I have to say, in The Dresser. You have to be a tremendous success in the West End not to work for six months, everybody thinks you’re out of it. I’d like to go on making films, but it gets more difficult the older you get, the number of parts for old people run out. In any film how many old men are there, not too many. You have to hope you get in things like Troy or a Roman epic or something like that. I have nothing exciting on the stocks, I wish I could tell you I was going to be in so-and-so but I can’t.
Lightsabre – So you can go and watch telly or mow the lawn.
JG – I’ve done both of those things today. Literally, I’ve done both of those things today! And I’m very sad indeed that it is now raining.
Lightsabre – That’s fantastic, I really appreciate that.
JG – Good job. God bless you and thanks for asking.
This interview was originally posted in two parts on lightsabre.co.uk on 19th September 2005 and 16th October 2005.