This article appeared in A&E Monthly Magazine in January of 1994. (This magazine is no longer in production, having sort of morphed into their Biography magazine some years ago). This interview mentions Lovejoy being in it's fourth season on A&E, but he would have been filming the final season (#6) in Britain. I've reproduced it faithfully and have changed nothing. It mentions a son named Michael, but I do believe his son is actually named Morgan.


 

Cover A&E Monthly Jan 1994


 

P R O F I L E

IAN McSHANE
DIVVIE-ING UP THE PROFITS

"Lovejoy makes me money and happy," says the versatile actor.

BY KAY GARDELLA

 

any times as I watched Ian McShane having such a good time playing the roguish, disreputable antique dealer in A&E's Lovejoy Mysteries, one thought persistently occurred: with his handsome, dark, brooding looks, black curly hair and penetrating bedroom eyes, shouldn't McShane really suffer more in a role? Shouldn't he be on the stage playing Hamlet perhaps, or some other tragic Shakespearean character? Why isn't he in London's West End tearing his hair out, wildly emoting, applauded by a handful of his peers? Theater types, you know. "My snobbish friends in England tell me that all the time," confides the serendipitous actor. He proceeds to quote them. "'Oh, you're doing another series,' they say somewhat scornfully. 'Don't you long to do another play?'"

"'Excuse me,' I say, not at all defensively. 'Why should I stop doing a series in which I have a great deal to say [he and his partner Allen McKuen produce it with the BBC], one that makes me money as well as happy? Sure, if a good play comes along I might consider it. But right now I'm busy with Lovejoy.'"

The dynamic actor, who has turned 50 - "the British press never let you forget your age"- is not happy with the trend in the West End where he appeared in several plays over the years, including The Glass Menagerie with Anna Massey, Loot and the Big Knife by Joe Orton, How Are You, Johnnie?, The Promise with Judy Dench and Ian McKellen, and Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger. "Now it's all musicals," he complains. "They're doing Grease again, Hair, and Joseph's Technicolor Dream Machine. All repeat stuff," he pointed out with a shrug. "Today I'm more interested in film and television."

Still, in all honesty, he has never had a Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger-sized box-office blockbuster, nor has he starred in a Steven Spielberg movie, which he'd love to do. Nevertheless, his list of film credits is long, though not all are four-star productions. The Battle of Britain, with Robert Shaw, has to be counted among his better films, as well as If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, about a group of Americans on a bus tour of Europe (1969). There were others, all more or less forgettable.

Good or bad as a film might be, McShane can always be depended upon to give an impressive performance in it. You might forget the film, but never him.

hrough the years he has covered the spectrum from light comedy to dark, menacing roles, such as that of the killer who fed gin to a child in the play Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger. His theater work has been outstanding in England and in this country, where he appeared in The Promise, As You Like It, Betrayal, and Inadmissible Evidence.

But it is in TV that he has scored highest with American audiences, in roles such as Heathcliff to Anna Massey's Kathy in the BBC's Wuthering Heights, or as Judas in Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth. And who could forget him as Queen Victoria's flamboyant, power-driven prime minister in Disraeli-Portrait of a Romantic, an early Masterpiece Theater production. Says McShane: "It was a role I loved doing; I had great rapport with 'Whizzy Dizzy' [Disraeli's nick name]. He was a brilliant and extravagant man."


Lovejoy


McShane has never forgotten he's from a working-class family. "There are times I think this is such a silly business, that a lad from Manchester should be doing a real job. But I enjoy the work...and take it seriously"


 

But surely McShane must have had reservations about playing a role once done by Lord Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights? He smiled his familiar cheeky smile and said: "Young actors are fearless. They think everyone who went before them is old hat. I never liked Olivier in the earlier version. And I never cared for Merle Oberon. I think it's what is called youth!" What he immodestly says he did like was his performance as Judas in Jesus of Nazareth.

Most critics concurred. "That's where I learned a valuable lesson about television and film. When Robert Powell, who played Jesus, asked Zeffirelli at the end of the drama, 'Should I change my expression?' Zeffirelli replied, 'Stay as you are, darling. Let Maurice Jarre's music do the rest."

McShane has done just about everything on television: War and Remembrance, Evergreen, Roots, Bare Essence, Marco Polo, Dick Francis Mysteries, The Grace Kelly Story, Columbo, Perry Mason, Miami Vice, and Dallas. You get the picture. He's a workaholic. "I'm happy working," he admits. "I like everything about it."

My interview with McShane took place at the BelAge, a West Hollywood hotel he prefers for three reasons: "It's close to my L.A. apartment. I can dash across the street to the bookstore on Sunset Boulevard to pick up some books. And I can go to Tower Records and buy my CDs before I return to England."

That day he had bought 50 CDs and several books. His taste is eclectic, ranging from Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra to the Spin Doctors. He also had copies of Robert Hughes' book, Climate of Complaint, and Western writer Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.

As I watched him talking and sipping iced tea, I wondered: could this be the same mischievous Ian McShane who was once labeled a hell-raiser, whose interviews invariably turned to the subject of sex, drink, drugs, and ex wives? Can't be. I must have someone else in mind. "I left the legacy of the sixties behind me years ago," he said, reminding me that he has been happily married to his third wife, Gwen Humble, an American actress, for 14 years.

They keep an apartment in L.A., but make their home in Holland Park, England, where he is most comfortable. His son Michael, 19, and his daughter Kate, 21, are from his second marriage, to Ruth Post, which ended in 1976.

Today; the new and proper but unstuffy McShane is all business, and his business is mainly Lovejoy, which is now in its fourth season on A&E. He blesses the day he acquired the property. "I was on my way from here to England to make a miniseries. I had with me a thick play that a fan of mine wanted me to do. 'Have you read the Lovejoy novels?' she asked in the accompanying note, and included a couple of them. I didn't want to do the play, so I ignored it and read the novels instead and was impressed. When I arrived in England I bought the rights."

In Lovejoy McShane is a "divvie," one of those rare individuals who can tell a genuine antique by intuition. Although capable of some shady dealings, he's redeemed by his love for that which is real, the genuine article, whether it be a priceless figurine, a rare piece of porcelain, or an ancient Celtic harp.

When he handles an authentic piece his heart palpitates, he gets a funny twitch, and he looks almost mystic. It's a gift that McShane admits he doesn't possess in real life.

Actually McShane has no interest in the fusty world of antiques he inhabits in Lovejoy. "The oldest thing I have is my body," he once said. "I like modern white Italian furniture, and everything uncluttered and simple. I like a place to look half-empty."


Ian McShane
Ian McShane from ancient to modern times. Left: As Disraeli in Disraeli-Portrait of a Romantic. Top middle: In a Magnum, P.I. episode from 1981. Top right: As Judas in Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth. Bottom right: Doing his thing as Lovejoy.


 

s the son of a noted professional soccer player, Harry McShane, who played for Manchester United, Ian's first dream was to follow in his father's cleats. But when he realized he'd never be as good as his old man, he booted the dream, and when a teacher began to cast him in school plays, turned to acting. His most memorable role was the lead in Cyrano de Bergerac. That led to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where fellow students included Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt. "I later roomed with Hurt when I got out and still keep in touch with him in Ireland."

"The Royal Academy was an odd place," he recalls. "We had movement classes and had to wear tights and fence. I had never known girls before I went to drama school, nor had I worn tights before. We even had a class called 'technique,' which turned out to be American-type training, the only class of that kind I've ever had."

McShane won a film test just as he was about to leave school. "I had to sneak off in the afternoon to go to Pinewood Studios and test for a part in The Wild and the Willing with Samantha Eggar and Ralph Thomas. The next day I was notified that I'd gotten the part."

Leaving school before graduation presented another hurdle. "You realize we might not give you your diploma," said the head of the academy. But it turned out to be only a threat. "They gave me my diploma, even though I left early," he said.

McShane, born in the Lancashire town of Blackburn but raised in Manchester, prides himself on the fact that, despite his success, he's never forgotten he's from a working-class family.

"There are times when I think this is such a silly business, that a lad from Manchester should be doing a real job. But I enjoy my work, and when I'm doing it I take it seriously. I take everything else in stride. I'm a quick study, too. I like to learn my lines and get on with it."

The class system in England still rankles him. "It annoys the hell out of me," he admits. "But it will never go away... The British like it. The public school [private school to us Americans] boys think because they talk well and have an education they were meant to run the world. They don't realize they're a third-world nation today. That's why it gives me great pleasure never to talk like an Englishman. I want no part of them."

Still, he loves London. "That's because it's a cosmopolitan city, like New York. A world in itself. But I also love my home in Suffolk, where we film Lovejoy.

"The nice thing about Lovejoy is that the show is not a whodunit every week, not the usual retread story. That's why I still have enthusiasm for it."

In earlier days, McShane floorboarded his life in the fast lane, at one time pursuing Dutch sexpot actress Sylvia Kristel over half of Europe and in turn being pursued by a posse of London tabloid reporters. Today, at 50, he is channeling all his enthusiasm into his career. But then with Ian McShane you never really know. That's the secret of his charm.

 

Emmy Award - winning journalist Kay Gardella is TV columnist with the New York Daily News.
"Lovejoy" airs on Mondays at 10pm.


Reprinted from Arts & Entertainment Monthly, January 1994. © 1994 by Arts & Entertainment Network.