Sir Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Lee, you represent a long and fascinating segment of the history of cinema, due to the almost 300 roles you have played. Could you tell us when you felt the first spark of love for your craft?
I don't really know. When I was about 10 or 12, we had an annual play at Christmas – Shakespeare. I appeared in Richard II and in Henry V and the idea of acting probably was born when I did those two plays. In 1946, I visited my cousin, who was the first Italian ambassador to the Court of St. James's after the war. I didn't really know what I wanted to do after getting out of uniform. "Have you ever thought of being an actor?" he asked. After two or three weeks I told him I would give acting a try.
In your career you portrayed a wide range of characters. Generally speaking, did you pursue the roles you played – or did most come to you?
Parts always came to me. I don't remember ever saying to my agent "I hear so and so is going make a film, I want to be in it." Everthing I have ever done has been offered to me – either personally or through my agent.
You have often claimed that Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973) is the movie you are most attached to. Do you still feel that way?
The Wicker Man is without any question the best and most brilliantly written part I have ever had – written by Anthony Schaffer. I'll never forget it. Absolutely brilliant, the best film I've ever made. I still have the script. It was written – which was fairly rare in those days – for me. Schaffer and Hardy had me in their minds to play the part of Lord Summerile. And many critics call it one of the top ten British movies ever made.
From Billy Wilder to Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and Tim Burton, your filmography is characterized by encounters with great directors. Which one do you remember most fondly?
Without any doubt the most brilliant director I have ever worked with was Wilder. He was a wonderful man to work with and, my god, he was witty. Then you've got Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Burton, Martin Scorsese, and Dante. I cannot pick a favorite. They are wonderful in totally different ways because all the stories were different. I also worked with Orson Welles on a television film of his play Moby Dick – Rehearsed, which was never finished. He was wonderful, as was John Huston.
You have taken part to great blockbusters, but you have also acted in some low-budget movies with a strong experimental bent. That's the case of Pere Portabella's Umbracle, which is going to be screened in Locarno. What was it like working on that film?
I never really understood it. He made this movie in B&W, most of which is with sound and some of which I sing in. Other times I just walk around. I did have a scene – cannot remember if it is still in the film – with the famous painter Antoni Tàpies. We spoke French. Then I used to sing Wagner out of nowhere. With no music – nothing. It is a very strange movie and you really would have to ask the filmmaker about the meaning of it.