Jim Piddock (Old George)
Jim Piddock was born in 1956 Rochester, Kent, England and educated at Worth Abbey, a Benedictine Catholic boarding school. After gaining a degree in English literature at London University he began his career on the stage in England before emigrating to the U.S. in his early twenties. Piddock toured a one-man show, about a soccer goalkeeper, in the U.S. before making his Broadway debut in 1982. After starring in several Broadway shows, he moved to Los Angeles and has appeared in numerous television shows and films, including notable appearances in “Independence Day”, “Traces Of Red”, “Multiplicity”, “Burn Hollywood Burn”, “Austin Powers 3”, “A Different Loyalty”, “Love For Rent”,
“See This Movie”, “The Prestige”, “Epic Movie” and “Who’s Your Caddy?”
In 1990, he sold his first screenplay for a mid-six figure sum and now splits his time between writing, producing and acting.
Question: Most of your scenes today have been with live snakes, how have you found that?
Jim: That was my big phobia, but I got over it. I had them crawling up my leg. It’s one of those things where they talk you through it: ‘It’s not going to be this or that, and they are like this…’ and then you see them… it’s sort of the idea of it I think, the writhing mass of things, sort of like maggots. These things are a little more dangerous than maggots, but it is still the idea. They look creepy, but they were fine. You realise they are not looking for trouble. They were fairly docile, really, not darting around. If they had been a bit more darty, or jumpy, I would have been insane.
Question: Have you been on the shoot for the entire time?
Jim: Yeah, pretty much, I went back to LA twice to go home, for a week each time.
Question: How have you found making a movie in Romania?
Jim: Not the easiest place, but its cheaper apparently. There are about four films here at the moment or on the way. It’s obviously not easy when you live that far away. It’s easier for the London based people because they can get out for weekends.
Question: Who do you play in the story?
Jim: I play George, or Old George, I think they’ll probably drop the Old as I’m the youngest of the group – one of the four Old Ones. We’ve been alive for hundreds of years essentially and are somewhat immortal. The story is a battle between good and evil and we are the protectors of the force of good. We’ve been waiting for this kid to come-of-age so we can lead our charge. So that’s my role. In the story, in the present, along with James, we are both farming workers.
Question: How did you get cast?
Jim: I was asked to, quite simply. (laughs).
Question: Did you know the book beforehand? It’s perceived as something of a classic…
Jim: It does have an avid following, all of who are up in arms about what we are doing despite never having read the script.
Question: You seem to be dressed as half warrior and half-tramp…?
Jim: (laughs) It has to serve as a farmer’s outfit, but also have a certain timeless quality. We didn’t want to do the All Creatures Great And Small acting. It took a little bit of a while to find a defining look for George. The hat is my main feature — my entire performance is based on the hat, which is part Indiana Jones and part Farmer Giles. The coat is part Doctor Who and part Indiana Jones.
Question: We are in Romania but this is supposedly contemporary Britain…
Jim: It’s true, while the book was written and set in the seventies, it didn’t seem to feel that dated. There are references to things that are seventies. But this is so different, it captures the spirit of the book, but the book would be impossible to do on film as it is written, absolutely impossible. It would just be episodic. So they have captured the essence and the feel of the characters. They have made the family American living in Britain, which I think is a good change, it stops it being a British movie, and too Harry Pottery. And they’ve simplified a lot of the mythology. You’d never follow all that and why would you want to? It’s too novel-bound that stuff.
Question: How physically active do things get for you?
Jim: It’s extraordinarily passive, I’m a glorified extra! I don’t actually say a lot. But I am sort of around a lot. It’s active when it needs to be. I do take up arms, and supply occasional comic relief. I do also get a stunt double, which is nice. Most of the Old One’s stuff is do with fighting or protecting the kid.
Question: How do you personally get on with this kind of fantasy material that is so popular at the moment?
Jim: Well, I was never a big Lord Of The Rings fan, but I’ve read most of the Harry Potters because I have a 13 year-old daughter. I’m not a big fantasy action reader, but I enjoy them well enough when I see them.
Question: How would you say this one was different to those others?
Jim: The other ones that I’ve seen, The Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter, are not about centuries with the forces of dark trying to overtake the world. It has this timeless quality – traveling through time. I don’t think the Harry Potters really have that, not hundreds and hundreds of years. So it has that timeless element. Some of the set pieces are different, the way the characters will suddenly be in a scene and then they will be out-of-time in the same location. Which is different from anything I’ve seen.
Question: Tell me about your director, David L. Cunningham he’s a hard man to categorise…
Jim: He is, with the breadth of stuff that he has done. The Path To 9/11 TV series he did was very different. He is certainly the calmest director I have ever worked with… He seems totally and utterly unflappable, in situations where I would be bouncing off the walls, which is great. To have that constant quality is terrific.
Question: In that sense has it been a quite calm and easy shoot?
Jim: In terms of when we are on the set, I would say yes. Working in Romania brings its own set of problems of course, but there has been absolutely no screaming and shouting whatsoever. Which is almost unheard of.
Question: How far a-field have you gone?
Jim: Transylvania is the furthest — about five hours drive. That’s it. They built a whole village there, it looks like this village in Buckinghamshire: picture perfect. The sets have been brilliant over all.
Question: Does that make it easier to make the transition into a fantasy world?
Jim: They obviously help, the church we are shooting in today, it is so fantastic you would not believe you weren’t in an old church. The same with every single set. That is helpful for an actor.
Question: How do you feel about the special effects/blue screen work on this movie?
Jim: The last few days there has been a fair amount. There will be quite a bit more. There’s no question this film has a lot of effects, certainly the most amount I’ve ever worked with. I’m hoping to get this digital image of me and just plop me in wherever they need me then I can go home? I’ve been on bigger budget films, but not this effects driven. Independence Day was obviously full of them, but I wasn’t involved in many of those scenes. You have to get into a place where you are just patient. There is so much waiting around on any film, but there is more with this kind of thing. I’ve been here for eight hours and I’ve done ten minutes of work today. We’re running out of practical jokes.
Question: As a screenwriter yourself, what do you think of John Hodge’s adaptation of the book?
Jim: It’s funny that John Hodge did the screenplay and I like his stuff. It was interesting because when I read this it was so not what I associate with him. It was very readable, a very simple and gettable visual script.
Question: Having done Trainspotting, John Hodge seems to have a knack in taking books that seem un-filmable and finding a coherent movie within them…
Jim: Absolutely. There was quite a lot of creation here — he had to come up with new stuff to make it work.
Question: When do you finish?
Jim: In two weeks or so, it’s been a long haul, about three months. I will never have worked so long on something, and have so little end up on screen. Compared to something like Best In Show, where I did a day and everything went in the movie! It’s just a different kind of filmmaking. I had a lot of friends who were on Titanic who worked for a year and were never needed on set! This is the longest shoot I’ve done. You get a bit stir crazy. I’ve got two and a half weeks left and no more lines. That’s the nature of it.
Dark Is Rising is released in cinemas nationwide on October 19th.