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PRYCE, JONATHAN: Tomorrow Never Dies

TWICE THE PRYCE
British actor Jonathan Pryce may well be the most classically trained actor to play a villain in the James Bond franchise. He's also the most diverse. What other Bond villain of recent memory can go from that hyped-up genre, to musicals (Evita) to low-budget period drama - the upcoming Regeneration. It was following the screening of the latter, during the Toronto Film Festival, that PAUL FISCHER tried to unmask a true actor's actor.

To show that James Bond's latest adversary is prepared to sing for his supper, the day after this interview, he would be performing at Los Angeles' mammoth Hollywood Bowl, for a prestigious concert performance of My Fair Lady. "I'm EXTREMELY nervous", the quietly spoken Pryce says smilingly. "I don't even know the words yet."

"My character is a media mogul"

It's certainly more than a little different to his previous gig, as the megalomaniac media baron in the latest Bond adventure, Tomorrow Never Dies, which he'd only just finished at the time of our interview. In the movie, Pryce plays Elliot Carver, a media mogul who manipulates a global war in order to gain ratings. It's up to Bond to save the day. Pryce refutes the notion that THIS Bond film, and his character in particular, is nothing but fantasy. "My character is a media mogul, and you could say he's based on any of the few moguls who own a vast empire of newspapers, television stations, satellite networks, etc. The writer of the film, Bruce Feirstein, used to work as a journalist within Murdoch's empire, so in many ways, this is Bruce's story, and he created the villain." Pryce stops short, however, of admitting that the character is directly based on Murdoch.

"But what it is, is the potential of someone LIKE a Murdoch or a Turner, and the inherent dangers of someone like that having so much power over the media. You could say this is a Murdoch gone mad." At the same time, Pryce adds, this is no ordinary Bond villain, but someone more relevant to this modern media age. "What Bruce has written is very pertinent. What he says, early on in the film, could only be said by a media mogul. He went, through the script drafts, from being just ANY villain to a specific media mogul, who reacts to the people who work for him in a way that only such a person can. There's also a kind of truth to what he's doing. If you look at the fortunes of a satellite news network like CNN, that were turned around by something like the Gulf War . . . that saved that network from total bankruptcy. Randall Hearst once said: you provide the pictures, I'll provide the war, so what Carver is doing to further his empire is provide the war, and so he creates a war between China and Britain, his reward being the broadcast rights for the whole of China, which are pretty substantial. I mean, why he couldn't have tendered for it like anybody else, I don't know," he adds laughingly.

"I could afford to be very theatrical, which was fun." on Tomorrow Never Dies

Despite the pseudo-serious tone of Tomorrow Never Dies, it's also clear that Pryce had a ball working on this film. "It was amazing. They were using these huge images with these vast newsrooms and I was the only one standing there. So I could afford to be very theatrical, which was fun."

The Welsh-born Pryce initially studied art, but switched to acting after winning a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He graduated in 1972, then joined the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, before working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Pryce had had a varied film career, and has starred in two films written and directed by Terry Gilliam - the award-winning Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He starred in the award-winning Carrington, and his next film to be released is the haunting World War 1 drama, Regeneration, which is to have its Australian premiere during Sydney's Mardi Gras Film Festival in February.

"The value of this film is its sense of timelessness." on Regeneration

Regeneration, based on the acclaimed novel of the same name, is the true story of the partial convalescence from World War I of the real-life poets Sigfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in a Military Hospital in Edinburgh. But Sassoon is not really "ill" except in the sense of being sick of war. His denunciation of the British government and its complicity in prolonging the carnage landed him in what amounts to the country club military hospital for "public school fools." Sassoon bonds with Owen who is much more damaged by the war, and also develops a strained friendship with military pro-war doctor William Rivers, played by Pryce. "Even though the film is set during the First World War, it seems timeless to me", Pryce explains. "What the film is dealing with could be about ANY war or conflict. Take the opening image of the bodies lying in the mud in the trenches. If you put a camera across the desert in the Gulf, you would see these half-submerged figures in sand, rather than in mud. You're still dealing with the same sort of issues, in that after the Gulf War, you've still got people dealing with the same sorts of war neuroses, but under more modern names. The value of this film is its sense of timelessness."

In the film, Pryce is astonishing as the real-life psychiatrist whose job it was to send soldiers back to war, including real-life gay poet, Sasoon, who's so desperately anti-war. Rivers is one of the actor's most memorable characters. "As a character, in terms of film, it offers a whole host of things that you can explore. I like the way that you see it all through his eyes, and what you see is what you get. There's nothing hidden, and the audience can go on the journey with these characters from beginning to end."

"I knew that this experience was not going to come around again." on Evita

Though Pryce's next gig was going to be a tad different again - performing Henry Higgins in a concert production of My Fair Lady - movie goers are not strangers to the actor's musical abilities. After all, he performed the role of Juan Peron in Alan Parker's much maligned Evita, a film that was destined to come with a lot of hyped up baggage. "That was actually part of the attraction of that project", the actor explains. "It was always going to be this big, Hollywood, sexy movie. I also knew that this experience was not going to come around again." While it was a modest success, critically, the film divided people, which did not particularly surprise the actor. "I actually thought people were going to be less generous than they were, because with a figure like Madonna, they'd rather knock her than praise her." Even Pryce was surprised by the Material Girl. "I was delightfully surprised that she was as good as she was, as professional as she was, as amenable as she was. In some ways it was everything I expected because you kind of know that people aren't necessarily what their public image is, and you also know that you don't get where she is without a modicum of talent and a great deal of professionalism.."

With the Bond film likely to be a huge hit, Pryce is in a perfect position, able to take his pick from the big films to the smaller ones. He's happy to do both. "You can't go on being in an art hit forever; it's gratifying to break down the barriers a bit."

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