CULTURE

From Sauron to Stalin and Idi Amin: The everlasting story of the world

Count Dracula in Hammer cult films, Scaramanga opposite James Bond in «The Man with the Golden Gun,» and scheming Saruman in «The Lord of the Rings,» Christopher Lee has never been afraid of playing the villain. Quite the contrary, it is the way by which he has built a great career. In person, he gets rather upset when anyone insists on his «Dracula» past and would rather talk about his own favorite roles. His tall and slim figure, however, is forever linked to the character of the Transylvanian count. Kathimerini talked to the ageless Lee (he was born in London in 1922) in Paris, on the occasion of the release of the second part of the «Lord of the Rings» trilogy. Do you enjoy playing the bad guy? It is true that the role of the villain offers a greater platform for interpretation. These parts are more interesting – take the ones in «Star Wars» for instance, then ones on the dark side. I think that the audience doesn’t always find good, honest and respectable characters exciting all the time. As far as «The Lord of the Rings» is concerned, I believe it is a simple story, one of heroism and sacrifice. The sacrifice is made by Arwen and it is deeply moving. She decides to remain immortal knowing that Aragorn will die some day, and this scene that we see in the future is, I believe, one of the most beautiful in the movie. It is moving and sensual, going beyond the boring sex scenes we are all used to. Some say that the public wants to see sex on screen, but I don’t believe it. It is so boring. It’s similar to the post-Franco age in Spain, where, after the end of censorship, they were shooting these incredible movies which were on the verge of porn. A woman removing her stocking slowly is far more exciting, just like in the old days. You knew what was about to happen but you didn’t actually see it and that was the secret. Do you feel vindicated given the phenomenal success of the fantasy genre recently? I’ve been working in this field for the greatest part of my career and suddenly this genre has become hot – a «must see.» I have spent the last 40 years saying that we should make the kind of movie that takes people away to a fantasy land. I have proved all those who believed the contrary wrong. It is the story of my life. I proved not only that I can play the villain in a comedy, but that I could be an actor, and a tall one for that matter. Where do you feel you stand as an actor these days? At the top of a ladder from where I cannot go any higher. There will be other films and new roles, but in terms of the effect of the trilogy on world audiences, I don’t believe that anyone will be able to surpass us. Yet, although it is the most important movie we’ve done on a commercial level (matched with critical acclaim), Saruman is not the most important role of my career. This was actually a movie I did in Pakistan in 1997, interpreting Jinnah, the country’s founder. Playing this role in front of the Pakistani people was the greatest responsibility I ever faced, ultimately earning the best reviews of my career. Yet no one wants to show the movie because it is about Muslims and under the circumstances Islam equals terrorism and death, something which is wrong, of course. How do you keep so fit? I feel good, though I don’t know how long this will last. Of course, I can’t run like Count Dooku in «Star Wars» anymore – I have a double for that. But that is about all he does as the interpretation, the expression, the hand movements are entirely mine. Do you see any parallels between the relationship between good and evil in today’s world? Of course there are, though basically this is the heroic story of those characters. You know, I fought for five years during the Second World War and that was supposed to be the war to put an end all hostile acts. Look at the world today. It is not an attractive place to live in and there are probably more ongoing wars these days than ever before. «The Lord of the Rings» is neither an allegory nor a fairy tale. It is the truth. What I see is what I believe. It is a story on many levels. A story of love, courage, battle, hatred, persistence and redemption. I have seen many dark lords during my lifetime. Hitler, was one of them, and so were Stalin, Mao, Milosevic, Idi Amin and many more. There are many Saurons in the real world. This interview was translated from the original Greek text. A world recordholder for film appearances A year ago Christopher Lee was quoted saying that he holds the world record in film appearances. He is most probably right, as he is always well read. Making a rough estimate, the actor’s filmography includes more than 200 long features, films made for television as well as mini-series. The actor’s first role was in Terence Young’s «Corridor of Mirrors,» shot in 1948, followed by smaller parts in Sir Lawrence Olivier’s «Hamlet» and 1952’s «Moulin Rouge,» among others. Recognition came in the late 1960s, however, with Count Dracula, a character destined to follow Lee all the way to the end of the 1970s. Somewhere in the midst of all this came the character of Fu Manchu, beginning with «The Face of Fu Manchu,» shot in 1965. Following his release from Hammer Films and the horror film genre in general, Christopher Lee turned into a man of action with credits such as «The Man with the Golden Gun» in 1974, as well as a number of less challenging films such as «Police Academy: Mission to Moscow.» In the last few years Lee has become a well-respected figure of world cinema, interpreting smaller parts in films such as «Sleepy Hollow,» «The Lord of the Rings» trilogy, and «Star Wars.» A tireless Lee is scheduled to appear as Count Dooku in «Star Wars: Episode III,» in 2005, following his appearance in «The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.»