Former folk singer Billy Connolly has been elevated to monarch in his latest comedic outing, writes Vicky Roach
BILLY Connolly would like it to be known that his recent collaboration with Disney does not signal a shift towards the middle of the road.
‘‘ As a matter of fact, that whole family thing makes me puke,’’ says the 69- year- old comedian.
‘‘ When somebody says they are a family entertainer, I think ‘ I must remember not to see them’. It means they are completely inoffensive and not going anywhere near the edge.’’
Of course, Walt’s mob are renowned for keeping their employees under an extraordinarily tight rein – even Russell Brand was made to behave in Bedtime Stories.
‘‘ I just stick to the script,’’ says Connolly, who also had a role in Pocahontas. ‘‘ Although you do get a good bit of leeway to change things. They’d ask whether there was a Scottish equivalent. But once I was done, they would say: ‘ Are you sure you have given me a clean one here?’.’’
For Connolly, giving voice to Brave’s lovable, unreconstructed 10th century King Fergus had more to do with posterity.
‘‘ What I love about making animated films is you get the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that your grandchildren’s children will probably see it – they tend to last for ages,’’ he says.
‘‘ If you think of the people in The Wizard of Oz, they are all dead but that’ll trundle on for years and years.
‘‘ I get a weird buzz out of that rather than the goody- goody stuff.’’
Set in a mythical, magical past somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, Brave tells the story of a rebellious, flame- haired princess named Merida ( voiced by Kelly Macdonald) who rails against her intended fate – to unexpected result.
King Fergus is her father, a mountain of a man with a surprisingly soft heart.
Even Connolly admits the hairy, onelegged Scotsman wasn’t too much of a stretch.
That came with his next project, the Dustin Hoffman- directed film Quartet, about a bunch of retired opera singers.
‘‘ There are some serious heavy guns in that,’’ says Connolly of his co- stars, which include Dame Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon.
But Connolly, who proved his acting chops opposite Judi Dench in Mrs Brown ( 1997), says he is not daunted by the prospect of sharing the camera with such thespian legends.
‘‘ In a strange way, it makes it much easier,’’ he says.
‘‘ I knew from my comedy that working with good people makes you good.’’
Acting opposite someone like Dench, he says, means there’s nothing he could do but act well.
‘‘ You can’t stand there waving your arms about as if you are in Home and Away.
‘‘ You have to think as if it’s real. At one point, Judi Dench was opposite me and she was staring at me and I thought: ‘ My God, she fancies me. What am I going to do? Judi Dench fancies me’.
‘‘ Of course, she didn’t fancy me. Queen Victoria fancied John Brown.
‘‘ It was such a lesson to me – like being hit by lightning. So I had to fancy her right back, which is easy.’’
Connolly admits that both Dame Judi and Dame Maggie are ‘‘ a little bit scary. They have immense inner strength’’.
But while the students at Hogwarts would never suspect it, there’s a very welldeveloped sense of humour behind Professor McGonagall’s intimidating exterior.
‘‘ Maggie Smith is funny, funny. She does a lovely Glasgow accent. She used to have me in stitches.
‘‘ Then I would tell her my Glasgow stories and she would roar with laughter.’’
Connolly followed Quartet with a role in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected
Playing dwarf Dain Ironfoot, who appears in the second instalment, allowed him to play the little guy for a change.
‘‘ But you don’t feel like a little guy because you are doing big things like killing people and stuff. And you are wearing all that armour and makeup and everything. It was great fun. I arrive riding a wild pig.’’
From roles in animated classics to sharing the screen with theatrical royalty to biting into a slice of nerd heaven, could Connolly ever have envisaged such a rich and diverse career during his early days as a folk singer?
‘‘ Yeah I did,’’ he says, with just the right pause for comedic effect. ‘‘ I thought very big. I wasn’t sure how you would do it, but I thought it would happen.
‘‘ A lot of people come along from whatever little cult they are from and rave about positive thinking. It’s just positive thinking. But it works.
‘‘ If you constantly believe you are going to do something, beware – it’s going to happen.’’
Now showing at Village Cinemas
CROWNING GLORY: Billy Connolly ( far right) plays King Fergus ( above right), father to Merida ( top right) and just one of the colourful characters in Disney- Pixar’s Brave.