War­rior princess

Former folk singer Billy Con­nolly has been el­e­vated to monarch in his lat­est comedic out­ing, writes Vicky Roach

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

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

Jour­ney.

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.’’

BRAVE

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.

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