‘The Pi­rates films are like play­ing as a child, but with much bet­ter toys’

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW - Actor Kevin McNally tells Gabrielle Fa­gan about the pain of watch­ing his mum fight Alzheimer’s and how he stays healthy

Kevin McNally’s had a 40-year act­ing ca­reer and is best-known for play­ing Joshamee Gibbs in Dis­ney’s Pi­rates Of The Caribbean films and, more re­cently, for ap­pear­ing in po­lit­i­cal drama se­ries Des­ig­nated Sur­vivor. The 61-year-old Bris­tol-born actor is mar­ried to Down­ton Abbey star Phyl­lis Lo­gan (Mrs Hughes) and they have one son, David. Dur­ing our in­ter­view Kevin talks can­didly about love, pi­rat­ing and the les­sons he’s learnt over the years.

To him the prime les­sons are sim­ple: “Not mak­ing the same mis­takes twice is a good thing to learn and not hav­ing any re­grets.

“If some­thing goes awry, you just have to move on and try to do bet­ter the next time. It’s very easy to get stuck in life — as you get older es­pe­cially — but I hope hav­ing lots of in­ter­ests (such as) pol­i­tics, sci­ence, as­tron­omy and trav­el­ling will help me stay fresher and younger in both mind and body.

“I feel around 40, al­though oc­ca­sion­ally see­ing my re­flec­tion in a shop win­dow re­minds me I’m not!”

We all get of­fered pieces of ad­vice, and Kevin is no ex­cep­tion. The best he was ever given was “love un­con­di­tion­ally”.

But a fel­low thes­pian of­fered him an­other piece of wis­dom that still sticks to­day. “John Hurt gave me a won­der­ful piece of ad­vice about act­ing,” Kevin ex­plains. “We were hav­ing a drink very late one night and I said I ought to go to bed be­cause we were film­ing early the next day. John said, ‘No dar­ling, just say the lines out loud once into a mir­ror be­fore you get to bed so you don’t scare your­self in the morn­ing.’ I’ve al­ways ad­hered to that in­struc­tion.”

Even celebri­ties are not im­mune from life’s tri­als, and Kevin re­calls one par­tic­u­larly tough time.

“When my mother was suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s — she was di­ag­nosed in her early 60s — it was very tough see­ing that de­te­ri­o­ra­tion and long de­cline,” he says. “It’s a very cruel dis­ease and you just hope suf­fer­ers don’t linger too long.

“I like to talk to other peo­ple who are go­ing through it be­cause you’re shar­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence, which can bring com­fort.”

So how does he look af­ter his health and well­be­ing?

“Luck­ily I’m a very pos­i­tive per­son by na­ture, so my well­be­ing’s fine. I was di­ag­nosed with Type 2 di­a­betes four years ago, which was a big shock but a wake-up call. I saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove my health. I lost a lot of weight, im­proved my diet and I walk and swim. It’s well un­der con­trol. I also stopped smok­ing six years ago, which has stopped me get­ting end­less colds.”

When it comes to dis­cussing the love of his life, there is only one an­swer.

“My wife, Phyl­lis Lo­gan. We fell in love when we both worked on the 1993 mini-se­ries Love And Rea­son.

“Ab­sences are part of the job, but the bonus is that, through work, we’ve spent time in beau­ti­ful places to­gether. She’s joined me on lo­ca­tion for the Pi­rate films, and re­cently I went to Sri Lanka while she worked on (ITV drama) The Good Karma Hospi­tal.

“Work­ing to­gether on Down­ton when I played Ho­race Bryant, the stern fa­ther of an army ma­jor who got a house­maid preg­nant, was weird but fun. Phyl­lis joked it was like take your hus­band to work day.

Kevin has ful­filled ev­ery young boy’s dream by play­ing a pi­rate on Pi­rates Of The Caribbean, but what was it like for a grown-up?

“A bit like play­ing a pi­rate as kid, but much more fun and much, much bet­ter toys!

“Se­ri­ously, play­ing Gibbs in all five of the Pi­rates films is an ex­pe­ri­ence I wouldn’t swap for the world. Johnny (Depp) is won­der­ful to work with and the cast bonded more than in most films as we were to­gether at sea for long pe­ri­ods — sea­sick­ness pills were es­sen­tial!

“It meant I also wan­dered around look­ing like an idiot with silly side­burns for a long time be­cause from the first film I de­cided to grow my own whiskers for the role rather than hav­ing false ones.

“The up­side was, I was free while ev­ery­one else spent hours hav­ing make-up and hair reap­plied as the glue melts in the heat.

“Fin­gers crossed there’ll be a sixth Pi­rate film.”

Des­ig­nated Sur­vivor: The Com­plete First Sea­son DVD is avail­able from eOne

I saw the di­a­betes as a wake-up call, as a chance to im­prove my health

POS­I­TIVE OUT­LOOK: Kevin McNally and (be­low) with wife Phyl­lis Lo­gan

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