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