Ec­cle­ston bares all

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Television -

MOST ac­tors would un­der­stand­ably be ner­vous about por­tray­ing one of their icons stark naked.

Yet when Christo­pher Ec­cle­ston was ap­proached about strip­ping off in a one-off TV drama about John Len­non, he had no such qualms. In­stead, he dived right in, quite lit­er­ally, as BBC Four’s Len­non Naked opens with a shot of a long-haired Ec­cle­ston swim­ming, al­beit fully clothed, in Len­non’s indoor pool.

“I think you have to just look at him as a hu­man be­ing, as a char­ac­ter and not worry too much about the fact that he’s a god­head,” says Ec­cle­ston mat­ter-of-factly, about tack­ling the role.

The 90-minute film cov­ers the height of Beatle­ma­nia in the 1960s and meet­ing Yoko Ono, to the band’s break up and John and Yoko fi­nally leav­ing the UK for New York in Septem­ber 1971.

Much has been writ­ten about the anti-Yoko sen­ti­ment in the UK, and the fans who blamed her for break­ing up the band, but the film looks sym­pa­thet­i­cally on her plight as a Ja­panese woman in post-war UK, and shows the nat­u­ral love be­tween her and John.

It also recre­ates the naked photo shoot they did for the in­fa­mous Two Vir­gins pic­ture which be­came the cover of their 1968 ex­per­i­men­tal al­bum.

While John and Yoko shot the pic­tures them­selves in pri­vate, Ec­cle­ston and his co-star Naoko Mori had no such lux­ury, with a cam­era crew up close and ex­tremely per­sonal. The fact that the pair had worked to­gether on an episode of Doc­tor Who back when Ec­cle­ston was the Time Lord must have eased the ten­sion...

“Yeah it did... well we weren’t naked in Doc­tor Who,” says the 46-year-old, grin­ning.

“We are pre­par­ing a ver­sion for the late night au­di­ence and I will be tak­ing my sonic screw­driver,” he jokes.

“No, we had a good rap­port. When I met Robert [Jones, the writer] and the di­rec­tor Ed [Coulthard] and they asked me about Yoko, she was my first idea. They had other ideas for her, but I said Naoko. She’s pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary.

“With nu­dity, ac­tors al­ways watch each oth­ers’ backs... lit­er­ally, so you’re not look­ing any­where else,” he quips. “You al­ways look af­ter each other be­cause it’s not a nor­mal job.”

As part of the BBC’s Fa­ther­hood sea­son, the film also lays bare the re­la­tion­ship Len­non had with his ab­sen­tee dad Al­fred, who asked his son to choose be­tween him and his mother Ju­lia when Len­non was only five. Al­though he picked his fa­ther, Len­non ended up fol­low­ing his mother, who handed him over to her sis­ter Mimi, and he didn’t see his dad again for an­other 17 years.

In the drama, the scene where a young Len­non has to choose be­tween his par­ents on a day out in Black­pool, is shown as a flash­back, and jux­ta­posed against his in­dif­fer­ent treat­ment of his own son Ju­lian, by his first wife Cyn­thia.

“Hav­ing to do the scene and to dwell on the fact of what hap­pened to him as a five-year-old with his mother and fa­ther, when they said, ‘You choose’, I felt sym­pa­thetic for him,” says Ec­cle­ston.

“That re­ally hit home and it was an in­sight be­cause I felt that that in­ci­dent drove him on both in good ways and bad ways.”

Al­though the film shows Len­non’s darker side - the drugs, er­ratic be­hav­iour and choos­ing Yoko over Cyn­thia and Ju­lian - Ec­cle­ston main­tains he’s al­ways stuck up for John and Yoko.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing one fam­ily set-to, where I was con­fronting some­body about the fact that a lot of the vit­riol to­wards Yoko was racially based, and as an 18-year-old I thought that was wrong. I had an in­stinc­tive em­pa­thy for her be­cause she was an out­sider and I did pick up that they loved each other.

“I think what’s in­ter­est­ing is that John has been taken on as a lad icon and I think he prob­a­bly strug­gled with that all his life. He was con­strained by that ma­cho cul­ture and he was such a fem­i­nine man in the way he expressed him­self and in his mu­sic.”

He ad­mits that film­ing the drama has con­firmed what he felt was Len­non’s “con­tra­dic­tory na­ture”.

“The first time I re­mem­ber Len­non reg­is­ter­ing with me was the press con­fer­ence that he gave in de­fence of [say­ing], ‘We’re big­ger than Je­sus’. For a pop star to be talk­ing about is­sues like that and not kow-tow­ing to the press... He was of­fered end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties to apol­o­gise and it wasn’t an apol­ogy. But at the time he was mor­ti­fied that he’d spoilt it for the other three, one rumour is that he was in tears be­cause he’d ru­ined it for [them].”

The ac­tor, dressed to­day in a sim­ple black jumper and jeans which re­flect his downto-earth per­son­al­ity, was keen to play Len­non, but only if the script was right.

“Be­cause I was in­ter­ested in John, I cer­tainly wasn’t go­ing to do [a drama] that I thought didn’t do him credit or Yoko credit or the Bea­tles. It would be such a mis­take,” he says.

“Any old poxy writer who wants to get some at­ten­tion, will write some­thing about John Len­non, so the im­por­tant thing was the script. I thought it was very orig­i­nal the way Robert cap­tured John’s voice. I think John would love it. There’s all these ver­sions of him run­ning around, he’d love it, it’s like per­for­mance art. ‘Oh there’s an­other me’,” he says, in Len­non’s nasal Liver­pudlian twang.

So how did Ec­cle­ston be­gin to play some­one he ad­mired so much?

“At the be­gin­ning,” he jokes. “You’ve got all this re­source of how he walked and talked and it’s mind­less rep­e­ti­tion in terms of watch­ing video, lis­ten­ing to au­dio tape, read­ing books. And you be­gin by re­ly­ing on Robert’s tal­ent and imag­i­na­tion. In the end it wasn’t those videos and tapes that got me through, they were a side is­sue to what he’d given me to say.”

At the end of a hard day’s work pre­tend­ing to be Len­non, Ec­cle­ston ad­mits he found it dif­fi­cult to leave him be­hind.

“I don’t method out. If you play a char­ac­ter like that, any char­ac­ter and you’re deal­ing with very dark episodes of their life, which this script does, I think you carry a bit of it with you. Not in­ten­tion­ally.

“The night be­fore we shot the fi­nal day, I hap­pened to read a fan­tas­tic in­ter­view with Paul McCart­ney where he talks about never in­ten­tion­ally sit­ting down to write a song about John’s death and he said if a song came he would write it.

“He men­tioned this song, Here To­day, and I was in the pub on my day off hav­ing some­thing to eat, read­ing this ar­ti­cle. I went home, down­loaded Here To­day and cried my eyes out. I think that was be­cause I was fin­ish­ing and I was not go­ing to be able to be him any­more. But in be­tween takes you have to have a laugh be­cause it’s a bit too dark not to have a laugh.”

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