Ian Ogilvy in his latest film, "We Still Kill the Old Way", now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Ian Ogilvy: Saints, Sorcerers and Secret Agents
Cinema Retro's Mark Mawston recently caught up with the legendary Ian Ogilvy to discuss projects past and present.
Mark Mawston: Ian, your film career began in the mid
60’s with The She Beast, directed by Michael Reeves. You had a great
relationship with him. How did that come about?
Ian Ogilvy: Well, when we were 15 years old we made
a couple of amateur movies together after we were introduced by a mutual friend
and we became great friends. I used to stay at his mother’s house with him in
Norfolk and over two years we made these two little amateur movies. I then lost
contact with him as I went off and did different things like attending drama
school and he went off and did lots of assistant director jobs and general “go-foring”
jobs in the movie industry. Then one day my English agent said “Have you heard
of a guy called Michael Reeves? He wants you to play the lead in his first
film!” So, as it turned out, he hadn’t forgotten me and I hadn’t forgotten him
and that’s how it came about.
MM: You seemed to be Reeves’ muse,
appearing in all three of his finished films (The She Beast, The Sorcerers and the
classic Witchfinder General). Through those films you worked with two of horror’s
greatest stars, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. What can you tell us about
IO: Well I wasn’t really his muse. The
thing about Michael was that he couldn’t really direct actors. He didn’t
understand what acting was all about so he left them pretty much alone. He only
liked to work with actors he knew and trusted. I simply became the actor he
trusted and that’s how we worked together. As for working with Boris, well he
was a complete delight, the most charming, courteous old man id ever met in my
life and quite funny, too. He always tried to do his best. Vincent on the other
hand, well its quite well known that he was an unhappy actor when doing this
film (Witchfinder General a.k.a The
Conqueror Worm) and really didn’t want to be there. He didn’t like Michael and
didn’t like the way he was being treated by Michael but still gave, I think,
one of his best ever performances in that movie. So Michael was right and he
was wrong. I didn’t have much to do with either of them bar meeting regarding
each film but other than that, didn’t really come across them. My knowledge of
Vincent specifically isn’t that great as I didn’t spend a lot of time working
with him. Our paths and parts ran parallel yet different, if you know what I
MM: Yes I believe the famous put down by
Reeves to Price;
Man, I have made over a hundred films, how many have you made”?
Reeves: “ Three good ones” cleared the air and led to, I agree, one of
Prices best performances.
After this you worked on Waterloo with
Christopher Plummer, Jack Hawkins and Orson Welles. Did you spend time with the
IO: Orson Welles spent one day on set and it
was miles away from where I was! His entire role was shot in one or two days,
filmed in Italy or somewhere. I didn’t get to meet Rod Steiger, either, as
there was no need to because they got all the French actors to come in and do
their stuff, then get the British actors in. There was no particular reason for
us to meet. Although I do wish I’d met Orson Welles. I don’t think anyone did!
MM: What was the overall experience working
on Waterloo, as it was so different in set-up and sheer scale?
IO: Well, the sheer scale was enormous. It was a vast project. It
couldn’t be done today, or if it was, it would all be CGI. We had over 25,000
extra’s which was The Red army, The Russian army. We were given whole
regiments. The Director Sergei Bondarchuk had made War and Peace a few years earlier, an 8 or 9 hour epic using
the same soldiers so they all knew about dressing up in uniforms (laughs). It
was a huge film, the biggest I’ve ever been involved with.
MM: You’ve starred in some of the most
beloved cult TV shows, such as The Avengers and Ripping Yarns. Did you prefer
TV and did it give you more scope as an actor?
IO: When people ask actors that they tend
to say it would be films for the money, TV for the regular bread and butter,
which is what you did the most in order to give yourself a decent living and the
theatre for the material, as the material is always better than TV or
film. I loved doing films but they
didn’t come around as often as TV shows. TV was a general staple in those days,
if not now, though things have changed . Back then , if you’d looked at TV from
6:00 PM in the evening until late at night when it stopped, TV would be
employing actors. Now it just seems to be quiz shows, cooking shows and so-called
reality shows. We, as young actors, had more opportunity than they do now. I
liked TV, as it gave me my daily bread.
MM: Were you approached by The Pythons for
IO: (laughs) I don’t know to be honest with
you! I think I may have gone and read for them or they knew me from before. I
hardly remember how I got that, but it was a joyous job.
MM: It was on again recently and holds up
wonderfully and your turn in it was especially good. Bar long running series
Upstairs Downstairs, you’re most recognized for your role as Simon Templer in
Return of The Saint. How did that come about? Did producer Bob Baker spot you?
IO: No, it was Bob’s wife who spotted me in
Upstairs Downstairs and said “Bob, if you ever do another Saint, that guy would
be good” which was odd really, as my character in that program was so weak, so effeminate,
that I was surprised she made the connection. Still, Bob trusted her judgment
and his agent called me and Bob took me to dinner and asked that- if he did get
a new series off the ground- would I be willing to do it? I said “Sure”, but I
forgot all about it for several years, as I didn’t hear anything back. Then in
the late 70’s, all of a sudden, it came back again and he managed to raise the
money, as he’d managed to get Lord Lew
Grade to back it. So it happened after talking about it all those years before.
Return of the Saint
MM: It shows your range as an actor, that
you can play a total fop and yet still be seen as an all action hero
IO: She had a lot of vision, that lady
MM: That reminds me of Dana Broccoli recommending Sean Connery to Cubby Broccoli for Bond, which leads us nicely into the next question as, once again, you could have slipped into Roger Moore’s shoes when he didn’t want to do another Bond in the early 80’s. The good money was on you and Lewis Collins, both big TV action stars (Collins via The Professionals) at the time. Can you tell us about that?
IO: Well, every time the press had a slow news day the tabloids, having no new stories, would run another piece on who was going to be the next James Bond, especially when Roger was beginning to wind down and Lewis and me and Mike Kitchener and a whole bunch of others were always up there on the page. It was a mainstay. “Who was going to be the next Bond”? Then one day I was having lunch in the country with a friend and there was also this American lady there who turned out to be one of the Eon production chiefs and after lunch she said “Come with me into the garden, as I want to talk to you about this”. Anyway she said “Look, it’s really not my place to tell you this but I think it would be nice to tell you as, as far as the Bond thing goes, you’ve obviously been discussed. It’s been decided that if we wanted another Roger Moore then you would be it but we’ve decided that we don’t want another Roger Moore. We want another Sean Connery, so I’m afraid you’re out”. I was relieved, to be honest, as I could now tell the journalists positively that I wasn’t going to be the next Bond in any way, shape or form and it let me off the hook.
MM: How did you come to write your very successful children’s books about Measle Stubbs, which would make a great Christmas BBC special, especially Train Set of Terror?
IO: We’ll I’d written a couple of grown-up books that hadn’t been that well received, well not poorly received but no one had bought them bar my mother! But then I saw this train set at a director friend’s house in London. I’d been visiting and I’d been put in a room to wait and in there was this amazing train set which, instead of just being set up on a table, went around the walls and over the doors. He’d spent hours doing it but it wasn’t so much the trains that were interesting but the scenery in in its amazing detail. For instance, there was a mountain pass with a path winding up into it and on there was an old Victorian nanny pushing her old Victorian pram- but around the corner waiting for her was a tiger! I thought it was the most inventive thing I’d seen in my life and then, of course, I thought, what would happen if a little boy was put into this? I’d never written for children and was writing totally on spec and didn’t know what I was doing but it seems to have worked as it’s been translated into 25 languages, so that’s how that came about.
MM: I believe you have a new film out, We Still Kill The Old Way, which has just been released on Blu-Ray and DVD. Can you tell us a little about that?
IO: I’m very excited about this film as, although it’s a low budget movie, I think it’s rather fun and is a major departure for me. It’s the part of a retired gangster, like a Kray or Richardson or one of the London gangsters, who is elderly and now living in Spain when he learns that his brother, played by Steven Berkoff, has been killed by a gang of feral youths. A gang of nasty, out of control kids roaming the streets of London, causing mayhem wherever they go. So my character comes back to London and gets his, now elderly, gang back together and goes looking for them. It’s a nice take on the old legend of old versus the young. I have to say I’m proud of it and hope it does well.
MM: A few have compared it to Harry Brown but think this is the better film
IO: Well that’s wonderful. They are already talking about a sequel, well two sequels if possible using the same team.
MM: A sort of British Expendables then?
IO: (Laughs) Well, even older than that, more Elderly Expendables. But we’re not the good guys, were the BAD guys. Were vicious and ruthless but have a code of honour. Someone pointed out the other day that they’d never heard me utter a four letter word in a film but it’s every other word in this one. Unless I’m talking to a woman of course!
MM: How very English!
IO: (Laughs). Indeed!
MM: Thank you Ian
IO: Thank you.
(Thanks to: Gemma Sharp at Organic Publicity and Michael Smith.)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "WE STILL KILL THE OLD WAY" ON BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON UK