Quatermass and the Pitt’s star talks about the digital remastering of a timeless classic.
Starburst: You play Colonel Breen in Quatermass and the Pit. What are your thoughts on the character; would you, for example, describe him as the villain of the piece?
Julian Glover: Well, he’s not a villain, is he? And, anyway, when you play baddies as I have - which I’ve quite a career of doing - you can’t possibly go in thinking I’m the baddy. Even if it’s not in the script, you’ve got to invent why he does things. Breen is not a villain: he’s not out to destroy anything or to spoil anything. He got it wrong, completely and utterly wrong. Someone described him as the idiot of the piece, but I wouldn’t put it that far. He’s just not bright enough to understand what’s gong on. He’s a military man, middle-class background, probably gone to Sandhurst. He’s used to defusing bombs and stuff like that. That’s where he did his training. And he gets this unique situation, but when you find a bomb there are certain courses of action, and he follows them. He doesn’t want to know when people like Quatermass are nosing about. He doesn’t want to know about that because he knows about defusing bombs, and he’s got it wrong. So I wouldn’t say he deserved his ending. (laughs)
Colonel Breen has a particularly gruesome death scene. What was that like to film?
Uncomfortable. Make-up of that kind is very uncomfortable. There’s a lot of stuff stuck on your face. He had to be burnt, you may remember. I always thought it was rather a mistake for him to have his hat on. They made it sort of smoke. His face was in such a state that I think his hat would have burnt. A difference of opinion that I didn’t win on.
How do you think the special effects of Quatermass and the Pit compare to the CGI of today’s science fiction films?
Well, they are not as good. It’s remarkable what they managed to achieve in those days without any trick photography or digital work. The appearance of the locusts was really well done. It was done with models which for those days was very satisfactory. Today not quite so much. I haven’t seen the re-mastering. Have you seen that?
We have, yes, and thought it was very good.
I was told it’s terrific.
They didn’t get round to all this clever mastering, digital stuff until comparatively recently. Even in Indiana Jones, my death is quite a dramatic business. That took three days to film. They’d do my face, then take it away and work on it frame by frame. Each little bit was shot separately, which they don’t do now. The effects are absolutely remarkable; I mean, how did they do that! The latest Star Wars film: how did they do that! But earlier on - when I was coming up - and even as far as Indiana Jones, they were frame by frame shooting with film. So that’s the difference. But, of course, the effects are better and more spectacular. I think it’s quiet remarkable what they achieved in the older days.
I’m hoping that as a result of doing all these interviews, I’m going to be given a copy of it.
You’ve not had a copy yet?
I’m not asking you for one! (laughs)
Ahem. What are your thoughts on the underlying themes of Quatermass and the Pit: religion, black magic, and social unrest?
That’s one of the reasons why it’s successful. There’s a mysterious thing that we’re trying to understand. What’s so great about Quatermass is that ordinary everyday people go to the underground station, and suddenly this extraordinary, mysterious thing happens. You don’t discover what the mystery is until about three-quarters through the film, and up until then it’s about trying to work out what the bloody thing is? And when it breaks open and those locust things come out. Wow! It really is exciting. And it’s mysterious: what on earth are they? They are not fully explained. Which I think is a very satisfactory thing to happen in the film. You never get a full explanation. It’s not being lazy; it’s not bad script writing, absolutely intentional. They remain mysterious right to the end. And you never know, it could happen again. It’s the same thing in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That theme is the constant thing of it. My character has got the secret; he doesn’t know what to do with it. He just hasn’t got the last piece of the puzzle. And, of course, he gets that wrong, and our hero gets it right. Because he would, wouldn’t he?
Why do you think Quatermass continues to appeal to audiences 44 years after it was originally released?
It’s been a cult film for a long time. Nigel Kneal just knew how to write a script. It was an advantage for our film to have the television series as a precursor. We knew that it was a successful story, and that was why Hammer took the great risk. This was a big break away for Hammer, and it obviously paid off. We’ll have to see whether the modern audience like it. It will be very interesting to see whether it will get another cinema showing. That would be really great.
You’ve worked with many great directors over the years; what was it like working with Roy Ward Baker?
Oh lovely. He’s still with us, you know? He’s very sharp, very on the ball, knows exactly what he wants, and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Nor do I, and nor should anyone who is any good at their job, in my opinion. So if people are misbehaving he doesn’t tolerate that. I wouldn’t say he was a charming man, but a good chap to be with. I like him very much.
You have had a long and established career in TV, film, and stage. You have appeared in both the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchises. How does Quatermass compare to your other works?
It’s a completely different story, of course, all three have what you referred to as this mysterious, secret core. Star Wars is a representation of a religious belief. Indiana Jones is bound up with the occult, secrets and magic, and so is Quatermass and the Pitt. I think the later films are more polished, but it doesn’t mean to say they are better. But it may turn out that this new version will come up to standard.
We think it’s a really good movie, and this new version does it justice. You won’t be disappointed.
Good, I’m looking forward to it.
Julian Glover, thank you very much.
Quatermass and the Pit (Blu-ray) will be released on October 10th 2011