One-time Hammer Films heartthrob Shane Briant is now a successful award-winning author living in Australia. STEWART KING spoke to Shane for The Spooky Isles about the joys of writing, his recent acting roles and life Downunder
Stewart: Are you actually dead?
Shane: Yes. I say this just so that so many people in England will stop asking each other if I am still alive. I want to give them some peace of mind. Some certainty. If I crop up, as I will, in certain movies such as Roland Joffe’s wonderful film ‘Singularity’ they can say “Hey, that guy looks just like Shane Briant!” Incidentally, I met Grahame Greene at a house party in Essex when I was 13 and I asked him if we were all alive or possibly all dead. He advised me we were dead.
Stewart: Of course, I know you have this whole dynamic and creative existence in Australia that many of your Hammer fans are entirely unaware of. Am I right in saying the pursuit of a righteous woman initially brought you to Oz?
Shane: I met my divine Wendy in London 35 years ago. Each year, we’d have to leave England and come back in so that Wendy’s visa was stamped again because she was an Aussie. A fun practise but worrying, as each time it was possible Immigration would refuse her re-entry. So when the film ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was premiered in Sydney and Fox Columbia brought Sylvia Kristel and me out to Australia and I saw how the film industry here was going gangbusters I decided to try to stay. The fact, my mum was an Aussie didn’t count. But because my ‘main squeeze’ was an Aussie I was granted entry.
Stewart: You’re still embarrassingly prolific acting in mainstream movies and on TV and you’ve had a number of fiction books published as well as your recent autobiography ‘Always The Bad Guy.’ Before I touch upon those can you tell me about your writing for the screen and the short movie – ‘A Message From Fallujah’ – you wrote which won Best Of The Fest Award at the 2005 Los Angeles International Short Film Festival?
Shane: A brilliant young commercials director named Richard Gibson asked me to write a short film to showcase his talents. I agreed. I then asked my pal, American writer director Jeffrey Bloom for ideas. He directed me to ‘An Incident at Owl Creek.’ Brilliant short story. ‘The Sixth Sense’ was based on the same premise. I set my version in Iraq at the time foreigners were being beheaded there every week. It was strong stuff. The film starred Lance Henriksen. He was brilliant. As was the film. It was accepted in countless film festivals and won heaps of awards. The best awards was Best in the Fest at LA Shorts. We almost made the Oscars!
Stewart: I’d like to touch upon your recent foray into horror fiction ‘Worst Nightmares.’ You’ve had five acclaimed thriller novels published in Australia but what was the US publishing experience like for you?
Shane: Publishing in Australia is great but it’s a small pond here unless you also crack the US market. That’s the ocean. I’d had five books published here before my agent Laura Blake Petersen at Curtis Brown in New York snagged a deal with Vanguard Press. I was ecstatic. They promised to look after me – they were, so they said, thinking of at ‘least’ three books. I attended the American Book Fair and signed books for three hours. I got wonderful reviews and everyone said it was great. But for some reason (lack of cash?) Vanguard passed on the sequel so I was shattered. I published ‘The Dreamhealer’ myself.
Stewart: I know you did a tour to promote it. Was that a valuable exercise and did you have any rock ‘n’ roll moments on the road?
Shane: One incident I remember well. I telephoned Barnes and Noble and Borders in Santa Monica from LA asking if they’d like me to sign my books. They replied “Great! Come on up!” I drove up the following day. Took almost three hours. Arriving in Borders, the manager shook my hand and offered me the ONE book they had in stock. I asked him if they had a re-order policy when they ran out and he replied he did. I bought the book myself. Disappointed, I went down the street to Barnes and Noble. Same thing. Two books. I bought them both. Then I hit a bar and ordered a giant Margarita. The guy next to me asked what I was doing in the US so I told him my story. He called over the bartender and said, “Listen up, this guy here comes all the way from Australia to promote his book. He then drives for three hours to get to Santa Monica. Finds there are just three books here. So he buys them himself!” Everyone at the bar laughed hugely.
Stewart: You’ve obviously done your fair share of interviews over the years. Rather than ask you what your Worst Nightmare is what is the question that makes a chill hand clutch your bowel?
Shane: Have you ever worked with anyone famous.’ I hate this question because it’s so shallow. Of course I have – every actor works with ‘famous’ people. But I think of people such as Newman, Hurt, de Havilland and Huston as legends – not famous. Besides, kids these days haven’t heard of Newman or Huston. Just justin Beiber and Jessica Simpson.
Stewart: As well as recently making all your novels since 1995 available on Amazon you’ve also penned a sequel to Worst Nightmares – The DreamHealer. You’re very active online – www.shanebriant.com. Are you an author who is embracing the new Kindle culture?
Shane:Absolutely! As far as I know all my books are available as downloads for just a few dollars. Maybe two or three bucks. Surely everyone can afford that? You have to go with the flow, and eBooks are it!
Stewart: You’ve just finished work on ‘Singularity,’ a movie currently in post-production directed by Roland (Killing Fields) Joffe playing the Governor Of Bombay. Is acting in such a high profile movie still the ultimate creative experience for you?
Shane: I think writing is possibly the most creative experience. I wish I was a brilliant writer. Sure, I can write a real page-turning thriller that people love. Escapist stuff. But when I read Nabokov, Tolstoy and Greene, I know I am in the third league. But at least I am popular and occasionally I win awards. By contrast, acting is an interpretive medium. I adore working on really fine films with legendary directors such as Joffe. I also love working on great television material such as ‘Rake’ because it’s brilliantly written and has wonderful actors such as Richard Roxbrough to work with.
Stewart: Will you be in Cannes for the premiere of ‘Singularity’ this month?
Shane: I believe ‘Singularity’ was at one time an entry at Cannes. But due to some technical difficulties it isn’t ready. I am soooo sad. I have never been to the festival and would love to be part of it.
Stewart: David Saunderson, the Australia-born editor of The Spooky Isles, would like me to ask you about your role in the controversial Channel 9 TV show ‘Underbelly,’ which recreated some of the more brutal gang crimes in Melbourne. Sounds like a walk through the tulips. Was it fun?
Shane: That was a weird thing. I was asked to play a high ranking police chief. But when I watched the show I was chopped! Don’t quite know why. Probably a time factor. I think the first series was unquestionably the best. Didn’t like ‘The Razor Wars’ so much.
Stewart: With the release of the Hammer films on gorgeous Blu-Ray I understand you’ve done some commentaries. Does your significant contribution to these classics seem like another lifetime now? Was it a creatively rewarding time? What I’m really getting at is – were you a bad boy in the seventies?
Shane: Looking back I wish I had let myself go a bit more and taken advantage of more opportunities. I was very attractive as a young man and girls liked me. Even more the boys because I looked somewhat androgynous. But I had a girlfriend and didn’t get up to nearly enough naughtiness. I should have made a play for Gillian Hills for sure. I constantly think of her. And at the premier of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ I was asked by a cougar who was head of a Parisienne Perfume company to join a midnight party that consisted only of beautiful French gay women. I would be their token man to be ‘toyed with.’ Her words. I declined! Can you believe it? I declined. But how could I leave Wendy in the clutches of Phillip Junot?
Stewart: How does the seventies compare in terms of movie making today?
Shane: I’d say it’s pretty much the same. The only things that have changed are the technical factors. Having a TV screen so the director can see what’s being filmed. Post production expertise. CGI. New lighting. But basically the movie making is the same.
Stewart: A good time to talk about your humorous autobiography. From what I understand ‘Always The Bad Guy’ is actually something of a misnomer. I have to ask the relevant question at this point, however. Do nice guys playing bad guys always get to wear the best costumes?
Shane: The bigger the star the better the costume. Play a cameo and you usually get thrown something pretty ordinary. But if you’re Jeremy Irons, you get looked after. Whether you’re a good guy or bad guy.
Stewart: Talking of sartorial evil I’ve always felt that you could have played Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Like McDowell you emanate convivial menace. The sort of smile that seems to say ‘I’ll either take your granny for tea or leave her for dead in a dumpster.’ One of your best psychotic portrayals was in Hammer’s ‘Straight On Till Morning.’ It had a pessimistic and nasty charge. I wonder if it’s a movie you think of with affection?
Shane: Absolutely. It started my career off. I learned so much from Peter Collinson and Rita. It was basically a two-hander and to play such a demanding role so young is wonderful. I remember the first day of the shoot. I had to play the last scene of the film where I sit on the stairs while Rita listens to my killing tapes. I had to dissolve into tears and sob for three minutes. So we simply set up the scene. It was 8.15 in the morning. Peter said ‘You come out the door, sit down and then we’ll play you the tape. React to it and have a nervous breakdown. Okay?’ Don’t know how I did it, but somehow I did.
Stewart: Finally, what was the best prop you’ve ever stolen/appropriated/been presented with from the set of one of your movies?
Shane: The picture of Dorian Gray was given to me at the end of the American ABC shoot. I have it on the hall stairs. It’s the same (Goddamit!!!) and I am aging. Also, Sir Alec Guinness’ directors chair, given to me at the end of ‘Chatterley’ by the props department.