"I was always very keen on Blackbeard when I was growing up."
Kevin McNally from Bristol, England, is known to nearly everybody for the series "Pirates of Caribbean“ as Mr. Gibbs, the trusty pirate who sails under Jack Sparrows flag. Before out interview starts, the gentleman orders "Einen Verlängerten mit lots of Heisswasser“ and explains, that he also talks "ein bisschen Deutsch".
Nice to meet you! Nice to have you here!
It’s very nice to be here!
Is it your first time in Vienna?
No, I first came to Vienna 40 years ago. I made a movie here, which I made in Italy and here in Vienna. And since then I’ve been here since you know, travel and I also been here for another Comic Con. It’s perhaps my fourth visit
May I ask you, if it was a historical movie?
It was. It was an Italian movie about the war, about the Nazis. It was about the guys in the suits who ran everything, basically. And about a love triangle. Because I was a diplomat with a German wife and we met this Japanese woman and all sorts of shenanigans that were involved. The film completely tanked and no one ever has heard of it. But I had a good time in Rome and in Vienna.
I’m asking this, because of your role in Pirates of the Caribbean, I was thinking, when you got into acting - because actors get to be a bit categorized maybe. You start making this kind of movie, and then you stay in this genre. Were you already playing a lot of historical drama then?
I starting acting in a theatre. And in fact I really started by doing modern American plays in the 70ies when I was a young man. That was what I liked, but I did television, I did a lot of period drama on television. By the time I was 46, I was a jobbing, working, character actor. I thought, I suppose, I would never be on a Hollywood backlot. So I decided to stop working for a while and try to get some small roles, so that if a good role came up I would be on the list to do movies. And indeed Pirates came up and changed the life of a 46 year old character actor and turned me into an old pirate.
How did you prepare for the role? Did you read up about nautical history or pirate history?
No, I just drank a lot of rum! That’s what I did.
No, there wasn’t a lot of research, for two reasons. One is that it’s got very little to do with real history and piracy. The other is I grew up in the 60ies and early 70ies on the pirate films of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power. And also Long John Silver – Treasure Island. Robert… I can’t remember his name, it will come back to me [the legendary Robert Newton as Long John Silver]. That sort of that piraty voice that they have, I felt I was steeped in it anyway. So it wasn’t a much of a leap to go. I knew exactly who this man is, I have to play. Research I did though, was to get my mutton chops. Because my character originally came from the Navy, we decided he would have a regulation Navy mutton chop and also that his costume would be a naval costume, as if he would have bee thrown out of the Navy. When they threw you out of the Navy, they ripped your buttons off, and they ripped your sleeves off. So we automatically had a look for him.
Is it known, what happened to Gibbs between the first scene and when they meet him? Why was he thrown out of the Navy?
Actually what happened was because of a misunderstanding. Whey you go and do a read-through for a film, sometimes they ask you to read other parts. And there was this superstitious naval man at the beginning. He wasn’t Mr. Gibbs. But they asked if I’d read it. And when I read it, and then waited for a while, and then Mr. Gibbs came on, the writer went ‘Oh wouldn’t it be great if that character was Mr. Gibbs!’ And he was so scared of pirates, the only way to calm him down was to become a pirate, because you can’t be scared of yourself. So that was a complete accident really. But I’m really glad it happened, because it meant that I have the first line of the film, which was an honor really. [He contues after a short break with the voice of Mr. Gibbs] "Quiet, Missy!"
There are three characters in the whole movie series …
Four? Who’s the fourth?
The monkey! Is he a character?
He is a character. He’s called Jack the Monkey.
Was it always the same monkey?
No. It was actually two monkeys. One was a male monkey that was the stunt monkey. So he would do all the stunts. And the one that was usually on Geoff’s [Geoffrey Rush, Captain Barbossa] shoulder was a female monkey, we called the acting monkey. She was horrible. God, you wouldn’t want to go near her. She was so aggressive and nasty. But the stunt monkey, he was really sweet. Would do anything for a nut.
So, you’re one of the few characters which are in the whole series, three people. How did you become so important for these movies?
I think by being brilliant. I think mainly because if it wasn’t for me, Jack Sparrow wouldn’t know what was going on. So I have to explain everything to him. I suppose the character became like a father figure for Jack Sparrow. It was sort of obvious when they moved on, that it would be great to develop that. And in the second one in fact – it’s my favorite one – because Jack and I have the most stuff to do together. That sort of faded out in the course of the films when they tried to introduce other characters. I think it was best, when they stuck with the original characters. They should have had more Mr. Gibbs in the last two.
Yes, of course!
Do you have a real life favorite pirate?
Oh you mean of the supposedly real pirates? I was always very keen on Blackbeard when I was growing up. Funny enough, the very first job I did in a theatre was Treasure Island. With late-great Del Henney playing Long John Silver… I recently read the book for Audio. So I was sixteen when I played Jim Hawkins and 30 years later I play another pirate… That book – Treasure Island – has always figured in life. I was thinking about having a peg leg, but then I thought I didn’t want to spend that much time in costume every morning trying to get a peg leg on..
I think you’re now in the right age to be a brilliant Long John Silver.
I think I am, yes! Let’s make sure that it is printed in England as well and in America.
I will spread the word!
Spread the word, we have a new Long John Silver in town.
You were also on Doctor Who, I think – like every British actor was. I ask this question, because Stefan [Cernohuby, Chefredakteur Janetts Meinung] over there is a really big fan of Doctor Who. What was your role?
In 1983 I was in the very first episodes of Colin Baker [6. Doktor]. A character named Lieutenant Hugo Lang of the Space Police. I’ve been interviewed about that quite a lot and I always try to put the interviewers at their ease by saying ‘Before we start, I want you to know, I’m fully aware that The Twin Dilemma is widely regarded as the shittest Doctor Who episode ever made. So you know, that I know that.
(Stefan shakes his head in disapproval)
He doesn’t agree with it. Last year I had the great pleasure of being asked to play with Jodie Whittaker [13. Doktor] and I played a character who was named Professor Eustacius Jericho in the Flux-stories last year. For some wonderful reason my character was very well liked and well loved and it brought me a new generation of Doctor Who fans, what I really enjoy. Which reminds me, can someone bring me a picture of Eustacius Jericho that I can sign?
What are your future plans in acting? Could you tell us what’s going on with you?
Yes, there’s a wonderful movie coming out, later in the year, which is a prequel to the movie Rosemary’s Baby from 1968, so it’s a Horror film and I’ve never really done Horror before, and I really love it. I really love Science-fiction, but Horror is next. And I got two TV series coming out. The rest of the year will be travel and conventions, which I quite like. Then next year I’m going to appear in the Alex Rider series. Which I don’t know much about, but apparently it’s a very popular series of books that high school kids like to read.
As this is a Comic Con – have you thought about going into the superhero genre as well?
Whenever they invent a super-granddad, I’ll be there, okay? But until that time, I think I rather missed my opportunity as a superhero. I suppose I could be a superhero’s dad… or Perry White [Chief editor, Daily Planet!] or something.
Perry White – yeah, there are wonderful support characters.
You know, the problem is – and I learned this during Pirates of the Caribbean – when we first started 20 years ago, we did everything for real. As time went on, we were working more and more on green screen. Which I find very boring. I know that the people who work Marvel films have to work on green screen. The only thing I’m hoping is, that there is a new technique developed for The Mandalorian, which is huge screens, so that you’re actually acting in an environment that the film will look like. Maybe if they do that, maybe I’ll go and do a Marvel film.
In Pirates of the Caribbean you were at location, and there was a ship built up for real.
Oh yeah, in the first three, but in the last two it became more about green screens and big ships on gimbles and controlled environments. I suppose it saves them money, but it makes it boring for the actors. It takes away, when there’s too much CGI, it takes away the energy of the film. I like when CGI is used to help the picture, rather than be the whole picture.
My thoughts: Pirates of the Caribbean is based on a Disneyland ride, which is mostly puppets and moving objects, so it’s supposed to look like that. Stuff you can get your grip on.
Yeah, sort of hyper-reality sort of thing. Amazing really, that it’s based on a ride in a theme park. I didn’t quite get that first. Because everybody of my generation in America would know the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I had never been as a child to Disneyland, so I didn’t know what it was about. I was mystified during the whole event until it came out and was successful and then I realized it was an ongoing franchise that some of the people loved.
Yes, and I think they probably didn’t know with the first one that they will start a franchise …
Yeah I think they were in panic. They were panicking. And I know there were a lot of suits around trying to make it more like the ride. I think they didn’t… they definitely didn’t like what Johnny [Depp] was doing until the audience did, and then they loved it.
You know why? Is it BECAUSE he was drunk all the time …
Yeah, and camp as well.
… which is very 18. Century
Yeah of course, he’s a dandy! They didn’t like that sort of drunkenness. But you know… history proved them wrong.
I think all of the sidekicky characters in Pirates of the Caribbean were wonderful.
It’s nice, rich bunch of people, isn’t it?
You see them just for moments, and they already have character.
Instantly. I think it can’t be said enough of Johnny that he did something very rare, that he instantaneously created a legendary character. One of the most famous characters in the world. He did it from day one. He had the performance from day one.
Last question: do you stay longer in Vienna and what do you want to see or do?
I came a bit early and saw a lot of the galleries and the art here, drink coffee, drink a lot of Rosé Wein, and eat a lot of Schnitzel. That’s being my time here.
Thank you very much and have a nice Arrrrr!
(Pirates voice:) I have a lovely Arrrr, thank you very much.Fotos von Michael Seirer Photography