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Robert Carlyle
On Eragon and 28 Weeks Later

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We don’t mind saying that we went into our chat with Robert Carlyle in a state of fear and nervous panic. We heard that he doesn’t like interviews, that he can be difficult and prickly. What tosh – he was talkative, and in a good mood. He plays bad guy Durza, an Ozzy Osbourne-type who's trying to kill Eragon, and thus far failing quite spectacularly. It’s an interesting role for the Scottish actor, who resolutely tries to avoid big-budget movies…

You tend to avoid Hollywood blockbusters. So what was it about Eragon that broke down your defences?
True, in the first part! (laughs) I do kind of avoid it. There’s just something about this that appealed to me when I read the script. I knew it was a big-budget fantasy thing but what came across to me was the very old-fashioned good vs evil going on in this world, of course good represented by Eragon and evil represented by myself and John Malkovich. So that was the first thing that struck me about it. The love affair, I think it is, between the boy and the dragon is the stuff of fables and the stuff of fairy tales and I couldn’t quite believe that it was a 15 year old boy who had actually written this stuff. How sickening is that? (laughs) So I thought this is interesting. Because it’s coming from a 15 year old boy’s mind, that must be his idea of a dragon, his idea of his relationship with a dragon. The more I read, the more I saw the innocence that’s represented by Eragon and his family. I’ve got three kids under five and the innocence that they have just kills you, it’s fantastic and so I began to think 'I understand this'. I wouldn’t have understood it ten years ago, to be honest with you, but I think I understand it a lot more now. I can imagine a 12 year old loving this. I would have loved this, for the first time in my career it was revisiting that time in my life.

Do you think your kids will love this?
I wouldn’t have understood it ten years ago, to be honest with you, but I think I understand it a lot more now. I can imagine a 12 year old loving this.
Eventually. They may be a bit too young to see it at the moment. If they make more and more of the films, they’ll grow up with it!

There’s a lot of elements in Eragon that have been culled from other sources, from Joseph Campbell to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
That is again what’s remarkable about it. I can understand if people would look at this and go ‘well, that’s just bits of that and that’s like that’ but I go, yes that’s the inspiration. Lord of the Rings, or whatever is an inspiration certainly for Christopher and maybe Harry Potter is an inspiration for him. But what’s at the heart of this is actually something quite different. It’s more personal than your Lord of the Rings type story with a global battle that’s going on, you know? Harry Potter tends to dwell on the darker side and there’s a big blackness in those films. With this one, it’s about Ed’s character and the family and his relationship with the dragon which is the thing that really makes this different from the others.

How do you play a villainous archetype, like Durza, without making it seem like a pantomime?
That’s the balance. That’s the line you’re trying to walk. Equally, you can’t make it real. You start getting that stuff too real, you’ve lost it and the whole thing will just fall apart. I suppose in a sense it’s heightened realism. I’ve done that before with other stuff but this is probably the biggest performance I’ve given in a long, long time and it has to be, as you say, just bordering on that pantomime world because it needs that size. Look at the size of that dragon and look at the size of everything that’s going on. You can’t be walking onto that set whispering to yourself, and the performance has to be expansive. It was a nice challenge for me, it’s not something I do that often.

We imagine even with Bond [Carlyle was in The World Is Not Enough], you were working with mainly practical effects. Here it’s all greenscreen and tennis balls on sticks and massive gimbals…
That’s a leap of faith, that stuff. You’re looking into a bank of computer monitors down there and these guys, these technical wizards, are orchestrating the whole thing and you have to put your trust in them. You have to say ‘ok, I understand that that wee tennis ball on a stick is going to be a dragon’s eye and this wee hydraulic platform rocking back and forth, it’s actually going to look that I’m on top of a big beast’ And if you accept that for the performance, beef it up a bit, hopefully you’ll get through it.

And the hair and make-up helps, right?
Everyone in the country is dead, there’s only a few survivors, congregated in what they call District 1 - the London Docklands
The hair and the make-up, that helps a great deal, man. You don’t need to act that much when you get that on. (laughs)

Now you’ve just finished 28 Weeks Later, another genre film. Have the floodgates opened for you?
It’s looking like it, doesn’t it? I don’t know what’s happened. What’s going on with my career? Help!

How was 28 Weeks Later?
Well, 28 Weeks Later was an easy call because that’s Danny Boyle and Andrew MacDonald, two of my great buddies from the past who started me off from the beginning of my career and it was a great buzz to work with them again.

What can you tell us about it, in comparison to 28 Days Later?
It’s different in the respect that everyone in the country is dead, right? There’s only a few survivors that are left, that congregated within what they call District 1 down in the Docklands at the City of London. And they’re trying to repopulate the British Isles. Anyone who’s been outside the country while the infection has taken place are starting to come back. My character and my wife have avoided the infection. My wife has gone but the kids are starting to come back and my secret is that I’ve deserted my wife, and I have to tell the kids this tremendous lie and the story continues from there…

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