British Icon of the Week: Ian McShane, the Fantastic Character Actor Who Always Tells It Like It Is
Ian McShane isn't just an accomplished and supremely prolific actor who's delivered brilliant performances on TV (Deadwood, American Gods, Lovejoy) and in movies (Sexy Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the John Wick series). He's also a great character in his own right who seems incapable of giving a boring interview. To celebrate his birthday – McShane turned 78 earlier this week – here's a reminder of some of his most memorable plain-speaking moments.
1. The time he shut down any suggestion of thespian pretentiousness.
Asked during an Off Camera interview whether he considered John Hurt, with whom he studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), more of a "friend" or "mentor," McShane replied: "A friend! We were 19 years old [and] at drama school. We didn't go back and rehearse scenes – all that pretentious crap. We went out and got drunk and tried to hang out with girls – that's why I went to drama school!"
2. The time he was unapologetic about dropping spoilers.
After he gave away clues which enabled Game of Thrones fans to guess which character he'd be playing on the show – something they weren't too happy about – McShane remained entirely unrepentant. “You say the slightest thing and the internet goes ape," he told The Telegraph in 2016. "I was accused of giving the plot away, but I just think, 'Get a f**king life. It’s only t**s and dragons.'”
3. The time he defended Deadwood's last-minute rewrites.
When a Vulture interviewer suggested that many actors "hate" rewrites, McShane replied: "Only if it’s s**t! Good dialogue ain’t difficult to learn. It’s only the crap, the flavorless expository bull**it, that’s difficult to learn."
"This show didn’t do the s**t that so many other shows do, the s**t that makes actors hate the work," he continued. "It didn’t do that thing where some character re-explains the entire plot for the fifth time to another character — or when it did, it was to clarify something that was hard to follow, and the clarification would be done in a funny, exciting way, so it was fun to listen to."
4. The time he recalled drinking vodka for breakfast with John Hurt, but also explained why he's been sober for more than 30 years.
“I worked with George C Scott and Robert Mitchum too — all these guys were like legends. We all used to learn our lines in the pub. Now people are paranoid if somebody has a glass of wine at lunch," he told The Times a few years ago. “Believe me, the hell-raising years were a lot of fun, although some of it was rather painful. I’d never thought of [stopping], but one day I thought, ‘This is not good,’ and went to AA. And that was it."
5. The time he revealed he's not such a huge fan of modern superhero movies.
Asked what blockbusters have over smaller movies, McShane told Little White Lies in 2017: "The catering. So many of these superhero movies now are all dark and depressing. They used to be about bright sunlight. I was on location last year and I took a glimpse at Batman v Superman. Jesus. Apart from being incredibly boring, dear God almighty, I didn’t know what was going on."
6. The time he explained why he doesn't like being called a "national treasure."
"I never wanted a life of having a nice house, driving around, settling down. I hate that expression – what is it? – national treasure," he told The Independent in 2010. When asked if he considers himself to be one, McShane replied: "No, please, I'd have to get on a f**king plane and never come back if I ever get considered one of those."
7. The time he refuted any suggestion that he's a "sell-out."
McShane has often spoken about being branded a "sell-out" because he starred in Lovejoy, a relatively cozy Sunday night drama that aired on BBC One between 1986 and 1994. "Soon as you do Sunday night TV, they go, ‘Sold out! He’s sold out!’ That’s how they think of me,” he told The Guardian a few years ago. “There are some films I can’t remember being in, that’s true. But sold out? Nah, I’m having too much fun to think that way.”
8. The time he paid tribute to Sean Connery at the American Film Institute (AFI), and made the Bond legend cry with laughter.
McShane's tribute to Connery – with whom he starred in the 1974 movie Ransom a.k.a. The Terrorists – is filled with warmth and affection. And his impersonation of the Scottish actor is pretty "schpot-on," too.
9. The time he admitted he doesn't rate his 2012 movie Snow White and the Huntsman.
"The less said about that the better,” he told The Guardian in 2017. “We [McShane and Ray Winstone] were the best things in the movie. But by the time we’d spent six hours getting fake asses and prosthetics, we only had three hours to shoot in. These people pay you a lot of money and you want it to be good. But sometimes you want to say, ‘Hey guys, you know, get it together.’”
10. The time he was only too happy to tell GQ about the last time he was in a police station.
It was "in L.A., about 42 years ago," McShane recalled. "At two in the morning, I was driving in the Valley and stopped a police car to ask the way. They said, 'Have you been drinking, sir?' I said, 'Of course I’ve had a drink; it’s two in the morning.' I paid a £400 ($520) fine the next day and that was it."
He then added drolly: "The funny thing was, the cop came out [of the car] and talked to me, and at the same time, he looked behind and said, 'Does it show anything on his record?' And I look round, and it was a police woman who looked exactly like Lucille Ball, but with a police outfit on. Earrings, hair up, the holster in the gun – I’ll come willingly."
Do you have a favorite Ian McShane moment or role?