A Tolkienist’s Perspective meets Sylvester McCoy!
There has been an unusual delay from my end in posting on this blog. Things seem to have quietened down since my last announcement on Billy Boyd’s “The Last Goodbye”. And yet, in The Hobbit world, things have been moving steadily along towards the final release.
In the meantime, I have been busy with a significant event in my life; the reason for which can be gleaned from the title and as compiled in the following post …
It’s quite a long read, so it should make up for the lack of updates over the past few weeks 🙂
– It all starts with regret
If there’s one thing I still regret to this day, is not plucking up enough courage to walk up to Stephen Fry.
It was around January 2007 and information had seeped through that filming of Eichmann (2007) was taking place close to where I lived. I was excited mainly due to the fact that Thomas Kretschmann was starring in the role.
Until then, I had never met nor ever seen (first-hand) a popular actor or any other celebrity. Meeting with any cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings felt impossible. Having seen Kretschmann in Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) two years prior, the closest thing I could get to that was by not missing a chance to meet with this actor who had worked with the Director! 😉
So on this particular day, I went on location and dwelt within close proximity of the set. I could barely see anything except a few film crew members (most of filming took place round the corner of a huge wall in front of me!). With my camera in hand, I waited for hours to see whether I could seize the chance to take a picture with Kretschmann (back then, the idea of smartphones and selfies was inconceivable).
I probably spent over 3 hours in the sun, hoping to catch a glimpse of something.
Then, suddenly, a few metres away from me a car stopped and out emerged a 50-something, 6-foot tall, man: Stephen Fry himself.
I had known of Fry before and respected him as an actor and a brilliant thinker. General Melchett’s imposing stupidity in Blackadder sprang to mind.
I went numb as I had just experienced a close encounter with a renowned actor. Sure enough, he immediately walked off towards the set, round the corner and disappeared.
My hopes of seeing him again (or Kretschmann) were lessened. But for some strange reason, I felt myself compelled to stand my ground and wait …
Another hour ticked by relentlessly, and my thoughts were now directed on my journey back, when from round that horrid corner came Stephen Fry.
He walked alone. The driver of the car stood next to the door ready to open it on his arrival.
I gripped my camera …
… within moments he would barely be 5 metres away. There I stood.
He arrived at the car and before entering looked round towards me: smiled, nodded and entered the vehicle.
Suffice to say, I deeply regretted not taking that step the second he closed the door and drove off.
Ever since that day, I couldn’t watch Stephen Fry on TV or a film without feel guilty at that missed opportunity.
Learning about and seeing him in The Hobbit trilogy years later certainly didn’t help!
I made a vow to myself that if ever I had another similar opportunity like this, I wouldn’t hesitate a second.
But that opportunity never came, until one day I heard a rumour …
– An opportunity comes knocking …
In May of this year, it was announced that Sylvester McCoy would attend a local Comic Expo event organized for the very first time.
I was ecstatic and determined not to miss this chance. I quickly contacted the organizers asking whether it would be possible to conduct a short interview with the actor for the purposes of this blog.
A few weeks later, I received a reply whether I would be interested in hosting and conducting the panel with Sylvester.
Who me? With Sylvester McCoy? Talking about The Hobbit and all that? In front of an audience?
Whilst anxiety levels rose (I’m not the most social of human beings, as you may now), I said “yes” without hesitation. The prospect of it still being months away lessened the terrifying feeling.
Still, I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to meet and talk to one of the cast on a Middle-earth film … who’d have thought?
– The Big Day loomed
The Expo itself was to be a celebration and a gathering of comic book, fantasy and sci-fi lovers all under one roof. International authors and illustrators, along with McCoy, Dirk Benedict (The A-Team) and Robert Picardo (Star Trek) would also be attending.
Suffice to say, it was 5 months (from that time in May until the Big Day on November 1st) of meetings, talks and discussions. Formulating the questions was the most fun of all.
Whilst I was excited at the prospect of the whole experience, at the back of my mind I couldn’t shake off the terrifying feeling of walking onto the stage in front of many people AND talk to Radagast and the Doctor himself …
But I was determined to get through this, and eventually the pre-party event on October 30th arrived …
– Hiding birds in one’s hat …
On the evening of Thursday 30th October, I found myself with a few other people waiting the arrival of all the guests for a small gathering prior to the 3-day Expo starting the following day.
I was invited by the organizers to get acquainted with Sylvester and know him better. The aim was to make it easier once I got on stage to conduct the panel.
However, I was on the point of a major meltdown.
Waiting for over 40 minutes for something to happen didn’t help. But finally, a small group of people approached the entrance.
There came Picardo and Benedict, and in the middle walked a man with a walking stick and a hat. As he came round where we all stood, he looked at us and did his routine of pretending to have a bird inside his hat: bird whistling as he did it.
The rumours and comments other people about his wonderful persona were proved true that evening.
Although he had just come from a three-hour flight, he did his best to greet everyone and project his bubbly personality.
After a short interview with a local news station, it was time for me to be introduced to the man himself.
Although a great trepidation was on me, once I took those first few steps towards him, my mind just said:
“Right. You’re here and he’s here. Throw away all your fears and just go for it.”
I walked towards him and was introduced as his interviewer. We shook hands and I said: “Hello, it’s James. It’s a pleasure.”
The organizer told him I’d be conducting the panel about The Hobbit and Radagast.
“Oh right! The Hobbit … am I in it, by any chance?”, joked McCoy.
It was not as nervous a moment as I thought it would be – even though I couldn’t talk much sense to him except for saying: “I’m rather a big fan, so it’s a huge honour to meet you!”
Ridiculous geekiness …
Then I asked the most difficult question imaginable: “Would it be possible to take a picture please?”
I dreaded the response but “Yes, yes of course”, was what he said.
So I quickly fiddled with my phone and extended my arm forwards. The wizard was quick to retort: “Oh, it’s a selfie! Where’s the thing to look into… ?”
I showed him where the lens of the camera was and took the picture; and below is the grainy result…
It’s not the clearest of pictures but it’s the first one I’ve ever taken with a high-profiled actor; and one from the Middle-earth films no less.
Throughout the rest of the evening I kept on looking back at the picture … not caring anymore whether the panel would occur or not. As long as I had talked to Sylvester and had that picture, nothing else mattered.
A silly thing to think about, of course. And Saturday 1st November came rushing by and with it that dreaded anxiety …
– Walking in with the wizard’s staff …
It was 3:30pm and within half an hour, I was to find myself facing Sylvester McCoy again in front of an audience.
I was nervous and constantly fiddled through the questions I had memorized days before. And yet, I couldn’t get past the fears of the introductory phase.
What if I faltered and messed up completely?
Thankfully, I would conduct the panel with another individual. In fact, he was one of several friendships that had been struck in the process leading to that afternoon event.
I had been in touch with a local Tolkien group and together we worked our way to organizing this panel.
We even found a fantastic and generous individual who provided us with an original replica of Radagast’s staff and WETA’s very own statue of the character.
It enhanced the image of the panel and added to the whole atmosphere.
Myself, the statue and Sylvester with his character’s staff
As we walked backstage, we met with Sylvester again and quickly went through some routines for the panel.
After that, myself and the other moderator walked on stage and I introduced Sylvester to the 100 or so individuals that were gathered there.
As the claps, whistles and roars from the audience rose up to great the actor, in he walked with an eccentricity and a bubblyness; staff in hand and the most comic of facial expressions.
His personality was a huge help to us nervous first-time moderators.
Sylvester loves to tell stories and it was easy to ask him a simple question and get an energetic and engaging answer (not least a pitch-perfect impersonation of Sir Ian McKellen).
The audience loved it; all the more when he walked down the stage and presented his own microphone to any who wanted to ask their own questions.
The panel went on brilliantly and the 45 minutes we had be assigned, passed by instantly.
– The Wrap Up
Once out of the spotlight and back backstage (where I also got to talk briefly to Robert Picardo before he himself took part in the next panel), us group of fans/moderators seized the opportunity to take a few photos with Sylvester before he left.
I’m pretty sure that no other actor would have done what he did for us that day.
Not only did he accept to take numerous photos with us, but he was more than willing to sign some of the props and artwork there – not least the staff and statue themselves.
Sylvester impersonating his own statue pose
(P.S. I do not own the staff or the statue, alas …)
And before you knew it, all was over.
Within the course of two days, I had met, talked and discussed with Sylvester McCoy; conducted a panel and met with some great individuals and fans of Tolkien.
It was a singular experience and one that will be ingrained in my memory: mixed with nostalgia together with the ever-approaching release of the final Hobbit film …