An Interview with Ian Ogilvy
by Roger Crow
Actor and author Ian Ogilvy became a household name in TV show Return of the Saint in 1978. Ahead of the release of his new film, We Still Steal the Old Way, we had a chat about his career, stage fright, ageism in Hollywood and the advice he’d offer to his younger self…
Your new movie is a sequel. Was it like putting on a comfy pair of slippers playing Richie Archer again in We Still Steal the Old Way?
Yes it was rather (laughs).
What was it that attracted you to the first film, We Still Kill the Old Way?
Well, it was something that I’ve never done before, to be honest with you. I was always playing the guy who beat up the character I played in the first film. I’d never played a gangster before. And to play an ageing, elderly, retired gangster was terribly appealing to me. I just thought ‘I wonder if anyone will accept me in this?’ And I looked in the mirror and I thought ‘Well you’re fat enough now and we can get away with it’. I loved it. It’s my favourite character really, because it’s something I’ve never done in my life.
“I became an author, which paid the bills as well as, if not better than, my acting”
You seem very comfortable in the role.
Yeah, once I sussed out how I was going to do it, being laid-back and trying to be humorous about it, I thought ‘That’s the way to do it’.
You’ve lived in America for the past 27 years, so how was it working back in the UK?
It’s lovely. Well I don’t work much in America any more. I used to work here (the US) all the time but then I just got old, and ageism here is pretty severe. So when I got too old to do any acting in America I started writing. I became an author, a book writer, all of which paid the bills as well as, if not better than, my acting. So I was quite happy with that, but I’ve always taken jobs if anybody ever offered them to me. And to this day most of the offers still come from the UK. So I’m over there every so often doing something in the UK. But I don’t do much here (the US) any more.
“An extreme and extraordinary form of stage fright”
It would be great to see you back on stage.
Well, in my memoir − my autobiography came out last year − there is a story in it about why I don’t do much theatre any more. Because I kind of had a little breakdown on stage which was a tricky one. It was the same kind of thing that happened to Ian Holm. It was just an extreme and extraordinary form of stage fright, which I overcame in the end. And I haven’t been back on stage since. I’ve done film and telly and radio. One day I really must try. I think next time I’ll play a small part so I don’t have to carry it by myself. It was a very debilitating and very frightening moment, and I just haven’t dared to go back again.
Is there any truth in the rumour that a film is being made of your Measle books?
I think that is a rumour. I had two or three film deals with film studios, but they just lasted too long and went slightly off the boil. That would be lovely, but I’m not holding my breath shall we say. I had a film deal with Robert Zemeckis at Warner Bros and I had a film deal with another film company. You can live very well on the option money that they pay you every 18 months, but after a while it’s so far back in their plans that they virtually drop it. I had a really good time with option money over the years. I can’t complain.
“The young have no idea who I am”
What do you miss most about working and living in England?
I miss my friends and I miss my family of course. The work is very similar. It’s not much different working on an English film and an American one, frankly. The accents are different, but other than that, there’s not much difference really. I may be coming over this summer to do the third in the trilogy of the ‘We Still Kill’ or ‘Steal’ or whatever.
Can you believe it’s almost 40 years since you made Return of the Saint?
As you get older life tends to speed up a bit. It was a very, very long time ago and it is extraordinary that people still remember me from that. Mind you, you have to be a certain age before you do. The young have no idea who I am.
For me that was the last time the Simon Templar character really worked, because the film and subsequent series didn’t.
No, I don’t think the film worked. There was an attempt to restart it with Adam Rayner. I was in that pilot. I thought he was terrific. He would make a tremendous Saint, but the pilot has yet to be seen anywhere, so I’m not sure what’s happening with it.
“There’s quite a lot of interest in a movie script of mine”
The last time we had a chat in 2004, we talked about your love of videogames. Is that still the case?
Yes, yes I am. Reluctant fan. I shouldn’t be because it wastes so much time, but I do like it. I’m playing Horizon Zero Dawn at the moment. It’s very good.
Are there any more projects in the pipeline after the third Richie Archer movie?
No, I do quite a lot of directing these days. I’m about to start on another play over here, so I like doing that. Very few actors live (plan) much beyond six months, and I certainly never have. I’m hoping a script of my own might see the light of day. There’s quite a lot of interest in a movie script of mine I wrote a few years ago; all of a sudden it’s reared its head and people are moving on it, so other than that, no.
Career wise, where and when were you happiest and why?
I suppose everybody says this, but my two years at drama school were the highlight. Then people say it’s their children, and all that is true as well. But in terms of being carefree and having the most wonderful time, two years at a drama school can’t be topped, you know?
“Jobs fell into my lap because I looked nice”
Final question: if you could offer your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Work harder. I would say to myself: ‘It’s not as easy as this, you know?’ When I was a very young actor, the jobs fell into my lap because I looked nice. I was quite pretty, so I got a lot of work because of that. I skated along very happily doing a lot of work like that. Then in middle-age I started to realise there’s a lot more to this business than meets the eye. I wish as a young actor I started taking things more seriously.
I would’ve taken it much more seriously if each job I’d got was much more difficult to get, but they weren’t that difficult to get when I was a kid. It all looked rather easy, and I think some of my early performances showed that. I look back at some of the stuff I did when I was a kid and I think ’How could you have been so bad? How could you be that awful and went on working?’ And that is the truth of it. I look back on my early stuff and I think ’You were awful!’ I think I’m better now, but my God there was room for improvement.
‘We Still Steal the Old Way’ is on DVD and Blu-ray now