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24 November 2021

David Thewlis Q&A: “When would I like to live? Any time before all this nonsense began”

The actor on Bob Mortimer, dropping chemistry and being bugged by bugs.

By New Statesman

David Thewlis was born in Blackpool in 1963. His breakout role was the main character, Johnny, in Mike Leigh’s 1993 film Naked. He is also known for playing Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was aged three or four and loitering in the alley behind my father’s toy shop, pulling my invisible dog on a piece of parcel string and, out of the corner of my eye, spying my nose for the first time.

Who are your heroes?

In love, my wife, Hermine. In art, John Lennon, Patti Smith, Samuel Beckett, Bob Mortimer, John Cooper Clarke. In life and death, doctors, nurses. Dentists too, begrudgingly, but when I’ve screamed out for them.

What book last changed your thinking?

Sum by David Eagleman. Forty tales of possible afterlives. Many of them are unthinkably grim, but just one of his positive scenarios would be a real bonus at the end of all this, if only it were true.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I have enormous admiration for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Like all politicians she stands to fall from grace, but for now she seems to embody power, sincerity and hope for her generation.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Any time before all this nonsense began. I don’t know what year that was. Just before we started planting things, and had to find all our grub in the bushes – although I have sensitive feet and wouldn’t mind some sort of footwear. So precisely what year would that be?

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The life and music of the Beatles or Seinfeld episodes.

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What TV show could you not live without?

I watch very little TV these days and prefer life that way. Though I would really miss Would I Lie To You?, especially the Bob Mortimer episodes.

Who would paint your portrait?

Stuart Pearson Wright. He has already done it. He had me running naked through Soho and put my head atop his body: being 12 years younger than me, I didn’t object. 

What’s your theme tune?

“With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock” by George Formby. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

To drop GCE chemistry and take CSE drama. My chemistry teacher caught me in the corridor, twisted my ear, and said it was the worst decision I would ever make. I hope he’s been watching these past 40 years. 

What’s currently bugging you?

I’m writing this sat in a hammock in Provence so… well… bugs. What’s wrong with them? Why can’t they be nice?

What single thing would make your life better?

A language-learning pill.

When were you happiest?

I was never happier than right now, apart from these bloody bugs. I’ve been bitten three times since I first mentioned them.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

To be a painter would be my ideal. I try to act how I feel, and I write, play music, direct and take photographs, but I’m sure I could express it best of all with a paintbrush if I was any good. But I’m not.

Are we all doomed?

It depends what you mean by “we” and “all” and “doomed”, but yes. Maybe not these bugs.

“Shooting Martha” by David Thewlis is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

[See also: Caroline Lucas Q&A: “Even if you’re in a minority of one, the truth is still the truth”]

This article appears in the 24 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Agent of Chaos