Ahead of our screening of Lifeforce at Bristol Planetarium, we were lucky enough to talk to Peter Firth who stars as the film’s hero Colonel Colin Caine!
Although best known these days as starring as Sir Harry Pearce in Spooks, Peter Firth will always be remembered for trying to stop Mathilda May’s space vampire from destroying the world.
Whilst doing the press circuit to promote Spooks: The Greater Good, we were lucky enough to ask him what it was like working on Cannon Film’s notorious science fiction adventure and what it was like being chased round London by zombies.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about Lifeforce. I imagine you’re pretty busy these days promoting Spooks: The Greater Good – are you surprised at the cult following Lifeforce has and that 30 years on people still want to talk to you about it?
Quite surprised, but only because you’re the first person to ask me about the film for 20 years!
Really? I don’t believe that. How did you end up appearing in the film, because by this point you’d already received a Academy Award nomination for Equus and were an established stage actor both in the West End and Broadway. How did Cannon Films court you for the role?
I actually met director Tobe Hooper at a party and he asked me if I’d ever done any acting as I would be perfect for a film he was making. I told him I had done a little!
The film is filled with notable performances: Steve Railsback dials it up to 11 as Carlsen, while Sir Patrick Stewart seems to be having a ball as the possessed Dr. Armstrong – was it a fun set to be on with so many British actors or was it all handled quite seriously?
Steve is a method actor and they are not really that much fun.
I heard that he took it very serious and was quite odd on set…
Yes, however Patrick (Stewart) is also quite a serious actor, but even he found it difficult to keep a straight face sometimes.
You play Col. Caine remarkably straight considering the film’s subject matter, especially when delivering lines like “Now she has clothes!” and “Was it sexual?” – were you ever tempted to give Caine more of a sense of humour?
I tried to avoid any Roger Moore influence, but in retrospect maybe it would have been a good thing. I think the American producers were aware we were walking a fine line, so parody was not encouraged.
When your character Colonel Caine appears, he declares a “D-notice situation!” Do you have any idea what a D-notice situation is?
Yes! A “D Notice” is issued by the Government and is effectively a gagging order on the press.
And I thought it was just a made-up thing for the movie…
Speaking of which, the film was based on Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires, but apparently the title was changed as Cannon Films were trying to move away from their reputation of making B-movies – was the film called Space Vampires during production?
As I recall, the title was changed early on in the shoot, which is a shame I think!
Also, I read the entire film went over schedule because Cannon Films ran out of money. How did this affect the mood on set, because at the time this was Cannon’s magus opus with a reported budget of $23 million.
On a film set, actors are informed on a “need to know” basis only, and generally speaking, actors don’t need to know anything. Consequently I was unaware of any financial problems.
One aspect of the film’s production that stands out is the amazing FX work of John Dykstra – what was it like being chased around London by the “Walking Shrivelled’ as Tobe Hooper called them?
It was genuinely terrifying! There was no CGI, just zombies. The thing is, if you put an actor in a zombie suit, they relish the role, so no acting was required on my part to look alarmed.
Naturally, one of the memorable stand-outs from the film is Mathilda May’s performance – what are your memories of essentially learning that you’d be hunting a naked girl the entire film?
I was fairly sure nobody would notice I was in the film at all!
Spooks: The Greater Good has just come out and we can’t wait to see it as we’re massive fans of the series. Is there a chance Harry Pearce will return?
We will have to see how the film does at the box office. If it does well, Harry will survive, if not, he may go the way of so many Spooks.
Peter Firth, thanks very much!