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So... you are English, have a great resume and like playing characters that you can experiment with? In that case, Hollywood would like you to play a villain. Bruce Payne tells Impact why Tinseltown loves the bad guys and why he loves a meaty role.

Bruce Payne is a busy man. Over the period of a month or so, I speak to him several times over the phone. At one point he's in British Columbia filming a new thriller Ripper. Another time he's in LA and most recently he's recovering from jet-lag in London. During our latest exchange his other phone rings four times. Everybody wants him... but what Bruce always wants is a part that allows him to suspend disbelief in new and interesting ways.

"From a young age we're all influenced by things - a lot of things we don't really recall until later," Bruce explains. "I know that my immediate family tell me that when I was very young I saw a play that my brother was in - probably a Peter Pan pantomime because it involved a crocodile - and I apparently shouted out 'That crocodile is going to eat my brother' and ran up on the stage. I don't remember that myself, but if it really happened, I think it shows that from an early age I loved that suspension of disbelief. As I grew up I think I developed a studios interest in the way 'why we do what we do' and how moral and social rules influence what we think. You learn about fitting in, identity, escaping reality. Acting and reacting are concerned with a lot of that. I find it fascinating."

Though he enjoys the big cinematic blockbusters, he admits that there is nothing like a classic film-noir - and the days when the action and thrillers allowed imagination to go into overdrive.

"I love the classic black and white movies, they drew me in... in a different way than colour. Think of the Third Man. That would be a completely different movie if it had been shot in colour. When you see the cat around the feet of Orson Welles... Joseph Cotten is drunk and walks across the street. You just glimpse Orson Welles' face. In black and white, that's just amazing."

Films, like any dramatic project are governed by time restraints with tight shooting schedules and budgets, but Payne admits that, if possible, he really likes to make a fully rounded character with a past, present and future.

"If I'm allowed to, in terms of time, I really like to get into the character. It depends on the film because they all have their set of rules and the time it takes to see what works. It's a shared art and you have to collaborate with your producer, your director, your make-up person. The more time you have to experiment, the better. I like to go as far as possible," he admits. "Sometimes you just have to do a lot of solitary work but the most enjoyable for me is the collaborative process. Perhaps that's why I love theatre so much, though I haven't had the chance for a while."

Though there are great parts in UK-based productions, there is a lot of competition and once you achieve a certain level of success, there are often better chances abroad. Like many actors, Bruce eventually decided to head to the US, though he admits that it wasn't so much a career move as a chance to experience the differences in culture and to indulge in a little historical research.

"My opportunity came through a set of coincidental circumstances. As I did more and more work in the UK, I decided I needed to go to New York. I wanted to drop down to Roanoke Island which is on the border of Virginia and North Carolina. That's where the first 'lost' colonists settled. In their number were two people who stuck out for me... Henry Payne and Rose Payne. I love the stories associated with them," he relates.

But word of Payne's UK successes had spread. His work on British television and on stage has picked up good reviews and he found he was being courted for various projects in the US. "While I was in New York, the phone started to ring. Various people wanted me to come and meet them with the potential of doing films. Before I knew it, I was working on all these films back to back. One year became another year and suddenly I was keeping up two homes. It all happened very suddenly," Bruce explains. "More recently, a lot of people seem to be going over to the US on the back of a UK film that's done very well over there. At the time I went on my 'walkabout', I had a major TV series (Yellowthread Street), I had finished a massive theatre run with Greek in the West End. During that I'd been visited backstage by people such as Dustin Hoffman, David Bowie, Jeff Goldblum, Sir Ian McKellen. It shocked the life out of me (laughs)... I presumed they were there to see Steven Berkoff! But it was an incredible experience. I genuinely felt at the top of my game!"

Movie 'bad-guys' are often more recognizable and (in)famous than the movie heroes they appear alongside. Given they don't have to play by all the same rules associated with heroes, does Bruce think that the maxim of 'villains having all the best scenes' rings true - and has that affected the roles he has been offered?

"It really depends on who does the writing, directing and producing I think. Film-making is often fun, but I think that villains have an attractive quality to them to the extent they represent taboos and unknowns and mysteries. In terms of the business, unless you can read into the future you are at the mercy of what the industry does. If you are good at maths at school, people encourage you to continue at it. It's the same in the film business. Actors and actresses are the same. If we all could do two films a year where we are the romantic lead, two films where we are the comedic relief and one film as the villain... well, I guess we'd all be doing it. The challenge is whether to continue in that vein... and how to change how you see it. Some people think that if you are a big success as a particular type of character, then audiences may have a hard time seeing you as anything else. The 'big fish' actors are allowed to experiment more. Michael Keaton has done roles where he is an affable character, but at the same time he did films such as Pacific Heights where he was the neighbour from Hell. He can do that."

Arguably, Passenger 57 was his breakthrough film. Payne plays Charles Rane, a terrorist who (with a little help from a pre-safety-pinned Liz Hurley) takes over a plane mid-flight. All there is between Rane and revenge is security expert John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) and several thousand feet. The film did well at the international box-office. Did Bruce know it was going to be a success?

"To be honest, no. I just thought it was an interesting role. There was a lot of back-story to the character. Too often you have a script where a character is capable of doing A, B, and C but you don't know why or where they came from. Passenger 57 had a feeling of being a chess-game between Wesley Snipes' character and mine. The more meat there is on the bone to chew, the more places you can go. This was a good match-for-match. There is a good dialogue there as well as the obligatory action and violence. Charles Rane was someone who enjoyed the game, the teaching and ego of it. Wesley, in real life was a great guy, really down-to-Earth."

Though some actors decide to leave the small-screen far behind, Bruce admits he'd be willing to do television if the right opportunity came along. For instance he made a big impact in the series La Femme Nikita. Once again, Payne played an intense and shady character, but in a show that was full of masks and hidden agendas, he found that his own characterarc was very satisfying.

They were looking to kick off their second year and they came to me with an offer. I loved the concept, but it was difficult to do in a one-off hour... so they actually wrote three episodes. It was quite a treat. I flew up to Toronto (from South Africa). My character, Jurgen, was someone with a very checkered past involving specialized training and Special Ops/Undercover work. He trained Nikita from the beginning, though this was the first time you saw him. In his time he had had a run in with authority and found himself in a situation where his team was sacrificed due to a bad decision from on high. He did something you should never do and killed the person responsible!" Bruce explains. "Because of his skills, he was kept on rather than terminated. In the episodes that I filmed, Nikita has escaped from her captors and I'm brought in to test her and see if she was 'compromised'. Again, there's a chess game there and an underlying sexual chemistry. There's a game of cat and mouse. Who is pulling the strings? Am I a threat to the relationship between her and Michael? Who is playing who? All the characters have flaws. I really enjoyed the show and the people. They were very committed to it and up to speed."

He also admits that he only realized the impact his character has made later.

"The show really introduced me to the Internet. There was an on-line poll to see what the favorite characters of that season were. My character tied with Nikita! I couldn't believe it! There's even a website named after me...and some steamy poems and fan-fiction. (laughs). Fans seemed to love it. You get a lot of questions sent to you, much of it from the Internet. It really opened my eye's to it. It's wonderful that the series came back due to popular demand."

Most recently, Bruce has been seen as Jacob Kell in Highlander: Endgame and the villainous Damodar in the big-budget Dungeons and Dragons. The latter had mixed reviews in the US, but European reaction seems to have been much better. It's certainly a special effects extravaganza, something that Bruce thoroughly enjoys.

"In the case of Dungeons and Dragons, I was in the lucky position of having a director seeing your work, tracking you down and going to great lengths to speak to you. It circumvents all the red-tape. It's great when people can just talk to each other - it's what every actor wishes for. I wouldn't say that the special-effects were a challenge..more of an adventure. I love blue-screen work and I find it very inventive. One sequence - the climax on the tower - took three weeks to shoot. It has 360 degrees of blue-screen. Courtney Solomon was so prepared for what the dragons would look like and how they would act, we could see the images on the computer beforehand.

As for its box-office... it's done great business in France in a very short time. I hope that bodes very well for Europe. The French love it, so it's all right by me (laughs)." As for the future, Bruce admits that his new film is a much lighter movie. Never Say Never Mind (aka Revenge of the Swedish Bikini Team) is a spoof in the vein of Austin Powers.

"Well, I won't reveal too much, but my character, Mr. Blue, is like the character of 'M' in James bond or Charlie in Charlie's Angels. It's a very funny, witty and purposely dry sense of humoured piece. It's Austin Powers and Charlie's Angels rolled into one. It's all based on the cult adverts that ran in the US. It's all silly stuff, but it's a great relief to be a part of something like this. I don't have to worry about bringing out the worlds most dangerous sword from my back-pocket and killing people in excruciating ways!(laughs)"

And Bruce smiles. Which would he rather face: Duncan MacLeod or the Swedish Bikini Team? Well... who says being a bad guy doesn't reap some glorious rewards?

Copyright Impact Magazine April, 2001 Images: John Mosby Make-up: Tara Smith

No violation of copyright is intended. The purpose of "publishing" this interview is to give all Bruce Payne fans the opportunity to read it because there are a lot of countries where you simply can't get a hold of the magazine or because it cannot be found. No violation of copyright is intended. If someone feels their copyright is violated, please just let me know, I'll take the item down