The 10th London Literature Festival is taking place from the 5th-10th October at Southbank Centre. The Festival will be featuring a host of incredible events, including a live reading of HG Wells’ visionary work 'The Time Machine' by Nikki Amuka-Bird, Emma Hamilton, and the ninth Doctor Who himself, Christopher Eccleston. We sit down with the former Doctor and overall brilliant actor to talk about his love of literature, his favourite roles, and the fun of ageing.
London Calling: How are you feeling about being one of the three people to take part in the reading of H.G Well’s The Time Machine for the opening of the 10th London Literature Festival?
Christopher Eccleston: Well it’s a great honour, I’m very excited about it.
LC: What made you want to take part in the Literature Festival?
CE: Well, as a child I fell in love with the film with Rod Taylor. Then as an adult, I studied H.G Wells’ short stories as part of my A-Level and it was my favourite part of those studies. I’m fascinated by Wells. I mean, we’re living in the future that was, to a certain extent, predicted by him. And it’s the 150th anniversary of his birth so it’s a double celebration.
LC: The Literature Festival is taking on a sci-fi theme this year. Was the sci-fi aspect of the Festival appealing to you considering your past roles in the sci-fi and fantasy genres?
CE: I’m not a particular fan of science fiction just for the sake of it. I was attracted to it because of HG Wells. And, any Festival that celebrates literature is going to be attractive to me because I’ve always been a voracious and very passionate reader. I was a remedial reader at school and then I was given concentrated teaching and I ended up leading my school with the best reading age. I went from remedial to top of the class, so in a sense I found a lot of my confidence as an individual through literature.
LC: That’s amazing and certainly shows how powerful literature can be.
CE: I had an extraordinary teacher who was American. I was being taught on almost late-Victorian English literature and she gave me Dr. Seuss. The education of children in America was a very progressive movement at that time. In the 1970s you had Dr. Seuss, you had Sesame Street, and that had a huge impact on my development. It appealed to me in a way that some of the Victoriana I was being fed just didn’t.
LC: Considering the broad range of roles and characters you’ve played over the years, what do you look for in a script when choosing roles to play?
CE: Quality. I grew up watching British television of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, which by and large was writer-led, meaning the writer was the most important person in the process. Consequently, the programmes you watched were extremely well written. And I don’t care how good an actor you are, if you don’t have the words, you can’t do it. So I look for strong writers with a very individual voice. I think dialogue is a huge factor for me when deciding whether to take a role.
LC: Despite such a variety of roles over the years, it doesn’t seem like you’ve done much comedy. Is that something that you might want to do?
CE: Yeah, I mean Maurice in The A Word was my most recent thing on British television, and he certainly had a comedic element. I really enjoyed that and I would like to do more of that, very much.
LC: Speaking of The A Word, which is such a wonderful BBC drama about a young autistic boy, what made you want to take on the role of Maurice, the young boy’s grandfather?
CE: Well, I have small children myself and fortunately they are not on the spectrum. But they have friends who are on the spectrum and I have friends whose children are too. It’s increasingly a concern for parents and a huge social issue in the way that dementia on the other end of the spectrum is. So in terms of The A word, I liked the way the programme forgrounded a social issue without soapboxing it. Also, it was very attractive playing the role of Maurice because it’s not necessarily a role I’d normally be associated with.
LC: Did it bother you being cast as the grandfather?
CE: Not at all! I mean I’m 53, so I can’t play Romeo anymore. Although Maurice is Romeo - that was one of the appeals of the role. Maurice is in his fifties but has an active sex life. We can’t leave it all to the kids.
LC: I think it’s great that more TV shows are shining a light on the active life of the older generation.
CE: Exactly! I think it gets better as you get older personally.
LC: Well that’s good to know!
CE: You’ve got a lot to look forward to.
LC: I’m glad to hear that! You also star in the HBO show The Leftovers, and it’s having its final season. How do you feel about that coming to a close?
CE: Well, we wrapped this past Friday. We’re all very, very sad. We’re very proud of the show. The fact is, the first season was not brilliantly reviewed and then we got a second season and we got the best reviews you’ve ever seen. And yet, still we struggled for viewers. But HBO have been true to their word and let us finish it, and I think we’ve made a series that’s as strong as the second. I’m very excited for it to reach its audience.
LC: Of all the roles you’ve played, is there one that stands out as your favourite or that you’d like to revisit?
CE: Two really. On stage it was Hamlet at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the television role that I’m most proud of is playing Trevor Hicks in the drama-documentary Hillsborough because as we now know, everything said in that programme has been proven to be true. We made that programme in 1996, the tragedy happened in 1989, and it’s taken until 2016 for the Government, the police, the FA and everybody else to come clean. So, playing Trevor was a great challenge and a huge honour.
LC: Do you have a favourite place in London?
CE: Hampstead Heath – I run there, I take my children there, I spend as much time as I possibly can on Hampstead Heath. Long may it prosper!
The 10th London Literature Festival will be taking place from October 5th-10th at Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX. The live reading of The Time Machine featuring Christopher Eccleston will take place on October 5th in the Royal Festival Hall of Southbank Centre. Tickets for this and all of the Literature Festival events can be booked online.