Thirty years may be a millisecond in the life of Connor MacLeod (of the clan MacLeod), the immortal protagonist of the Highlander franchise, but a lot has since happened to the man who played him.
Three decades on from Highlander’s original release and Christopher Lambert has produced his own wine, formed a production company (Lamb Bear Productions), part owned a mineral water business/ food processing plant and continued to work full time as an actor. Meanwhile the time-bending, pop/ rock, sword and sorcery film that made him famous has since spawned five sequels, three TV series’ (one animated), two computer games and a massive cult following.
HeyUGuys travelled to StudioCanal’s London office to find Lambert in a serene, contemplative mood and looking back fondly on the original Highlander, which will always play such a major part in his life.
I am very happy I made Highlander because its such a timeless movie. I hear of twelve years old kids watching it today for the first time so I know it must have something special to last all this time.
What was it that first attracted you to the role?
The action/ fantasy world attracted me but Highlander is also dealing with different, complex elements. It’s the only role that I have played that is touching on the subject of immortality, through a character carrying five hundred years of violence, pain, love and suffering on his shoulders, who is still walking around and being positive. That is what amazed me about him the most.
Highlander emerged at a time in the 80s when a lot of other sword and sorcery films where being made. Why do you think it stands out from the others and resonates with audiences?
I think people see the different layers in the film exactly in the same way as I felt when I read the script. I didn’t do it for the action, I did it because it was dealing with immortality. How do you cope with that? How do you survive inside? It’s difficult living through one life but to see all the people around you dying over and over. How do you cope with that pain? How do you have he strength to keep on walking, to keep being positive and optimistic? To be capable of falling in love again when you know the pain it creates when you lose them.
How did you go about training for the role? There was a lot of horse riding and sword fighting going on alongside the time-sliding and brooding.
Horse riding I was ok because I’d been riding since I was a kid. Sword training was about twelve to sixteen weeks because you have to repeat routines with plastic swords then wooden swords, aluminium swords, light steel, heavy steel.
It is true they attached a car battery to the swords to achieve the clash sparks in the fighting scenes?
Yeah that was just for the scenes where we are swiping the swords together, only for a couple of shots though. Sometimes we have a few longer wires attached to the batteries so we could do a few more elaborate moves.
Like MacLeod, the film is timeless but also still synonymous with the 1980s. Do you think the Queen music is the main reason for that?
What’s interesting is that if both entities don’t blend together then its never gonna work. Queen getting involved was a big plus but if you put bad music on the greatest scene ever you will lose fifty percent of it. So yes, the music is highly important but it’s not good enough for music just to be good, it’s got to add something. What’s interesting is that Queen was meant to just record the opening title song “Princes of the Universe”. When they watched the movie they said “we’ve got to do an album” because they understood immediately what value they could bring to both the movie and the characters. It clicked with them, and if you look at all the songs, they are all aligned with what’s happening on the screen. So everything blended well and I have to say that is rare.
He did a movie called Razorback first. A great Australian movie and then he became a music video director. Russell made the longest, most staggering video for Duran Duran’s Wild Boys. When I saw that I thought he was crazy, as in a genius, and then they picked him for Highlander. I would say that most of the transitions from past to present in the film, which existed in the script, Russell improved on, because he had a vision. For me Russell is still one of the most visionary directors working today. He has lots of imagination, lots of invention and is constantly creating.
Do you think there’s a way that Highlander could be rebooted for a modern generation in a way that capitalises on the nostalgia, similar to the recent Star Wars film?
I don’t know. I’ve been hearing for a long time that they want to do a remake, a new Highlander movie. Why not? The thing is… how do you replace Queen? If they were going to do a new Highlander movie, which they probably will at some point, it will need to be as far out and away as the first one. If you look at the special effects from the first Highlander, of course thirty years later we are much more ahead in terms of quality, but effects don’t really matter when compared to the concept and style, which were so ahead of their time.
What was it like working with Sean Connery?
We became very, very good friends. We clicked immediately, it was great. Sean is a very… he’s just a straight guy. He either likes you or he doesn’t, end of story. Like most Scottish people, what you see is what you get. If they like you they love you if they don’t like you they punch you. You know where you stand. But we got on great from the beginning. He’s a generous guy, he treats everybody on the same level which is right because everybody’s role is important on a movie set, as in life. There is no difference between the guy who is sweeping the street and the person who is in charge. You are both human beings. That was my approach to life and that is Sean’s approach.
It must have been strange playing characters who hated each another while you were both becoming friends behind the scenes.
Yeah but acting is becoming another person. You don’t act, you are. So between “action” and “cut” I was hating this guy but that doesn’t mean Christopher was hating Sean. Connor was hating Ramirez, and then “cut” we were friends again. For me, that’s what’s great about acting. Projecting yourself into a thousand different characters. I am happy just to be able to act and become someone else. To be part of a different story. I was happy to do that and I still am.
You’ve got a lot of other stuff going on outside of acting: a mineral water business, food processing plant, you make your own wine.
I am also going into the garbage business. I discovered there are a lot of lies about the ways they treat garbage and what they do with it. I discovered this company in France who can recycle 100% of garbage and use 90% as usable material/ sellable material. So instead of burying or incinerating it, you don’t have to do that anymore. The world is screaming “you have to do something” on an ecological level, this and that, the world’s gonna crumble but they’re not doing it. They’re not doing the right thing when they have the possibilities to redo something. We shouldn’t forget that nature doesn’t need us. We need nature. So every little bit and piece I can do, I am trying to do. I am not an ecological person or an environmentalist. I am definitely not someone who is political. I am just someone who is trying to find different ways to help in the real world and use things that exist instead of us going round and round in circles, making the same mistakes.
What’s up next for you film wise?
I’m going back to the states soon to do an American picture. I also recently had a part in Hail Caesar! which was fun to shoot. If the Coen’s wanted me to just come and open the door for them I would have done it but for them to offer me a scene, I was very happy. It’s always a pleasure to perform but I don’t want to shoot four or five movies a year anymore, just one or two.
Highlander is released on DVD & Blu-ray on 11th July.