Christopher Eccleston (‘The Borrowers’) interview

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Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) stars alongside Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood, Sharon Horgan, Robert Sheehan (Misfits) and Aisling Loftus this Christmas in BBC One’s new adaptation of The Borrowers.

Written by Ben Vanstone, the 90-minute film is a modern adaptation of Mary Norton’s classic children’s books that brings the world of the tiny Borrowers who live under our floorboards into the twenty-first century.

What are your memories of the book?

The Borrowers is one of the very first books I remember reading as a child, and I loved it. I would have read it around 1971 or 1972 I think at the primary school I went to. They formed a little book club and gave us a magazine where you had to choose your own book.

The Borrowers was the first book I bought and I can picture seeing the brochure now, seeing the graphics on the front of The Borrowers novel – I went for that first and read the book two or three times. As a child if I liked a book I tended to keep reading it.

“The film is a contemporary take on the story and still retains all the original elements of the book, which is really about a loving family – a dad learning how to let go of his daughter so that she’ll come back.”

How did you feel about becoming Pod?

“As the book was such an important part of my childhood, I was very familiar with the character of Pod. Ian Holm, who I’ve worked with, is one of my heroes, as is Jim Broadbent – both fantastic actors, so it was nice to think that I’d play a role that those two great actors have played.

“I also thought it was interesting, because I’m obviously a very different type to Jim and Ian and I like the fact that Pod can adapt like that. Pod borrows his clothes from an action figure of the 80s, perhaps loosely based on a character from Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I think that appeals to Pod’s image… he’s quite an adrenaline junkie, he likes risk and adventure.

“Pod is also a lovely dad, and a hero. I’ve played lots of troubled men and ‘anti-heroes’, but Pod’s a straight hero. There’s a great sense of humour to him, and a gentleness. That’s what attracted me to the role.”

Did you enjoy the stunts?

“Playing the role of Pod is unlike anything I’ve done before. There was a huge amount of green screen and I’ve done little bits of green screen in the past, but not that much.

“I would say it’s the most challenging role I’ve done physically, because one of the conditions for me playing the part was that I did all the stunts. My favourite stunt was where I ran along a gigantic bookcase and just threw myself into mid-air and onto a crash mat.

“I was very excited about doing that and they had to tell me to stop because I kept doing it for fun. I also flew out of a gigantic drain into 12ft of milkshake mix, but that was not as pleasant.”

How did you find working with green screen?

“I love green screen work because for me it’s like being a child again – having to imagine that something is there and act with it, it’s a slightly different skill. It pulls more on your imagination and your ability to express yourself, and that’s all I did as a kid was run around the garden pretending I was in a polar ice cap, or on the ocean waves or in the middle of a James Bond film.

“I enjoy it because you have to create something with your imagination, and also it’s funny if you take a step outside it and take a look at what you’re actually doing, it’s pretty comic.”

What are the sets like?

“The sets are very simple and very classic, and the production design on this was beautiful and subtle. For me the most impressive set was a section of a room where you saw just the floor and the skirting board. Now that does not sound that dramatic, but when you see it built to scale it was remarkable.

“It reminded me a lot of the Fred Quimby produced Tom and Jerry cartoons, the very early ones, where you would never see the human beings, just their feet. When you do something like this it’s really important that production design and make-up and costume are all pulled together so there’s a unity, and I felt that particularly with the production design.”

What are the costumes like?

Pod’s costume is very torn, tattered, spattered in mud, and half hanging off him. He’s a typical fella, he’s not too concerned with what he looks like and when they go on this extraordinary adventure, Pod is reduced to rags really.

“He’s nearly dissected and his shirt is taken off him by the human beings… he starts off pretty Harrison Ford-ish, and ends up like Steptoe and Son.”

What else can you tell us about the film?

“I think it’s a testimony to Mary Norton’s vision that there have been so many versions of the piece – because what is important about the piece is the heart and soul of it. It seems to me that the Borrowers are written as an example to the human beings of what’s best about being a human being.

“You’ve got Stephen Fry’s character that’s obsessed intellectually and seems completely divorced from his emotions, and then you’ve got the grandmother who is all about emotion and anger.

“The Borrowers seem to take in both those things and have brought them together – they are written as the best we could be as human beings, as little examples of how we could be better. It’s very adventurous and extraordinary – but it’s also magical.

“It’s about a family, about a young girl’s journey into adulthood, and the way her parents accept that, and that of course is always going to be a story that people will respond to.”

> Buy the book on Amazon.

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