15 Feb 2019

John Rhys-Davies on Gimli, Brexit and rural hell

From Nine To Noon, 10:06 am on 15 February 2019

Actor John Rhys-Davies has been a screen and stage actor for more than 50 years. Best known for his role as Gimli the puncacious dwarf in Lord of the Rings, he's also had roles in many other films including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and in the TV series I, Claudius Shogun and The Untouchables.

He is about to appear on the small screen here in a new black comedy starting screening on TV2 next week - Fresh Eggs - playing the crime fiction author Cutter Anderson.

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 John Rhys-Jones Photo: supplied

Rhys-Davies says Fresh Eggs has been “extraordinary fun to make” and says the studio should be commended for allowing it to be made.

“This is anarchic and very rude and my 12-year-old daughter will not be seeing it. But it’s wonderfully funny.

“What we were trying to do is create a New Zealand equivalent of Nordic Noir and I think it will have an audience outside New Zealand and with luck it will help transform our television the way the great Peter Jackson transformed the concept of New Zealand as a film country.

“I promise you a number of New Zealanders are going to be laughing themselves silly at it.

“It’s comedy pushed to about the farthest limit you can get.”

The show follows a young couple who’ve had enough of the city and decide to move to the country. One of them is an assistant for a famous crime writer played by Rhys-Davies. They move to the country and buy a house and find that its rural hell.

“Everything that’s funny and outrageous and murderous that can happen, will happen.”

“It’s one of the things I’m really happy about having done. Not everything one does turns out as well as you hoped it would, but this is a cracking good thing and the writers are just brilliant and the casting is wonderful. They’re so good. It was shot fast and quickly and I think the result is just remarkable.”

Rhys-Davies also has a keen interest in politics and says he’s a “Brexiter” and quickly adds “I think we’ve all been brilliantly played by Theresa May.”

“Let me put it this way, there was never a good Brexit deal to be had. The EU has nothing to gain by letting Britain get away from it."

He says there was never going to be an easy way for Britain to untangle itself from 40-years of treaty agreements with the EU, and Theresa May would have known that from day one.

Pro-leave supporters gather near the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.

Photo: AP / Alastair Grant

“I think, she would have realised early on the real choice is either remain or exit with no deal. And here’s her choice in history: she either goes down as a remainer and keeps digging in, in which point she’ll merit a very small footnote as a totally useless Prime Minister. Or, she will go down in history as being the woman who actually brought Britain out of the EU and, no matter whether it’s disaster or victory, she will merit a chapter as being the most significant British politician since Winston Churchill.”

He says the deal May bought back from the EU is catastrophic and is the kind of thing you’d impose on country just conquered, but it is the best possible deal Britain will get from the EU.

Rhys-Davies' father was a colonial officer in the military and he grew up in British-controlled Africa. He says that, when he was young, he was more radical but the things he saw there shaped his world view dramatically.

“The scale of death in de-colonised Africa exceeded all the viciousness attributed to colonialism and I was very unwilling to accept that when I was younger.

“Getting rid of one evil is sometimes not enough. Sometimes you have to realise that it’s a lesser evil that actually benefits ordinary men and women.”

The “perversity” of his beliefs is based on the childhood he had and he says he’s one of the only people who can say he saw a slave ship when he was a young man. His father took him to the port in Dar-es-Salaam and pointed to a boat which he said was carrying young boys to be slaves in Saudi Arabia.

Rhys-Davies says that one of greatest glories of Western Europe and Britain – which profited handsomely from slavery – was that they abolished it.

“I’m proud to be the recipient of a civilisation that did that.”

He returned from Africa at the age of nine as a “feral” boy and went to an English public school which specialised in boys from the colonies. He says it was at age 11 when he saw his first play, Oedipus Rex, and it changed his life.

“Can you imagine the psychological effect on a pre-pubescent boy suddenly seeing Oedipus coming on having put his eyes out and with egg whites coming down his face. I left the theatre and went straight to the senior library where I picked up Aristotle On Tragedy. I realised my destiny was to be a great writer like Sophocles.”

Instead, however, he went into drama and became a successful actor which he says was partly due to circumstance.

“There is too much luck involved in an actor’s career for him to really claim credit for it,” he says.

Rhys-Davies best known character is that of Gimli from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he says he won’t be reviving it for the upcoming Amazon series.

“I’m very proud of my little Scottish dwarf, but one musn’t be looking back, one must look forward.”