BRUCE SPENCE Legend of the Seeker Interview – August 2009
After playing an assortment of weird and wonderful characters in fantasy and sci-fi over the years how does it feel to finally be playing the wise old mentor?
Well I guess I've served my apprenticeship. Zedd is certainly a grand character and I've been in scenes with Gandalf, Obi Wan Kenobi, and assorted characters so I'm prepared to take on the mantle of a mentor; a wizard character in this quite superb epic.
It's come to my attention that you frequently turn up in the third instalment of huge sci-fi and fantasy franchises, most recently the third Narnia film which will be filming soon. Are you conscious of that?
It's serendipitous really the way it occurs, it's quite by accident. But it's interesting that that occurs, yeah [laughs]. It's a strange coincidence, three must be my lucky number.
At six foot seven I've read you're one of the tallest actors in the business. How does that affect all the horse riding you do in Legend of the Seeker?
It's fine really, I have a big horse. I'm actually six foot six, I don't know where this six foot seven has come from. Surprisingly there are a few actors a little taller than me, but I definitely am one of the tallest in the business. It's been an advantage and a disadvantage. One of the reasons I've found myself in sci-fi and fantasy films to a certain degree is because of my physical shape. But also for some reason I just seem to find myself in that genre.
As you've just mentioned you have obviously appeared in a wealth of sci-fi and fantasy films, but are they genres you're interested in outside of acting, as in reading and watching films?
Interestingly no. I've always been interested in the concept of mythology. It deals with stories that involve the unconscious, and these are stories that fascinate me. The work of Joseph Campbell I'm a great fan of, he's someone who's documented all those mythological parallels that exist within this earth. There are stories that need to be told and every culture shares similarities in these stories, and that in itself interests me.
And how about the Terry Goodkind Sword of Truth books. Have you had a chance to read those?
Definitely. When you get involved in a series like this you have to familiarise yourself with them. The essence of Zedd from those books I've taken. You may be aware that in the first season we used Wizard's First Rule as a foundation, but because of the networks standalone requirements we've also diverted from those books. We've used many stories from the Wizard's First Rule, but we've created many of our own as well.
How does it feel to see New Zealand becoming the unofficial home of fantasy TV and film production?
I'm quite impressed. To be really honest I've worked in a number of international films and worked in a number of countries. From the very first day on set [of Legend of the Seeker] I was very impressed by the standard of the crew, of the camera department, of the special effects department; I was really in awe of that whole area and I felt enormously confident from the first day that we had a great team and obviously the history of all the Lord of the Rings films, and some of the Narnia films have created a wealth of talent here that we definitely are tapping.
It's maybe fair to say the role you're most remembered for is as the Gyro Captain in Mad Max 2. At the time did you realise you were making something that would go on to be such a cult favourite?
[Laughs] Not at all. We knew we were making something unusual, and there we were in the Outback of Australia with these strange cars and these strange people telling an extremely strange story, especially in Australian conditions. We either thought it was going to be something quite fantastic and out there and new, or an absolute disaster. Fortunately it went the other way. It was quite a watershed film in a way. It really showed the Americans how we could take some of their genres and some of their storylines and add to them and make them that much better.
If there was any character you could play, not just from sci-fi or fantasy, who would that be?
To be really honest it's the character I'm playing at the present time, and that's Zedd right now. This time two or three years ago I never dreamt I'd play Zedd. Right now Zedd preoccupies my time and my imagination. But who knows what's going to be round the corner in the next couple of years. I'm getting on in years, I'm not all that old, but I'm 63 now. I'm amazed that I've come this far, I'm so lucky to have had the roles I've had.
With that in mind do you prefer playing good guys or bad guys?
I love both. Because both of them celebrate various elements of the human psyche and I guess after playing Zedd for so long I'll be looking forward to playing someone nice and evil. It's nice to play both sides of the fence, that's the beauty of being an actor, that you can put yourself in that situation and you can explore those evil parts of one's psyche or the really good parts, or those really challenging and agonising parts.
One more question for you. When you were filming the Mouth of Sauron scene for The Return of the King, were you aware of just how creepy that was going to turn out?
No, and interestingly enough it was a pretty panicky day. I was aware that the character had to be a serious character and regarded as serious in a rather horrific way and we wanted to blast the audiences out of their seats with this awful character. But I noticed when the director, Peter Jackson, was sitting over the video watching me perform he kept laughing, and I was thinking to myself 'I hope I'm not playing this for comedy'. Of course, it wasn't; he knew what he wanted, and he was getting it. I had no idea. It's interesting that I'm often so preoccupied with what I'm doing on the other side of the camera I'm not really one of those actors who watches themselves on screen so I often don't know how the finished article has ended up.
Well it turned out very well...
Well I must admit. The best thing about being an actor is creating a role; with a director, with good acting; with good camera, with good special effects you can push a character in a dramatic moment to areas where I never dreamed they'd go. We went a long way with that one.
Words by: Peter Holley
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