Mensday: Ian McShanePosted: October 26, 2011
Mensday isn’t just for the men, you know. Sometimes there’s a little something for the laydeez…
For Ian McShane, there’s nothing remarkable in being photographed sprawling across a bed. He’s spent much of his career doing just that, but instead of a dachshund, his bedmates have included lovely ladies like Ava Gardner, Raquel Welch, Dyan Cannon and Gayle Hunnicut. And if you take a leisurely tour round that muscular torso and inspect those what-are-you-waiting-for eyes, you’ll understand why he’s picked for all those torrid love parts.
Despite those Latin features, thirty-one year old Ian was born in Blackburn. His father, Harry McShane, played for Manchester United and Ian grew up expecting to be a footballer until somewhere his ambitions changed direction and he went to RADA. Immediately afterwards he was given the lead in a film called The Wild and the Willing and since then his career has advanced steadily if not spectacularly. He’s appeared several times in the West End theatre, acted in, on average, one television play a year and taken major parts in about eight films including Sitting Target, If it’s Tuesday it Must be Belgium and The Last of Sheila, co-starring Raquel Welch and Dyan Cannon, which should be released in the late summer.
His performances have been consistently praised and there’s little doubt that, if he chose, Ian could turn out twice as many films. He admits, however, that he doesn’t like working too much. “The good thing about making a bit of bread is that you can do what you want to. I hate the thought of work for work’s sake.”
Instead, Ian likes to play the dilettante . . . commuting between pub and home, reading, listening to music, playing squash and football. He lives in an elegant Edwardian house in Roehampton, South London, with his wife Ruth, an ex-model from Manchester, their three year old daughter Katie and Nicky, seven, Ruth’s son by a previous marriage. Their two dogs, Morrie, a neurotic dachshund (that’s him preserving discretion in our photograph) and Wolfie, an extrovert, over-sexed mongrel, are regarded as third and fourth children.
Perhaps because his first wife, Susan Farmer, was an actress, Ian displays an almost total disenchantment with the breed. “I don’t like them very much, I don ’t know why they do it. An actor I can understand . . . but an actress is quite a different species. They’re too aware of what they are . . . always discussing how they should do the part, actresses are very full of that.”
He’s still recovering from tussles on location for The Last of Sheila where, according to Ian, the leading ladies were continually jockeying for first place. “It was all right when they were in front of the camera. The problems were about extraneous things like who took the longest , to get their lip gloss on. He describes his first encounter with Dyan Cannon. She, chewing gum, sizing him up quizzically: “What’s your name ‘?” “Ian McShane.” Chew. Chew. “You married‘?” “Yes.” Chew. Chew. “Got any kids ‘?” “‘Yes.” Chew. Chew. “See ya.”
His black list includes Elsa Martinelli (“an Italian spaghetti”), Senta Berger and Virna Lisi who all came in as guest artistes on one of his films and “were terribly blase about their roles. I suppose they had a right to be. But you feel that terrible anger, you think ‘how dare you come on this set for two days messing about’.” Yet, if you accuse Ian of being too hard on women, his wife immediately defends him. “He’s the most easy-going, tolerant man, not even grouchy when he’s out of work.”
He admits he has enjoyed working with some actresses, notably Ava Gardner, “A knockout, totally larger than life”, and Gayle Hunnicutt, “A lovely lady and a very good actress”. As for those passionate love clinches: “They’re very clinical because it’s all worked out beforehand. My most pleasurable ones were with Ava Gardner on Tam Lin—that was a big laugh. But these scenes are always enjoyable. After all it’s just acting.”
Many actors would shudder at that word “just”. But Ian, although he takes his acting seriously enough, has kept a rare sense of propor- tion. His real life—driving his 1957 blue Rolls, taking his wife to gambling clubs (“She plays roulette, I stick to the fruit machines”), or doing nothing in particular at home—takes a high priority.
He’s delighted, though, about his next film. He plays Bramwell in Bramwell Bronte, a part he has wanted for several years. “I have a lot of naive confidence. I always hope that the next one will be the best film, the best people, the nicest wine. It’s very important that you should have a lovely time when you’re working.”
Having a lovely time seems to be a pretty good ambition and it’s nice to talk to an actor who isn ’t all tortured anguish. On screen, Ian McShane can be brutal, arrogant or passionate to order, but look again at that impudent half-smile and you’ll find the humour and animal warmth that make him such a huggable Libran.