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Actor John Hannah: I'm enjoying the comedy stuff now

That moving Four Weddings scene has followed him around for two decades, but John Hannah's latest role is definitely on the lighter side, he tells Keeley Bolger

Published 26/09/2015

John Hannah as Adam, Sarah Alexander as Marley, Nicholas Burns as Michael and Jo Joyner as the vicar in Marley’s Ghosts
John Hannah as Adam, Sarah Alexander as Marley, Nicholas Burns as Michael and Jo Joyner as the vicar in Marley’s Ghosts
John Hannah with Simon Callow in Four Weddings

It's one of the standout moments in Four Weddings And A Funeral; a dignified but grieving man - Matthew, played by John Hannah - gives a stirring reading of W H Auden's Funeral Blues at his boyfriend's funeral.

So stirring, that 21 years - and 275,000 sales of a tie-in edition of Auden's collection later - the performance is still talked about.

"I constantly get asked to recite it," says 53-year-old Hannah of his memorable scene in the 1994 British hit.

"It's mostly on TV chat shows and things like The One Show, where you're promoting whatever you're doing and they often ask you to do a bit of that poem. You think, 'Well, no', because (in the film) it was in context, you know? It's not a party piece."

While his role in Four Weddings and his early career largely veered into serious territory, over the past few years, the Scottish star (who is also known for his roles in 1998's Sliding Doors, opposite a then relatively unknown Gwyneth Paltrow, and The Mummy alongside Rachel Weisz) has been dipping his toes into comedy, most notably in police procedural spoof A Touch Of Cloth.

Next up is Marley's Ghosts, a new comedy for Gold about a woman, played by Smack The Pony's Sarah Alexander, who can talk to the dead, which unfortunately for her, includes her husband Adam (Hannah), her lover and her vicar.

"I think in years gone by, perhaps I would have been more known for being in serious, straight drama, so from that point of view, I've been enjoying the comedy stuff I've been doing lately," reasons Hannah, who was born in East Kilbride.

"It's something I haven't done so much in the past, so therefore it is quite new to me. It's fresh and challenging and I'm enjoying it. I'm a bit over the cop shows and the doctor shows and the lawyer shows."

And stepping away from the serious stuff for Marley's Ghosts also meant that Hannah had to bear some flesh.

"There's a scene where Adam was running out, asking his wife to leave him some money - and then realised he was just in his pants," recalls the actor, laughing. "I wasn't getting the six-pack out or anything, it was a comedy scene."

Does he care what the critics make of his comic turn?

"You do care, very much," says the father-of-two, who has been married to actress Joanna Roth, who he met on a production of Shakespeare, since 1996. "No matter how much you say you don't, if you get a bad one (review), that hurts.

"So with that in mind, I try and avoid listening to anybody else's opinion."

Jokes aside, Hannah reasons that "the only one way you can justify not caring about bad reviews is not caring about good reviews either".

And he can always fall back on his plan B career option.

Before enrolling at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music And Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland), Hannah started out as an apprentice electrician.

Does he ever think about how life might have turned out if he'd stuck on that path?

"Occasionally you ruminate on that, but certainly with acting, I've had a fantastic journey so far and hopefully it continues, so I've got no regrets," he says.

That said, his electrician training does have its benefits.

"I can be a bit handy," he admits. "My wife quite likes it when I stick my pliers in my back pocket and climb up a ladder."

Recently, he left his creature comforts and travelled across the pond to shoot a film called Love Of My Life, where he had a welcome reminder of his roots.

"My aunt Mary, who emigrated to Canada in the late Sixties, is living in Toronto, so I made a little pilgrimage to see her one weekend," Hannah recalls. "It was very emotional because my dad died last year and Mary wasn't able to come over. I wanted to go and see her and it was lovely."

As well as this film and his role in Marley's Ghosts, Hannah also appears in sci-fi flick Genesis and thriller Alleycats. Regardless of the genre though, his approach to work remains the same.

"I think you get anxious at the beginning of any job. You've been cast for a reason. Are you going to live up to that? Can you bring something to it? Anyone can say the line, but you want to contribute something to it," says Hannah.

"If you can't bring anything to it, the least you can do is not get in the way."

  • Marley's Ghosts, Gold, Wednesday, 10pm

Belfast Telegraph

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