Entertainment & Arts

Billy Connolly talks Quartet: 'Dying is easy, but staying alive is quite difficult'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWatch Billy Connolly: "Dying is easy but staying alive is quite difficult."

In his latest film role, Billy Connolly plays a womanising former opera star.

Quartet, set in a nursing home for retired opera singers, features a host of British stars including Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Sir Michael Gambon and Sheridan Smith.

The film marks the directorial debut of Hollywood actor Dustin Hoffman, who describes the story as being about people in their "third act".

Comedian Connolly, 70, talks about Hoffman's skills behind the camera, and how he was made to look older to play the role of Wilf.

Didn't Dustin Hoffman think you looked a bit youthful?

I'm the right age, but I don't look wrinkly and I don't have a comb-over and I'm not bald. Being hairy and bearded, I didn't fit - but, at the end of the day, they put me through the wrinkle machine.

Wilf is a horny old guy, trying to stay alive. He's single and he's randy and he would like a cuddle from time to time, and there's nothing wrong with that, I think.

How did Dustin Hoffman get you involved in the film?

I actually thought we were going to do [Samuel Beckett play] Waiting for Godot. I'd read it and found it impenetrable and then I went to see it in London and loved it, so I couldn't wait. When I met Dustin in LA after Route 66 [TV documentary] he said: 'Are you on the same number? I've got a thing for you' - and I thought 'This is it - this is Godot.'

He was waiting for Albert Finney [to play Wilf] but Albert wasn't very well, so he came to me, which was a great compliment. He wrinkled me up and off we went!

What is it like being directed by an actor?

It's much better than being directed by writers. Most of them rightly think their words are carved in marble, and they obviously think it's important you get all the commas in the right place. An actor doesn't normally think that - he can see shortcuts to making the point. When you get an actor as director you get the best of both worlds.

What is the overall message of the film?

Stay young. Me? I'm 37! I haven't changed my attitude to things since I was 37. I like asking people what age they think they are - some of them are 28, and 34, and some are 40. Stay there! That's when you were happy and healthy. Stay there and it'll do you good. It'll feed you and keep you alive.

Dying is easy. You just lie down, but staying alive is quite difficult - you have to stay interested and stay in touch with everything.

Who do you think will be the audience for this film?

Now that I have no idea. When people hear "old" and "old folks' home" they might stay away from it. That part of the movie company is going to have to work very, very hard to get the audience because the people who come and see it all love it - and they are all ages.

Do you detect a change in the film industry about the portrayal of older characters?

I think it's all about carrying Maggie Smith shoulder high! I think she's going to single-handedly save the old actors of the world.

I think people are getting back to the old way of making movies. If you look at the movies of the 1930s and 40s there's no young people in them. And then in the 50s they invented this thing called the teenager and stuck him in everything.

It became the norm to have that kind of person as the lead - and the more mature actor in the background. But I think they are getting back to making movies that resemble life pretty generally.

Quartet is out in the UK on 1 January 2013.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites