Highlander : Christopher Lambert 30th Highlander anniversary interview

Christopher Lambert 30th Highlander anniversary interview


How we made Highlander: 'Connery opened his homemade whisky on the plane'

Drinking is completely forbidden on a shoot. You just try that in the Highlands

Kilts and car batteries Christopher Lambert in 1986s Highlander
Kilts and car batteries Christopher Lambert in 1986s Highlander Photograph: Allstar/EMI/StudioCanal

Interviews by Phil Hoad @phlode

Tuesday 5 July 2016 03.00 EDT Last modified on Tuesday 5 July 2016 10.30 EDT

Russell Mulcahy, director

Id made dozens of music videos when EMI came to me with Highlander. Its original title was The Dark Knight. I loved its graphic novel quality and this idea of an immortal who can never fall in love again, because hed had to watch his first wife grow old.

Lots of names were bandied around for the part of Connor MacLeod, the lead. I was flipping through a magazine and saw this picture of Christopher Lambert in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. I said: This is the guy! His eyes had a timeless quality. The fact he couldnt speak English didnt really matter. So we ended up with a Frenchman playing a Scotsman, and Sean Connery as the Spanish-Egyptian immortal who trains him. We didnt bother changing Seans accent this was Sean Connery! These guys had been around for centuries. They could have picked up accents from wherever.

A sword broke and a shard shot over Sean's head. He put on his dressing gown and was on the verge of walking out

We shot fast in Scotland, London and New York. The budget was just $13m so it was guerrilla-style film-making. When we were in Glen Coe, the producer had to run down the mountain with a pocket of change to call the studio from a phone box. On the plane up, Sean brought out a bottle of homemade scotch a friend had given him. Cmon, laddie, he said, have a nip of this. It blew my brains out.

When Sean and Clancy Brown, who plays the villain, had their first big fight, Clancy was meant to burst in and slice the table in half with his sword. But he struck it with the flat of the blade and it broke. A shard shot over Seans head. He was on the verge of walking. He put on his dressing gown and called a meeting. Clancy said: Im so sorry. I was so nervous because its Sean Connery. Sean was gracious but said: Maybe well use my stunt double more.

There was very little CGI in those days. But because I grew up in theatre, I knew a lot about tricking the eye. For the fights, we strapped car batteries to the actors legs and wired them up so theyd spark when a sword struck. After about three takes, the sword handles would get really hot and wed have to stop.

In another shot, Sean and Clancy are climbing some steps and a wall just breaks up and falls away. We did that by having a load of guys with fishing lines attached to each stone. On the count of three, they pulled the rocks down. The sky behind was a painted backdrop youd normally see in an opera. It was a one-take affair; it would have taken all day to set up again.

I was at a point in my career when I could call in a few favours. Queen had done a great score for Flash Gordon, so we gave them a 20-minute reel of different scenes and they went: Wow! Wed only expected them to do one song, but they wanted to write one each. Freddie Mercury did Princes of the Universe, Brian May did Who Wants to Live Forever, Roger Taylor did Its a Kind of Magic.

The US release was a disaster. It had one of the worst posters ever: a black and white closeup of Christopher. It looked like he had acne. You thought: What the *beep*s this about? But at the premiere in France, there were 30-foot cutouts of Sean and Christopher all the way down the Champs-Elyses. The audience went *beep* It became an enormous hit in Europe.

My English wasnt as good as it is today. When I met the producers, the way I was speaking was probably a bit shocking. They expected someone who could do mid-Atlantic English. So I worked with a dialect coach for months: four hours of accents in the morning, then four hours of swordfighting in the afternoon, letting all that stress go.

I was training with Bob Anderson, whod been Darth Vaders stunt double. Im very short-sighted and was nervous. We started with plastic swords, then wood, then aluminium, then light steel, then heavy steel. When you miss with heavy steel, it can be bloody. You have to practise a lot.

Four hours of accent coaching a day Lambert with Beatie Edney as Heather MacLeod. Photograph: Allstar/EMI/StudioCanal

It was my first time in Scotland. Insurance people completely forbid drinking on set, but try that up there and youll get shot. Im not saying Scottish people drink all the time, but if they drink, they drink. Its not a sip of wine, its a quarter of a bottle of scotch. There were 1,000 extras for the battle scenes and they went at it for real. After each shot, the cries went up: Doctor! Nurse!

When my brother died of cancer, I had the same feeling I had during Highlander, with its idea that you cannot get the past back life has to go on. If Connor MacLeod can get through five or six lifetimes, we should be able to manage one.

The 4K restoration of Highlander is available to download now and is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 11 July.