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Terry Pratchett's 'Hogfather' Q&A

By and Joanne Oatts
Terry Pratchett's 'Hogfather' Q&A
Digital Spy was in attendance at the star-studded premiere of Sky One's adaptation of Terry Pratchett's The Hogfather - set to air at Christmas. For the uninitiated, the story is set in an alternative Discworld universe and revolves around a vicious plot to murder their Santa Claus equivalent. But if the presents aren't delivered on Hogswatchnight, then the sun will fail to rise the next day. To prevent a catastrophe, Death tries his skeletal hand at the role, accompanied by his servant Albert. Meanwhile, his industrious granddaughter Susan tries to track down The Hogfather in time to save him...

After the screening, some serious talent from both behind and in front of the camera took to the stage to shed some light on this lavish new production. Leading the troops was television legend David Jason, who plays Albert to fine comic effect , young starlet Michelle Dockery (Susan), director Vadim Jean and the man Pratchett himself...

Terry, have all your 'Hogswatches' come at once?
TP: Pretty much, you know. What I love about the movie is that ingenuity was made to do the work of the money that you didn't have and ingenuity gets you through times of no money, better than money gets you through times of no ingenuity. I've seen all of that before, but everything I've seen has usually got some hole in the middle of it somewhere through which Vadim would poke his head and say 'in the finish it will be quite different'. I don't know how I could have possibly done it better, and I was the guy whose head the movie first actually took place in.

David, what attracted you to the part of Albert?

DJ: He was a good man, wasn't he? (does something that makes everyone laugh). What we've managed to achieve, considering the constraints that have been put upon us. Anybody who wants to make television these days has a tremendous problem because it's a financially restrictive media in this day and age. They paint on such a large landscape these days in the movies that it's very different. I have to say, what you've achieved - and with Terry's creative input originally, that I think you started to break down some of these barriers. Particularly what the team put together has brought something quite special to television and I hope you'll be able to continue to push back these barriers. As Terry's just said, he's managed to create something where they'll throw money at it, and I think it's achieved what the Americans would have thrown money at too. So yes, I'm very pleased. You asked me originally what attracted me to it - I've always been a fan of Terry Pratchett's anyway, but I thought it was just such a good piece I thought, and I liked the idea of playing a bloody silly loony, really! I thought that attracted me. It's this sort of television I believe in - I think we should be making more television for pure entertainment, that's the way that I view it.

TP: This is the author talking...one thing I'd like to add, because I think the whole thing's about three hours isn't it? When we were discussing it, I said 'There is going to be room for the Archchancellor's Bathroom, isn't there? Yes. Okay but you're not going to allow the bit where the piggy does the wee, are you? Yes.' So I said 'Fine, you can make the movie.' Because Discworld is a lot about texture, but it's not just a series of things happening, you've got to get a feel of the world and the things that are going on. I must confess, I did have a small bottle of brandy with me, while I watched (the screening) because I was so nervous. It isn't entirely finished!

Vadim Jean:Michelle, this is extraordinary, this is actually Michelle's first proper appearance on film. With any luck she'll be able to finance our movies in a few year's time! What was the most difficult thing you had to do?

Michelle Dockery: The most difficult part of the filming was the last moment (of Part One), I was absolutely terrified, I thought - I had no idea how heavy any of those blocks would be. At one point, one of them fell on me, but it didn't hurt at all because it was just polystyrene, so obviously I just sailed through it. But in fact now, is the most terrifying moment!

MD: And riding Binky? (Death's horse featured in the film)

MD: It was great, it was fantastic to learn how to ride. I've never ridden a horse before, so it was a whole part of the process before we started filming.

TP: What will stay with me forever, is that I have a very small part, and particularly in the movie. For some reason, Vadim decided that to get that part out, minute one, day one was the piece with me in it. All I had to was stand and look totally terrified in the presence of Death, which is actually quite easy to do, because I had no acting experience whatever - although I've pulled off the act of being a successful writer for 25 years, and believe me, for a man without talent, that's incredibly hard!

I stood there, rooted to the spot, because it's the first time I'd seen the Death they'd put together, an absolutely marvellous piece of work, and what made it even more terrifying for me was that out of camera range as he stood before me with his menacing blue gaze, he was actually giving me a skeletal thumbs up. I was thinking, 'One should not be confronted with a figment of one's imagination in this way!' The second part, I'm sorry about this, Michelle, but it does burn in the memory! It was the first thing for both of us, and all afternoon Vadim had Michelle writhing around on this enormous semi-automatic pig in a smokestorm until she got flustered and angry, which is exactly what he was hoping she was going to get, because she was being chased by weird creatures. But subsequently she did actually share the fact that her 'corset fitted extremely comfortably.' It's these little things that stay in the mind! I took every opportunity to go to the set, and they allowed us to steal an awful lot of the props, which we shall sell to charity, apart from one or two, which I shall keep for myself.

Why are the costumes and setting in the 19th century and not contemporary? And why does nobody seem to notice that Death dressed as the Hogfather?

TP: It isn't now, and it isn't here, so this is another world...Discworld was originally set in something somewhat similar to Georgian England. The medieval look, I thought, was a bit hackneyed. So in order to create the world of Discworld and the major city of Ankh-Morpork, I wanted a place where technology was beginning to be harnessed, but there's no electricity. You get that vaguely sort of 19th century look, because it's an interesting period as well, and no one notices when he's dead, because you do not see death until you're going to die. Again, that's something in the book. Unfortunately, you cannot have the author's voice in the movie, but it's on the par with so many other things. Go to the opera, for example, and it's amazing that you're expected to believe, for example, that because a rather large lady puts on a small mask, that her husband will not recognise her when he appears at the ball. It's one of those conventions of the stage and screen, I think.

David, will your daughter Sophie (aged five) be watching it?

DJ: She'll be terrified out of her skin! She likes Doctor Who, and this is no more scary than Doctor Who, so I should think that she'll love it, really. I found that Death, myself, I found it really worrying - no one ever likes Death, I thought it was a frightening idea. But having worked with him and watched him... (laughter). It's the nearest I'm going to get to him. You forget that he's a skeleton and you find that he's a wonderful guy and trying his best and not doing it very well. I think that will work with younger kids that will be watching it, I'm sure that they'll be crying at first, but I think they'll get to like him, like I did!

VJ: It's an amazing performance - I don't know if you know how we did that. Ian Richardson pre-recorded that voice, and it makes an incredible performance. He's never met any of the rest of the cast - at previous films, of course, but then it was played back live, which was triggered by a little switch in the skull by the tallest person on stage - Marnix (Van Den Broeke) - actually a Dutchman (applause). I thought the way in which Marnix expressed Ian's vocal performance was really quite extraordinary. I don't know how you felt about acting with him, both of you?

MD: Marnix has a dancing, so a physical background, but he could sell every word, so he was extraordinary working with him.

TP: It seemed to me amazing how a rigid mask, which is what you've got, nevertheless can act, down to body movements, and hesitation in the voice. It was actually quite astonishing.

Did David have somebody in mind when he was portraying Albert?

DJ: No, not at all. I got it all from the book. There was a set of drawings that came with the script, done in great detail, of all the characters. I found that that, being presented with the script and with the book, how you read the book, and the amalgam of the two, I hope I found something between the two of them. I didn't base it on anybody, not in particular - Tony Blair springs to mind!)

Hogfather will be shown in two instalments on Sky One, at 8pm on Sunday, December 17 and Monday, December 18

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