McGann looks back on illustrious career

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Paul McGann © LJMU

Liverpool-born actor Paul McGann talked about his long and illustrious career in the industry as part of a student master class event in John Moores University.

Speaking at LJMU he revealed how surprised he was about his own fame when he was asked for a photograph by ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ star Johnny Depp.

McGann, who is remembered for starring as Doctor Who and in ‘Withnail & I’, recalled his chance meeting that took place over 20 years ago whilst looking back on a career which has spanned three decades.

Talking to a packed audience at the Art and Design Academy, McGann said: “I was approached by someone who said ‘don’t get embarrassed, but Johnny Depp wants to meet you.’ It turns out he was a big fan of mine and so I ended up getting my picture taken with him. It was a great experience.”

Born and raised in Kensington, McGann attended Cardinal Allen Grammar School in West Derby where he was advised by one of his teachers to enter the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

“Nobody had been to the theatre, yet we got into it,” he remembered. “I only went once as a kid because we often went to the pictures instead. I remember being riveted with Jack Nicholson, he was a fantastic actor. I thought it [RADA] might have been full of posh kids but it wasn’t. The kids who were there were given grants and there was a strong working class presence throughout the academy.”

McGann feels that not many working class kids today have the same opportunity as he once did. He said: “Drama now seems to be more middle class. Where once people from a similar background to mine had an opportunity to break through there isn’t anymore.”

Although his breakthrough role came in ITV’s ‘Give us a Break’, McGann shot to prominence in 1986 after starring in ‘The Monocled Mutineer’ with his portrayal of infamous British deserter and criminal Percy Toplis.  McGann said: “The role kind of changed my life. It opened up a passionate side for World War I which I had never had before.”

He received further critical acclaim with his performance as the eponymous ‘I’ in Bruce Robinson’s cult film ‘Withnail and I’ alongside Richard E. Grant. However McGann revealed that he was originally fired due to his accent.

He said: “After two days and reading with all the potential Withnails, I was fired for being too Scouse! I was completely gutted and I rang my agent who tried to get me back in.

“But fortunately for me, the actor who was set to replace me turned it down as he found the script homophobic.”

McGann, who ranks it as his favourite performance, feels the film was a testament to its quality: “It’s a kind of chamber piece. As weird as Richard was, his performance was fantastic.”

McGann had some advice for any drama students in the audience who are trying to follow in his footsteps. He said: “A sense of humour is needed. It kept a lot of us going during the early days.

“You have to enjoy the experience, which I feel like I have, and do what you do well.”

About Joel Richards, JMU Journalism