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Every twitch way but loose: John Hannah on watching the birdies during the lockdown

© Signature EntertainmentJohn Hannah, in Enemy Lines, has been watching blue tits
John Hannah, in Enemy Lines, has been watching blue tits

Despite more than 40 years having passed, actor John Hannah can vividly remember the feeling he had when sitting his school exams.

It is, he says, one of life’s important experiences. So he’s concerned about his two teenage children, like thousands of other pupils around the UK, missing out on that moment due to the coronavirus lockdown.

“I’m 58 and still remember my O levels – the feeling of getting them done with, getting the results in, having a long summer and hanging out,” said John, who is dad to 16-year-old twins, Astrid and Gabriel, with his wife and fellow actor Joanna Roth.

“The experience of preparing for exams, sitting exams, passing or failing exams, and the sense of celebration in having achieved it – there is so much that they are missing out on.

“I was disappointed when it was announced that grades would be decided on an amalgam of course work and mock exam results.

“I don’t think the authorities have thought about how unmotivating it is for kids of exam age. An online school has been set up and my kids have to get up and log into class, but I can understand their lack of impetus to study part of a subject for no reason. It’s a total mess made by the government. They don’t realise how this leaves the kids, feeling no motivation to do any work.

“If the schools go back in September, they’ll have spent six months not really doing anything and I think that will impact on them majorly, not to mention the psychological issues.”

The Sliding Doors and Four Weddings And A Funeral star is also coming to terms with how the Covid-19 lockdown has changed his way of life. In a usual year, the East Kilbride actor will film in multiple countries around the world, but these days he’s making do with birdwatching in his London back garden.

“I’d been working last year in Montreal on a show called Transplant,” he continued.

“I had a great time – Montreal is the most fantastic city and family and friends came over. The writing was great and since it began on Canadian TV in February, it’s had good reviews and viewing figures.

“It was optioned to go again, so I had been taking it easy at home when all this started, but now we don’t know what will happen.

“As an actor there are times I’m away, but I’m also at home a lot. I’ve always felt it balanced out. I’m not getting up and going on a train every morning – sometimes I’m here for weeks and months on end, other times I’m away, and I think my kids are used to that. We had some work done on the house last year and we finally got round to fixing the garden, so I’m spending a lot of time watering the new plants.

“I have a wee chair up the back of the garden where I can watch all the birds. We have blue tits nesting in a tree, and bluebirds, parakeets, jackdaws and a little wren all fly over. I quite like my twitching.”

Like those in so many industries, John has no idea what his occupation will look like once the pandemic is over.

“As far as theatres or music venues, I think it will be a long time – if ever – until we see things being the way they used to be,” he said.

“In terms of filming, of how the industry has worked in the past with busy make-up and wardrobe departments, backgrounds, sets and supporting artists, I’ve no idea how we’re going to move on.

“I certainly don’t think it’ll be ‘that’s that’ and everyone returns to normal. I find it quite worrying. Probably more for the kids in terms of their futures rather than our own, because I’m at that age where I’m grumpy and not bothered with people anyway.

“I hope when we come out of this there will be a huge explosion of work that we need to put on TV, because it’s like a bad New Year’s Day at the moment with the amount of repeats.”

One fresh offering John is involved with is new Second World War film, Enemy Lines, released tomorrow on DVD and digital.

He plays Colonel Preston, the commander of a British commando squad that is ordered to team with an American officer to embark on a covert mission to Poland, where they must kidnap a scientist who is known to hold information of secret innovations that could prove vital to the Allies’ cause.

“We filmed in Minsk, Belarus, which is steeped in the history of the Second World War and has a phenomenal collection of tanks and artillery,” he explained.

“The director, Anders Banke, is Finnish but trained in Moscow, so the opportunity to work with someone who is from a very different type of background in terms of how they learned their craft was really exciting.”

Closer to home, John filmed two dramas in Scotland which broadcast last year – The Victim and Trust Me.

“In the previous 10 years, I think there was one job I auditioned for in Scotland and didn’t get, so when I was up working on those shows I was amazed at how much there was going on and how I much I wasn’t involved in any of it!”

While he wasn’t fully briefed on Scotland’s growing filming scene, he has begun to take more interest in its politics.

“During the independence referendum, I was down here and didn’t have a vote, and hadn’t lived there, so didn’t know the intricacies of how people felt and therefore it wasn’t for me to comment on,” he said. “But since Brexit, now the UK has decided to go on the road to nowhere, I’ve entirely changed my ideas of Scotland being an independent country in Europe. I’m all for it.”

Enemy Lines is out on DVD and digital from tomorrow


Sound and vision: Actor’s favourite things

The book I’ve read again and again

The movie of Norwegian Wood

I love the otherworldliness that Haruki Murakami brings to his books. They are so great. He’s done quite a lot of smaller, shorter, books, like Wild Sheep Chase, and even his short stories give a good idea of him as a writer. I really enjoy The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but my favourite is Norwegian Wood. That one is more of a memory piece. Being of that age, it chimes as one looks at one’s youth. It’s a lovely, lovely book to wander around and get lost in your head with.

My boxset binge

© Sky Atlantic
The power-crazed clan headed by Brian Cox as Logan Roy, top, in Succession, Sky Atlantic’s addictive drama

We’ve done Succession and really enjoyed that, so we’re waiting for the third season. In general, though, I’m not really a big TV watcher. Since having the kids we got out of the way of it. By the time we’d got them to bed we were exhausted and although they’re older now, we never really got back into watching the television for hours at a time.

My musical hero

I listen to a lot of Radiohead. Ed O’Brien from the band’s new album just dropped and it’s really beautiful. I cycle a lot these days, with my old knees, and I’ve always been into electronic music. I still listen to Kraftwerk, have done since the 70s, and LCD Soundsystem. Something with a good rhythm that gets me going when I’m out cycling.

The cultural figure I’d like to go for a drink with

Rabbie Burns. I watched a great programme about him a few weeks ago, but he’s someone I’ve always liked. I think he would be a great person to go for a couple of beers with.

The first single I bought

© Ian Dickson/Shutterstock
Bryan Ferry

I had two big sisters, so my own first single doesn’t stand out, but I remember listening to my sisters’ albums. I remember liking the cover of Deep Purple In Rock, but I didn’t like the music. I got into Bowie but the first big band I remember obsessing on, and this was from my sister again, was Roxy Music, which feeds back into the electronic music. I used to think I was a Bryan Ferry fan but I came to realise I was actually an Eno fan.

My ultimate dinner party guests

There’s a an old school friend from back in the day and fellow actor, John Comerford, who I still see. I would need to have him there because he’s such a good guy. I’d also ask Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, inset, because it would be nice to have a couple – especially a couple like that. And maybe Dorothy Parker, the writer. She’d be a laugh, and I’d see if I could get her and John Comerford hooked up.