Charley Boorman is a TV adventurer and friend of Ewan Mcgregor – he’s also son of director John Boorman, a fan of Deus motorbikes and an all round top guy. Tony Stanton spent 15 minutes with him on the phone. Portrait: Anthony Dodds.
HI CHARLEY. First of all we’re fans of your work, and we’d like to get into your pedigree a bit – you are from a pretty famous showbiz family …
Yes. My dad was the director John Boorman and I suppose as children – I’ve got three sisters – he used to put us into all these movies. We travelled all over the world with him. So we went from South Carolina to the South Pacific, over to L.A., over all these years, but our main base was Ireland. We’d go along with him and if there were any movie parts for children he’d throw us in … because we were cheap labour. The first film I did was Deliverance – I had a tiny part in that.
You were the kid at the end, right? Or the kid with the banjo?
No, not the banjo kid … luckily. But at that age it was difficult for me to look in the right direction on set – to get the eye line right with the camera. I remember my dad bought me a tricycle so whenever I had to do a scene he would place it where I needed to be looking, and told me if I got things right I could have it. It was all a bit dodgy really.
I can imagine. So what was it like on set, given that you were so young … you were six or seven?
You didn’t really know what was going on – just hanging out with dad and off you went … and he’d chuck you in the odd movie. I remember I used to go off with his driver when dad was on set – he’d keep me occupied by driving along the road and we’d shoot at people’s letterboxes with his handgun. “Don’t tell your dad …” he’d say.
How old were you when you first watched that movie?
I was pretty young – maybe nine or 10.
Oh god …
Actually I was more shocked by The Exorcist – because my dad made The Exorcist II – and I remember sitting down and watching it when I was 11 or 12, and, fuck me, that was disturbing. I remember dad saying, “maybe I shouldn’t have made you do this …” Yeah, right – it’s a bit late now … So we grew up not really realising what was going on. And it was only when I went to school properly – because when we were travelling we always had tutors – that the other kids said, “oh your dad’s a film director”. It was only later I realised that what he did was potentially cool.
… and all the other movies he did as well, with Angie Dickenson, Lee Marvin, and people like that – were you there for that?
Yes, Lee Marvin was my godfather so we pretty much knew him all his life. Dad and Lee were best mates … and it was really because of him that dad got his film career going. Lee Marvin approached dad and said, “I want you to film my next movie”, which was Point Blank. That movie was super successful – it was really the first “violent” film. And then they made another beautiful movie together and became mates for life.
We remember seeing the footage of Lee Marvin and Bruce Lee talking to camera – they were probably the two coolest people of that generation …
Lee Marvin was the man. He was a Marine who fought in the South Pacific during WWII. He had a terrible battle at one stage where his whole platoon was killed except for him and another guy. The other guy saved his life. I think that affected him forever and probably explained why he was such a big drinker. He never truly came back from that war. It was bizarre that he went from this Marine to being an actor.
That’s what we love about the movie business – that it does attract these types of people. Your mate Ewan (McGregor) is kind of like that – he’s attractive but it’s not really about the way he looks … he’s got it onscreen …
My mother all her life had been exposed to famous people, to Hollywood, and to all that kind of stuff and she never really batted an eyelid. But every time Sean Connery would walk in to the room she’d go weak at the knees. And we’d known Sean forever … he’s got “it”.
So Charley, these days you are into the TV adventure thing … is there anywhere you haven’t been that you want to go to?
There’re lots of places. I’ve seen a lot but there’re huge amounts yet to do. The whole of Central and South America I haven’t really been to. There are just so many places – the whole of India, China, Burma. There’s always somewhere to go but it’s always about trying to convince people to give me the money to make the TV show. That’s always a big hard sell.And you’d think that as you made more and more TV shows it would get easier, but it actually gets harder and harder.
That’s the whole thing about show business – no show, no business …
You’d think show business is about the ego thing, about the glamour … but it’s like anyone who lives in any city, anywhere really – you get an idea and you have to tout it around. Somebody gives you the money and then you’ve got to go and do it. I guess that the difference about making a TV show is that your failings are much more visible.
Let’s talk about Bali, man – what do you think about Bali? What were you doing here?
I was making a TV show called Freedom Riders for Star Sports. This show is all about what people do with motorcycles in Asian cities – basically what you can do on a tank of gas in these cities. One of the shows is placed in Bali, and we did a bunch of other places – Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India and Thailand … We hung out with people in these places who use their bikes for work – like one guy who had a little kitchen on the side of his bike and goes off to do his business; people who do motocross; racing on tracks etcetera. It was a lot of fun I must say. I’ve been to Bali quite a few times and am very good friends with Dare Jennings (Deus Ex Machina). He’s got a bloody nice house … one of the hidden wonders of the world. And then there’s Deus – the Temple of Enthusiasm – when we were doing the show it just seemed like a natural place to go, and then to head out and have a bit of a laugh on the island. I tried my hand at surfing again … but I’m rubbish.
It’s an English thing – we’re hopeless …
It might well be.
What about motorbikes … favourite one of all time?
I think if I had to pick one it would be the BMW GS. It’s the perfect bike for adventure because it does a little bit of everything. If you’re sitting on an old custom bike, for instance, you’re a bit limited. But the GS can do tracks and dirt roads and highways … and then, of course, second best would be any Deus bike.
Bless you …
They are so uber-cool.
What’s the best thing about being Charley Boorman?
The best thing about all the travelling and all of that is coming home and shagging my wife. But the best thing is that in life you tend to fall into things … and that’s the lovely thing about life – you can change your direction in it. I look back to doing a Dakar Rally a few years back – I broke my hand and didn’t finish it. But I felt so lucky that I could enter such an amazing race. I think that was one of my luckiest moments … and not dying was a good thing too.
That’ll come …
Yes, but it’s so over-rated …
Charley, thanks for your time and best of luck.