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Ian McShane on 'John Wick: Chapter 2' and not being scary in real life

Our aimless chat veers from "Sexy Beast" to the forgotten 1970 sex comedy "Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You."
Ian McShaneJohn Wick

It’s not hard to get Ian McShane to do a movie. It just has to be the right circumstances. When the legendary actor was making “John Wick” back in 2014, the producers asked him if he’d come back for a sequel. “I said, ‘New York, two weeks in December? I’ll be there, thank you!” he recalls. The last decade run has seen a run of small, fun roles, on top of longer stretches in the likes of “Ray Donovan” and the forthcoming “American Gods.” It shows how laidback and fun the real McShane is — more the light-hearted antique dealer of “Lovejoy” than sweary Al Swearengen on “Deadwood.”

To chat with McShane is to really chat. We don’t stay on topic, and certainly not on “John Wick: Chapter 2,” which is no slight on the film — as brutal and batty as the first. The actor reprises his role as Winston, the suave and charming caretaker of the Continental, the assassins-only hotel in Tribeca.

Sorry you don’t get to do any stunts here, though you’ve had your share in the past.
Oh yeah, loads of movies. I’ve done action in more movies than…whatever. “Villain” with Richard Burton, “Sitting Target” with Oliver Reed. I had some serious stunts when I did that very silly but very funny movie, “Hot Rod.” I had a huge fight with Andy Samburg. But you reach a certain age and you’re like, ‘I’m happy watching Keanu doing all that, thank you very much.’

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This also brings you back to New York, where you’ve had a history.
Oh yeah. I’ve done plays there. I go back to 1967, when I did my first play in New York. I saw “Hair” there. It was always a magic place.

Any misadventures?
Yeah, but none I can talk about at the moment. [Laughs] That was in my pre-sober days. I’ve got marvelous memories since 1988, and fantastic memories pre-1988. But those aren’t for publication, thank you.

What was New York like back in 1967, minus the stuff you can’t talk about?
You’d go down to the Village and go to the clubs there. It was an amazing place, amazing time in the Village then. But it was a bit empty then. Cities didn’t have as many people as they do now.

You’re in Los Angeles now.
I live in Los Angeles, and people say, “Where do you prefer?” I don’t prefer anywhere. I live on the beach in L.A. because, well, I’m English, you want to see the sun. But it can’t compare to New York. London is a great city, I love it there, but New York is heads and shoulders over London. When you do a play in New York, there’s nothing that feels like it. At 7 o’clock at night, you get that feeling that comes over you as you’re walking to the theater. Everybody’s doing the same thing. London doesn’t have that energy.

You should move to New York!
No, no. I like it that way it is.

It’s a great place to visit.
Absolutely. Fantastic place to visit.

I have to say, the first time I saw you was in “Sexy Beast,” from 2000.
Great movie.

I like that my introduction to you was as a terrifying gangster, who can freeze the blood with a cold stare. This was before “Deadwood,” but up till then you were largely known for the very nice if rogueish Lovejoy. It seems like “Sexy Beast” was your entrée into playing dark and scary.
Well, I had six years of the show, which was very successful. But after that you have to stay away from TV for a while. When it finished I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on television. So I did a couple plays and just stayed out of it for a few years.

“Lovejoy” isn’t as well known in America as in Britain. Are Americans shocked that you can play bubbly?
We’ve all got previous lives. Acting is the only business where the older you get the parts get better, the pay gets better. Anywhere else you’d be kicked to the scrapheap years ago.

Are people scared of you? You do seem very nice and conversational.
Well, I don’t tell them that. I’m only being nice to you, kid. But you never know what people are going to mention. They’ll mention “Battle of Britain” or “Lovejoy” or things I did in the ’60s, ’70s. I get “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.” You never know what they’re going to say.

I feel like I should bring up “Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You,” the 1970 sequel to "What's New, Pussycat?", though I’ve never seen it.
Well, neither have I! Well, I have seen it, about 45 years ago. “Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You” — you’ve been looking at my CV, haven’t you? [Laughs] That was eight weeks in Rome. You can’t turn that down, baby.

I’m sure plenty of people brought up “Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You” while talking to you about “John Wick.”
Nobody. You’re the only one who brought it up. Thank god.

When was the last time anyone mentioned it?
The last time anyone mentioned “Pussycat, Pussycat” is the year I did it.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

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