is difficult to pin someone like Phil Collins down. That's not surprising,
really. After all, he is the beat behind supergroup Genesis, a solo
artist in his own right with a string of multi-platinum LPs, and
a movie star to boot; he played the starring role in the movie,
Buster. Hollywood and silver screen fame are things he obviously
hankers after. Hence our appointment on the set of his new film,
Frauds. When we meet I find him on a warehouse soundstage near Sydney
airport, trying to be fierce... and not entirely succeeding. Phil
Collins knows that he's not likely to come up with a more menacing
snarl than Clint in Dirty Harry mode in the forseeable future, but,
for the moment, he'd be happy if the mood of menace he's required
to project would come just a little more readily.
having to find a lot of different emotions," he confides,"and
I don't always find that easy. Like last night I had a sequence
with a gun and, to be honest, for me to be threatening with a gun
and not be comical is quite hard."
course it would be, for a nice guy like Phil. However, it is not
prudent to make that point. Phil's nice guy status has become a
bit of a bug bear. You know he is, he knows he is, the whole world
knows he is, but the constant repetition of the fact may be wearing
a bit thin. He recently made the point to a tabloid reporter that
geniality can sometimes be misread as lack of substance, but by
the time his words had been turned into a feature lead and banner
headline, he had come to the conclusion that talking about it only
made more people realise what a nice guy he is. That, and statements
like, 'People only get one chance to meet you, and if you're not
an arsehole, why give them the opportunity of thinking you are?'
described as marginally less famous than the Pope, rock's premier
workaholic is hot on the heels of Il Papa. Although he insists that
he is far less frantic than he was, say, in 1985, when he had four
million-selling singles in America (he is reputed to have earned
around $50 million to date), this 41-year-old's trotting pace is
the equal of any peer's gallop. Someone once observed that he appears
to be holding down some 15 careers of his own and, in the confusion,
several belonging to other people.
has drummed, Phil has sung, Phil has produced, written and conceptualised.
Now Phil is acting, with the same level of gleeful energy and application
that has marked everything he has done since he first recorded with
a Moody Blues-type outfit called Flaming Youth in 1969.
just trying to do things that are interesting for me," he shrugs.
"Just to keep the variety up, just to see if I can push myself
into a direction and actually get somewhere with it. I'm not trying
necessarily to become a movie star; that wouldn't be bad but that's
not the aim. I'm just trying to do interesting things and go into
areas where I've not been before. To
be honest, producing records interests me less at the moment and
I really don't want to get involved in album projects that are going
to take up a lot of time. If Miles Davis hadn't died it would have
been interesting to do an album with him, but there wasn't much
else that would have got me into the studio... although Herbie Hancock
has just been in touch about doing something and that would be an
this desire to conserve time and energy, Phil was prepared to go
to Australia for ten weeks to star in a quirky, low-budget film,
even though his stated aim after Buster was to do a bigger American
film. He was enticed by writer/director Stephen Elliot, who dangled
before him a surreal black comedy about an insurance investigation
which goes haywire. The role on offer in Frauds was that of blackmailing,
mind-twisting con-man Roland Copping. Collins was sufficiently interested
to put Hollywood on hold for a while and venture down under.
wanted to make the film in Australia because it goes too much against
the grain to work in an American studio. It's not an obvious film
and Americans really wouldn't understand it. He wanted to direct
it because he wrote a lot of it about himself; there's so much of
Roland that's Stephen. He's a very special guy and very different
to the sort of person I would normally come in contact with. He's
much younger than me, but he knows exactly what he wants and the
shots he's getting are very original. Apparently I'm the only person
he considered for the lead and when 1 said I wasn't able to do it
he said, "Well, we'll wait until you can."
Collins was a professional actor long before he became a working
musician. As a 13-year-old, back in 1964, he spent seven months
playing the Artful Dodger in a long-running stage production of
Oliver Twist. He'd landed a string of BBC plays and his father was
apparently quietly shattered when he decided that he wanted to join
a rock band rather than pursue an acting career that had got off
to a healthy start.
returned to acting playing the part of a spiv in an episode of Miami
Vice. A positive response to this led to Collins' portrayal of a
hoodlum-with-a-heart in Buster, a meaty, amusing production which
allowed him to deftly project the image of a little boy caught with
his hand in the cookie jar. There was no doubt at all, when the
reviews were in, that Phil Collins' name would again be on cinema
hoardings. Not that it was all joy on set.
Buster, he recalls, "'I over-prepared myself so much that I
knew everybody else's part as well as my own. But when I got out
onto the set with the cameraman saying, "That's your mark there,"
I thought, "Oh f**k, I forgot about that! I've actually got
to talk, move and hit the mark." That's when I suddenly realised,
maybe I should have stayed a drummer! But after that I did slip
very easily into it."
still can't resist the temptation to get his hand in a little earlier,
to psych himself up. The advance shooting script revealed that one
of Roland Copping's idiosyncracies was the constant handling of
dice. So, before he'd set foot in Sydney, he went out and bought
a pair. 'I wanted to get used to the grating and develop a natural
ease with handling them. In the film I knew I had to use them to
annoy people and I found that the noise they make can be really
annoying. I only had them at home for about ten minutes before my
wife said, "Shh, what are you doing? Stop it. That's very irritating!"
But now I've got used to it, I think I'm hooked."'
Edwards and Roland Copping are both villains, but the similarities
are minimal. Phil's nice guy image easily survived his first lead
film role, but it may not totally survive the second.
Roland enjoys other people's misfortunes," Phil reveals. "'In
some respects he's a child who never grew up. He was the cause of
his brother becoming a quadriplegic; Matthew fell over a waterfall
in a game he was forced to play and when his mother found him she
had a heart attack. Because Roland's development stopped at about
the age of ten, he really enjoys games, his life is a game, everything
he does revolves around them. Of course, he has grown older; but
even as a freelance insurance investigator, he can't resist the
urge to trap and to blackmail. He can be very charming but by the
last third of the film he's become a vicious, vindictive person,
just as a lot of children are quite cruel. It's that part that is
most demanding for me - the stuff I'm looking forward to, to see
if I can do it, but at the same time dreading that I've got to do
it at all. That vicious streak is something I've never had to portray."
Frauds, Roland Copping psychologically terrorises a seemingly defenceless
young couple, portrayed by Hugo Weaving, who came to fame in the
cult film Proof, and Josephine Byrnes, the award-laden star of the
Australian mini-series Brides Of Christ. Considerable subtleties
are involved so it was fortuitous that an almost instant bond developed
on the set between Collins and Weaving, to the delight of director
both very physical people,' explains Phil. 'Every time we meet in
the morning or when we say goodbye we give each other a big hug,
which a lot of people can't do."
describes the rocker as "absolutely lovely and charming. I
was impressed by what he brought to the first rehearsal, how much
work he'd done and how funny he made the character. That was something
I hadn't expected. I think he's probably very aware that people
think of him as just a musician, so this is important to him."
is not just a fling for Collins. He recently declared that he wants
to take at least a year off from Genesis obligations to give himself
a serious shot at a career diversion that he obviously sees as more
than a passing infatuation. '
am doing Frauds because it's a very original script and I think
it will be a very special film, but I'm also doing it for the experience,
just like I did a small role as a policeman in Spielberg's Hook.
The one good thing is that, because it's not the way I really make
my living, I can pick and choose. Anthony Hopkins didn't have to
go to Melbourne to make Spotswood, it was something he wanted to
do. When you're in control of your own destiny you can do that,
go any way you want. But who knows what will happen? I get bored
doing one thing so after I've done a couple of films I'll probably
want to do an album because writing the music and doing the demos
is so enjoyable."
and then again maybe not. The man lives to work.
had to learn to relax but it doesn't come naturally. Now I take
one holiday a year, away in the sun with all my children. And after
the ten-month Genesis tour of 1987 I started building a model railway
in my cellar, which was completely different from anything else
I've done in my life. I had a hobby for the first time. I muck around
with it still - I build the models, I make the scenery and I get
satisfaction from it. But most of the time I just work."
the term workaholic could have been coined just for Phil. Nobody
understands the downside of this intense degree of commitment better
than the man who was the subject of a 1990 Q magazine cover story
entitled Why Phil Collins Never Clocks Off.
try to say "No" more than I used to and I try to spend
more time with my second wife Jill. My first marriage broke up because
Genesis was on the road for so long and my whole family wasn't there
when I got back."'
tours are now structured a little more compassionately - of necessity.
Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford have children of school age and the
three aren't exactly in the bloom of youth.
came down to this: we can do ten months of arenas or three months
of stadiums, and the latter option won. The bigger venues aren't
as much fun - they're an event of a different kind - but we don't
want to be like Dire Straits and Sting and go out on the road for
two or three years. Although, having said that, my last solo tour
was about nine months and I had a great time! Apart from British
audiences, the only ones that you can talk to, like I'm talking
to you now, are Australian audiences. At the end of a song they'll
applaud as wildly and as enthusiastically as an American audience.
the ambient noise in America is..... well, you know, if you do a
quiet song that's a cue for all the jerks in the audience to shout
out how much they love you, which is great, and of course they're
not all insensitive, but you only need a thousand out of 15,000
to really stuff it up. If you're doing a 3-4,000 seater the shows
are fantastic. But it never ceases to amaze me, when you're playing
a place like Dodger Stadium in L.A., how many people have to go
to the toilet. They're either going to the bathroom, or getting
a hot dog, or getting a drink, and it's an incredible distraction
because it's like all these little ants walking up and down in the
light. The subtlety starts being honed off a show when you take
it to America; all those fine moments when you can have a little
aside to the audience and suddenly somebody gets the joke and a
ripple goes through, like it does in Britain and Australia. So if
you play here or there first, it's great, whereas if you play in
England or Australia after the States you tend to think you're dying.
But you can at least bring back the subtleties. The worst tour I've
done has probably been in Germany. There you get these squaddies,
or GIs who go out and drink as much as they can before the show,
down a couple of pills, smoke a couple of joints, OD, and are sick
in front of you. We've had security guards slipping and falling
in it and you've got to sing with all this going on and it actually
stinks, you can smell it. I'm not anti-drugs or anti-alcohol but
I am anti-abuse."
all goes to plan, the vehicle that will keep Collins busy in 1993
is a film that he suggested as a joke but which took on a life of
its own. It began in 1985 during the No Jacket Required tour when
he read a review which called him 'a Danny DeVito lookalike' (in
fact, Collins works out regularly and the singlet he wears on the
Frauds set reveals impressive muscles).
thought, "F**k, I've heard it all now," but it really
stayed in my mind. By the end of the tour I'd been called short,
stocky, tubby, fat, cheerful, boisterous, all those kind of adjectives
as well as "a Bob Hoskins look-alike". This was before
I'd done any acting, but I thought that it would be really funny,
the three of us - DeVito, Hoskins and myself - as the Three Bears.
So when I did the Buster press thing, I said as a joke that I was
making a Goldilocks And The Three Bears film with those guys. Then
suddenly it was in print and they were putting pictures of the three
of us together and the ball had started rolling. I actually got
a telegram from Kim Basinger saying "I'd love to be Goldilocks."
But the thing is I hadn't told the other guys. I knew Hoskins so
I rang and said: "They've started to write this stuff, would
you be interested?' And he said: "Well, it's a great idea,
show me a script." I knew Danny because he had asked me to
write a couple of songs for The War Of The Roses - neither of which
he liked - and he said much the same thing, although he kept adding,
"You think I'm a bear, huh?" Danny and Bob are well on
board and I keep seeing Hoskins on TV shows being asked about it.
So this word of mouth thing actually does work. The only change
is that Goldilocks will be a child and the love interest, the blonde
bombshell, will probably be her mother."
if Kim gets the part, you read it here first.
Phil Collins, the buzz is still all important. Clearly his love
of music is never going to desert him.
still get a buzz out of making records and writing songs,"
he declares, "and now I'm getting a buzz out of acting."
dedication to the things he loves can be quite overpowering. Take
his long-running passion for the Beatles, which manifests itself
in a vast collection of bootleg albums and CDs of outtakes.
think it must be the special period I grew up in. Bill Haley and
Elvis never meant much to me and I really never understood their
importance, but Beatles records still stand up and sound as great
today as when they were made. I was very lucky to be interviewed
by George Martin while he was re-mastering the original Beatles
albums on CD. I went down to the studio while was he working on
Yesterday and Ticket To Ride and I got to put one fader up at a
time and listen to each of the four tracks. And I realised that
it was probably the last time anybody would get to do that because
they're all on digital now, there'll never be any need to re-master
them again. There were coughs and splutters and lots of vocal tracks
and the magic was what happened when George put it all together
through the compressors. He has never gone without credit, but I
don't believe he's ever got as much as he deserves. You know, they
were a great group but they were better once they'd gone through
the Martin hands."