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Christopher Eccleston reveals all about Lennon Naked

Christopher Eccleston was born in Salford, Greater Manchester, in February, 1964.

He shot to fame playing Derek Bentley in the 1991 film Let Him Have It, and went on to further acclaim in Cracker, Our Friends In The North, Shallow Grave and Hillsborough.

In 2005, he was cast as The Doctor in the revamped Doctor Who. He stayed in the role for just one series before David Tennant took over, although earlier this week elaborated on why he really left the show.

Lennon Naked can be seen on BBC Four on Wednesday June 23.

What's new in Lennon Naked that we don't already know?

Well I think John's been taken on as a lad icon, and he struggled with that all his life. He was constrained by that macho culture, but he was such a feminine man in many ways, as we show in our film.

The film is very sympathetic toward Yoko Ono. How did you feel about her prior to starting filming?

The same really. I'd not been unsympathetic before. I remember having a family set-to about her, confronting them by saying a lot of the vitriol aimed at Yoko was race based. I was 18, and I felt that was wrong. I've always had an instinctive empathy for her, she's an outsider. I did pick up that they loved each other.

Which look of his do you particularly like?

The first time I really remember Lennon registering with me was the press conference he gave defending his comment about Jesus, so that, really. For a popstar to be talking about things like that and not, if you'll excuse me, kowtowing to the press, was incredible. He was offered countless opportunities to apologise.

It wasn't a proper apology, was it.

No, [does perfect Lennon accent] 'I'll apologise if you want me to, I'm sorry...'

That was a turning point in The Beatles too, when he realised what they'd become and how ridiculous the situation was.

Yeah, he said that in hindsight, but at the time he was mortified he'd ruined it for the others. Apparently he was in tears after it. And it went by unnoticed over here, but it was a DJ in America that picked it up.

What Beatle music do you especially love?

I love the early stuff, it was so sophisticated for pop music at the time; rhythmic, exciting, fantastic.

Where do you begin playing someone like Lennon?

At the beginning. I think you have to look at them as a human being, and as a character. Fortunately with Lennon, I've got all these resources of how they walked and talked. It's about mindless repetition of watching videos, reading books and not worrying too much about the fact that he is a Godhead, in my eyes. I could start by relying on other people's talent and imagination too, because it wasn't those audio tapes and interviews that got me through, it was the script and the words I'd been given to say.

Was it the script that attracted you?


Not playing Lennon?

No, because that would be a mistake. If you're a poxy writer who wants to get some attention, you write something about John Lennon, so I certainly wouldn't do one that didn't do John, Yoko or The Beatles credit. I really loved the way Robert [Jones, writer] captured John's voice in this one, and I think John would love it.

Where did you start with the accent?

Salford! It starts with impersonation, and seeing whether you've got a taste of it. Then I worked with a dialect coach, and they talk where the tongue is in the palette, how much they open their mouth. You can analyse and break it down, but it's just about listening and listening and listening. The voice is as important with John, not just the accent. You have to get that thin sound. The accent and the voice are separate. His accent changed, too, because he changed a lot, he was a shape-shifter. There was Macho John, Sensitive Peacenik John and there was this nice, complicated middle class boy in there too, who sounded nothing like Ringo. When John was really at bay, in those Christ interviews, you can hear the nice middle class boy coming through. He was a real chameleon.

There are lines in the script taken directly from press conferences. How do you decide what you're going to keep and change?

There are four press conferences, and we used those to show the changing attitude toward them in the UK. I suppose the one where he says he's not a Mop Top any more was the ultimate, with the press really biting back at him. The first one, from Magical Mystery Tour, we wanted to get the jollity across. There was a real cameraderie between The Beatles and the press at times.

Naoko Mori plays Yoko. You've worked with her before on Doctor Who. Did that help when it came to doing the nude scenes?

Well yeah, but we weren't naked in Doctor Who! Not even in the late-night one! When I met Robert and we talked about Yoko, she was the first person that I thought of. She's extraordinary. With nudity, actors always watch each other's backs, literally, you daren't look anywhere else, but it's not normal, so you have to take care of each other.

Were there any specific reference points you went to? Books, films?

Not really. It would have been nice if there was, but there wasn't really.

Did you not want to sing in the film?

I would have done, if it needed it, but I don't think it would have won us any awards! It's dangerous doing that.

Did you stay in character at all?

I don't method out like that. If you play a character like this, dealing with very dark episodes of their life like this does, I think you carry a bit with you, not intentionally. It's around us though, and I remember the night before we shot the final day, I read a fantastic interview with Paul McCartney in The Times, where he said he never intentionally sat down to write a song about John's death, and he said if a song came he'd write it. He mentioned this song Here Today, and I was on a day off in a pub having some lunch, and downloaded it. I sat there and cried my eyes out. I think that's because it was all coming to an end and I wasn't going to be able to be him any more. Between takes though, no, I didn't have a problem going in and out of character.

Would you like to go back and do another film, covering '71 to '80?

If Robert wrote it. It was a fascinating period. He better do it!

Did you come away with a different opinion about John and Yoko?

I'd read a lot about him before, so it confirmed a lot, really. He was so contradictory. But then having to do that scene where he had to choose between his parents aged five, felt immense. I felt that incident drove and drove him on.

Have you got a favourite Beatles or Lennon song?

, definitely.

And finally, what's next?

I'm doing episode one of The Accused, Jimmy McGovern's new drama. It's very exciting, I've worked with Jimmy a lot so I can't wait.

Lennon Naked can be seen on BBC Four on Wednesday June 23. It is part of the channel's Fatherhood season.

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