John Hurt: Why I believe in ghosts!

Hollywood actor John Hurt reveals to What’s On TV the ghostly secrets behind BBC2’s scary Christmas tale Whistle And Ill Come To You….

Can you describe your character, James Parkin?

“He’s a retired lecturer whose wife has probably got Alzheimer’s or something very similar like dementia. And he’s eventually had to put her in a home. So he’s in a lonely state really. He decides he’s going to visit some of the old haunts they used to go to when they were just married. And he is confronted by things that happen to him.”

How does he feel about putting his wife in the home?

“It’s horrible. He doesn’t want to do it at all but he can’t cope with it any more. It is a love story as well, in a way, which I think is rather important because it’s very identifiable. They were childhood sweethearts, so they’ve been linked together all their lives.”

Will we question his sanity?

“You might question a few things about him but I don’t think you’d question his sanity. He’s not a madman or behaving in a crazed way, in that sense.”

Do you like ghost stories?

“Yes I do. I remember liking ghost stories from when I was sent away to school in 1940s. And if you became a prefect, which somehow misguidedly enough I was made a prefect at one stage, it was a treat before you went to bed on Sunday night. The warden would read ghost stories, and he was very good at it too, so it was smashing.”

What do you think it is that makes this story particularly scary?

“It’s not a horror film, it’s a ghost story, which is different. So really

it’s something that is outside the laws of physics and he can’t have it.”

Do you have any belief in the supernatural yourself?

“People see all sorts of things and we don’t really have any explanation for them. I can’t see that so many people would see the same thing and all lie, without knowing that the other one had seen it. But what makes that phenomenon happen, I don’t think we know. What I don’t approve of or like at all is trying to personalise it. Trying to make it into some sort of personal thing like a personal God, which I don’t believe in either.”

So have you had any encounters?

“Oh yes. We all have I should imagine. I doubt there’s anyone who either hasn’t seen a ghost or hasn’t got a friend who has. I don’t think that it’s actually a special ghostly being. I suspect it has a scientific explanation at some stage.”

Are you easily scared?

“I don’t think I’m easily scared, but I can be as scared as anybody else. Things catch you by surprise.”

Do you get quite spooked by horror movies? Do you avoid them? Or are you okay with that?

“I don’t see many horror movies that I like, because I just don’t believe them.”

How did you prepare for this role?

“I’m not a method actor. It’s been intense but only because I didn’t have any time to prepare because, as it so often does these days, everything happens last minute.”

What do you think it is about Christmas and ghost stories that go so well together?

“It’s funny that isn’t it? It’s just the right time. It’s conducive I think. It’s sitting round the fire, in the semi dark, chatting, reminiscing, just putting yourself into the right sort of mood? It goes back as far as Scrooge I suppose.”

Do you think this will scare people?

“I hope it does what its supposed to do. Otherwise why do it!”

Whistle And I’ll Come To You in on BBC2, Christmas Eve, 9pm