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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Christopher Lee on the making of legends
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News Online staff in Dinard, France

Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee: Star of cult movies
Iconic British actor Christopher Lee was recently the subject of a special tribute at the British Film Festival in Dinard, Brittany.

In a career that has lasted nearly 60 years, the 82-year-old actor has made more than 200 films and specialised in a long line of memorable villains, from Dracula to Scaramanga and The Lord of the Rings' Saruman.

To all intents and purposes - even by Lauren Bacall's standards - Lee is a legend, but what defines his place in the film firmament?

"Lauren Bacall was absolutely 100% right," Lee told BBC News Online at Dinard, referring to Bacall's citing of Birth co-star Nicole Kidman as a "beginner".

"It's a problem, and a huge danger. You have somebody who is between 17 and 25, and because they look good you put them into a major film with a huge budget - and you give them a major role.

"How could you possibly expect them, at that age, to have enough knowledge, experience, background, foundations - whatever you want to call it - to be able to deliver. They can't.

A still from the film, The Wicker Man
Christopher Lee says The Wicker Man was his 'best film'
"That I think is what Lauren Bacall meant, she wasn't saying it personally against Nicole Kidman, who is a charming woman and a very good actress."

"To be a legend, you've either got to be dead or excessively old!

Lee said actors such as Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood would one day merit being described as legends.

In his own legendary career, Lee maintains that the best film he ever starred in was the Wicker Man.

The most successful films of his career, commercially at least, are Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he cites a little known art-house film, Jinnah, as his most important work.

"The most important film I made, in terms of its subject and the great responsibility I had as an actor was a film I did about the founder of Pakistan, called Jinnah," he said.

"It had the best reviews I've ever had in my entire career - as a film and as a performance. But ultimately it was never shown at the cinemas."

Filmed seven years ago in Pakistan, Jinnah was never released on the big screen - though it was applauded at film festivals around the world and later appeared on satellite television.

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula
People are afraid of making decisions and very often they make the wrong ones
Christopher Lee
"It's a film about a Muslim who said the Muslims of India should have their own country... it's about a Muslim leader."

"It's a very, very good film but, I'm guessing, the Americans were a bit cautious," said Lee, referring to the film's non-release.

The film, which was also the subject of unspecified legal wrangles, was finally released on DVD earlier this month and according to a delighted Lee is selling extremely well, but clearly its thwarted release remains a disappointment.

"I lived for 10 years in Los Angeles, and the one element that surpasses everything else - that you are very conscious of - is fear. You can smell it.

"People are afraid of making decisions and very often they make the wrong ones.

"Trying to get finance for a really worthwhile story is excessively difficult," he explained.

Robert De Niro
De Niro could be a true legend, said Lee
"I've got seven scripts at home - they are all good stories with excellent roles, but can they get them made?

"And you're not talking about huge budgets, you're talking about budgets between $5-10m which in today's commercial world is a pinch of salt.

"If I had the money I would make them myself."

These days, more often than not, film offers for the veteran star come in the shape of sequels, remakes and spin-offs.

"Most of the scripts sadly, are spin-offs. It's the same thing that happened with the James Bond movies, suddenly everybody started to make Bond stories.

"Similarly today, what I get, are spin-offs of Lord of The Rings spin-offs or Star Wars."

"And it is not true that there is going to be another Wicker Man. At one time Universal said that they had bought the rights to remake the Wicker Man with Nicolas Cage - well, it hasn't happened and I can't see how it can.

"But I am looking at a story called May Day written by Robin Hardy, who directed Wicker Man. It's a fabulous story, a bit scary and very erotic - but in a very funny way - and I think it's absolutely fascinating. So who knows."

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