Page last updated at 16:44 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 17:44 UK

John Hurt explains why maths is sexy

John Hurt with Leonor Watling and Elijah Wood at the premiere of The Oxford Murders
Hurt (left) is in three films in two months

John Hurt believes maths has turned "sexy" as he becomes the latest actor to star as a numerical whizz in new film The Oxford Murders.

In the drama, based on Guillermo Martinez's novel, Hurt plays a maths professor who - along with a graduate student played by Elijah Wood - stumbles upon a series of murders linked by mathematical symbols.

The film follows other digit-wrangling dramas such as 21, which saw Kevin Spacey play a mathematics professor; the TV series Numbers, which features a crime-solving maths genius; and, of course, the computational conundrums of The Da Vinci Code.

"I think there is something that has brought maths to the fore," Hurt says in an interview with BBC World Service's On Screen programme.

"I think probably because we live in a world with so many lies, and so much lack of truth, that it has become quite sexy to think of the one thing we have which is the only language that is truthful.

"There's no way of disproving that two plus two equals four, and therefore, take that to the ultimate, much more complicated areas, and you're dealing with something which is truthful."

Not difficult

Hurt's own father was a mathematician and engineer, but the actor admits he was "hopeless" at the subject.

Derek Jacobi and John Hurt in I, Claudius
Born in Chesterfield; first acted with Royal Shakespeare Company
Shot to fame in TV dramas The Naked Civil Servant and I, Claudius (above)
Nominated for two Oscars - for Midnight Express (1978) and The Elephant Man (1980)
His gruesome death in Alien (1978) was voted the best 18-rated moment
Awarded CBE in 2004
Recent blockbuster roles in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, Hellboy and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

"If I got into double figures I patted myself on the back," he jokes.

"I never saw things in terms of mathematics, and I still couldn't tell you what a logarithm is."

But he stresses that there is nothing in his latest film to scare off those troubled by equations, fractions and times tables.

"I don't think there's anything particularly difficult to understand, but he [Hurt's character] uses mathematics - that's the point," he says.

"His relationship with Elijah starts off as a student-teacher relationship, but it doesn't interest him anymore because he doesn't want to teach anymore. But the circumstances of the film make Elijah extremely useful to him."

Hurt will soon be seen in Hellboy 2, the first film from director Guillermo Del Toro since the Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth.

Hurt says he has been brought back from the first instalment of the comic book adaptation to "introduce" the second, and that "there's going be more of Pan's Labyrinth" in the film's tone.

Indiana Jones

Hurt's third forthcoming feature is Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, in which he stars alongside a large cast of veteran British actors - as well as Harrison Ford in the title role.

John Hurt
Hurt is believed to be playing Abner Ravenwood in Indy 4

Hurt famously refused to sign up to the film without seeing the script - which meant extreme measures to protect the secrecy surrounding the plot.

"They sent me a script - but they sent it with a courier who delivered it to me at three in the afternoon, collected it at eight that evening, and flew back to Los Angeles the next day - which is the most expensive script read ever," he recalls.

"The irony of the whole situation is that reading an action script is almost impossible - because you're constantly going: 'Where am I? What's going on here?'"

He tries to explain how such a script would read: "Five thousand tanks come round the corner, and there's the Turkish army, and all this..." before tailing off with a sigh.

"I might as well have not read the script in a sense."

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