With his projects for the BBC (Stephen Fry: the Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, and Stephen Fry in America and the upcoming Last Chance to See, produced by West Park Pictures), we’ve seen that actor/comedian/author Stephen Fry is also a witty and engaging documentarian. Just don’t ask him to dance.
You’ve credited notables from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to C.S. Lewis as influences. Who influenced you to start working on documentaries?
David Attenborough, Kenneth Clark, Michael Palin – the usual suspects. The very nature of the documentary is a firm part of British television life.
Your father was offered a job at Princeton before you were born; if he had taken it you might’ve been American. Now that you’ve seen all of it, what surprised you most about the country you could’ve called home?
The size. I knew it was big, I knew the numbers; who doesn’t? But when you travel [across] it, my goodness. Also, the particular pride so many Americans have in their state. State life is such an important part of being American for so many outside the huge metropolitan centers.
In the past you’ve been rather vocal about your distaste for reality television. How would you improve the genre?
I wouldn’t attempt to improve it. It seems to make so many people happy. It’s not my place to be snobbish about it, but I would only say that I don’t watch it, can’t watch it. It embarrasses, distresses and upsets me.
Earlier this year you broke your arm in Brazil filming Last Chance to See. What have been some of the other more precarious situations?
Swimming with sharks, flying in a microlite over the volcanoes of Hawaii, being flung along the snow by huskies… They all had their hairy moments.
You love language. What’s your current favorite saying, or quote?
‘The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.’ Oscar Wilde, as usual, cuts straight to the truth about the world.
In Stephen Fry in America, you rubbed ‘deer nuggets’ on your clothes while hunting, hypnotized a lobster and took part in a drug bust. Was there anything you wouldn’t do?
After breaking my arm in the Amazon, I’m a bit wary about leaping from boat to boat (that’s how it happened). I would probably be okay doing a parachute jump, but I completely draw the line at dancing.