Andreas Wisniewski is most well-known as the villain Necros in the James Bond film THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987), but he has had an interesting and rich career and life, working with some of the world's most talented filmmakers and actors, in blockbusters and small films, and living in locations such as Los Angeles, London and his native Germany. I talked to him about some of the highlights of his career.

You started of as a ballet dancer. How did you turn to acting?
It happened quite coincidentally and naturally because I was dancing with a ballet company and we had a choreographer come in who did 'dance theatre'. This is a much more natural way of expressing oneself. We were using our voices and not the stylised movements that ballet dancers use. To me, that was a revelation. As it happened, straight after, someone I knew was making a student film and it went from there. It was sort of like in Plato's Cave story where the people come out of the cave and now there is no going back.

How did you come to work with Ken Russell three times?

I think it was four times actually. Ken only died just recently. He was quite a character, but an interesting man. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. We had one long conversation and other than that, it was just stuff on set. He had an incredible mind, what I would call an 'associative mind'. Anything would just trigger his brain and he would come up with so many connected ideas. It was curious because we had the same birthday (3rd July). I was working on GOTHIC (1986) and I am barely in it. It was my first English movie and the writer Stephen Volk, Ken and I all had the same birthday. Ken was one of the few people who hired me again. Tom Cruise was another one. I really got on with Ken. I also really liked all of his visuals. You know, he operated the camera on all of his movies, which is very unusual.

Can you talk about your other films with him?
I did Elton John's 'Nikita' (1985) video. I also did a bit in ARIA (1987), and then there was some very wealthy Swiss musician who hired Ken to make a video of one of his songs. I don't have a copy of it and I have never seen it. But I played a sort of Tarzan character in it.

How did you get the role of Necros in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS?

It was just plain luck in the sense that I just fit the description of the character in the screenplay. Someone sent in a picture of me and I walked in, and that was it. Luck is a big part in this business.

How did Germany respond to you being in a Bond film? Your friends, colleagues and family?
Germany didn't really give a toss, my friends and family were delighted.

Necros is memorable for me because he is a genuine physical threat to Bond and an interesting character.

I appreciate you saying that but I really don't have a perspective on it because when I watch myself, I cringe! I can't stand watching myself, I am just critical and I can't get past it.

One reason you are so menacing in the film is that you don't speak very much!

Yeah, that seems to be a recurring theme! (Laughs.) A couple of years ago I did a film in which not only did I not speak at all but I wasn't seen either! How about that!

When you started acting could you already speak English well?

Yes, but I still had to take some coaching lessons because my accent was thick.

How many languages do you speak?

I only speak German and English really well, but I can get by in others.

Were you dubbed in the scenes where you impersonated people's voices?
I think perhaps for some of it but I'm not sure.

Did you enjoy making the movie?
Yeah, it was great fun. I learned a hell of a lot because it was my first big movie. Small movies and big movies are as different as theatre and television.

How was working with Timothy Dalton? What is your strongest memory?
The close-ups of the Hercules fight took three days to shoot. They built this amazing set of a Gypsum landscape in the studio and they had half a Hercules, huge wind machines and a horizon all the way around. We were hanging in this net for an hour and Tim said "I'm knackered already!". Little did we know we were going to be there for three days! The scene was good at the time, and if you watch the stunts in films today, it looks quite epic! We worked very hard at it.

I really liked Tim, although it needs to be said, he is a very private man. It goes so far, we didn't go out drinking together. He didn't like that. I enjoyed the fact that he was taking it seriously. It really added something to it. Playing that part is a difficult job because you have to distinguish yourself from your predecesors. Everyone has their favourite Bond, and it's always an uphill struggle for the new Bond.

How about the other actors?

Jeroen Krabbe was very pleasant. When we weren't shooting and everybody else was resting, Jeroen was always painting. He was an interesting man. Joe Don Baker was a good guy. I remember we went out a few times when we were shooting in Morocco. He is a good actor too. Maryam d'Abo is the only one I have had contact with over the years and have seen a lot of. On films like these, you spend many months together and you become part of a family and then you say goodbye and that's it. You may meet someone twenty or thirty years later working on another project. I have caught up with Maryam over the years and she seems to be doing well. She was quite unusual for a Bond girl. She was not really in the mould. I think with THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS they were really trying to steer it away from what they had done previously. That's how she was cast.

Were you intimidated by working with seasoned actors on a big film?
I think I was safeguarded by my own arrogance! I did have a few qualms about it because dancers move in a certain way and it doesn't look right. I can tell if I watch my fight scene with the butler (Bill Weston) in the film.

That fight scene was quite brutal!
It was an interesting experience because I had never done a fight scene before. Bill Weston broke a finger in that scene and I knocked him out once! These are the hazards of action scenes! I didn't really know what I was doing, and he was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

You're in good company because George Lazenby apparently got the role after connecting with a stuntman in his Bond audition!

Oh, really? (Laughs.)

Did you prepare a backstory for Necros as part of your preparation?
On that one (laughs) I went all out and studied what makes people violent and murderous. I read all these psychological backgrounds and I read this fantastic book by Eric Frohm, who is probably the most important New Freudian psychologist, called 'Anatomy of Human Destructiveness'. Looking at it now, it probably didn't help me at all, because with these kinds of characters you can get by with just an attitude.

What did you think of The Pretenders song that you killed your victims to in the film (''Where Has Every Body Gone?'')?
I liked the song and thought it was a good choice.

Did you enjoy working with the director John Glen?
Yes, we had a good time. There are two types of directors - those who are technical-minded and those who like to tickle the actors. John is not one of the ticklers.

How about 'Cubby' Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson?
The amazing thing about working on a Bond movie is that 'Cubby' believed if 'it works, don't fix it'. He re-hired all the people from previous Bonds and that really made a difference compared to any other project I have ever worked on. One just slotted in there and I can't recall even once anybody using unpleasant language or losing their temper or anything like that. It just didn't happen. It was just a paid holiday in a way.

How was your audition?
I cannot remember, it's too long ago. Barbara Broccoli (now the series' co-producer) was there and Debbie McWilliams (the casting director), and a few others. Typically you read from the script but I don't remember the details anymore. Sorry!

Did you attend any of the premieres of the film?
Yeah, I went to the London one in Leicester Square, it was fabulous. I met the Royals, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and we had the most amazing party afterwards. There was Afghan food and unlimited Bollinger.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the series. Why do you think it has lasted so long? When I was doing my Bond it was the 25th anniversary, so that's a very scary thought! (Laughs.) I think they have managed somehow to stay in touch with what the audience wants. In the '60s it was iconoclastic and then they suddenly changed it and they managed to not make a mis-step. The series has always been consistent, but with each film it changed a little. It's been amazing to have been part of it.

Did the film have a big effect on your career?
 I guess to some degree, but it didn't save me from having to audition.

You then won a role in DIE HARD (1988).
DIE HARD has gone on to become a classic and it spawned a whole genre of movies. We had DIE HARD on a ship, DIE HARD on a plane, DIE HARD on a toilet (laughs).

How similar or different was working on the film to working on the Bond film?
It was similar in that both were big-budget movies. It affords the luxury of being able to do eight or nine takes whereas on a tightly-budgeted movie if you don't get it right the first time, you might get a second chance, but that's it. But it was different in that there was quite a bit more pressure. It was like you were sitting on TNT, whereas on the Bond film it was all so relaxed. In Hollywood, if you don't move your arse, someone will stuff you into a cannon and fire you off. It has that sort of feel. If you can't get it right, there are ten people waiting to replace you and they will do it in a jiffy.

How was Bruce Willis? It was the first of many action roles, but he was known as a light comedy actor before the movie.
I think he was utterly pleasant considering I had to smash his head into a wall! We really didn't know where this was going to go. Nobody did. Even whilst filming we had script updates every day and the studio liked the rushes so much they doubled the budget and we just kept shooting.

And Alan Rickman?
Alan has remained a friend. He is a fabulous actor.

What was John McTiernan like as a director?
John was very professional and epitomised what it is like to work in Hollywood. It made for hard but very sharp work. There's no dithering, it's just 'get on with it' and it's fantastic to be able to work with the best in the field.

How was it working with another fellow dancer turned actor, Alexander Godunov?
 That was one of those bizarre coincidences. While I was still dancing with the Berlin Ballet, he came in and danced with us. So I had already met him. We ended up playing brothers years later. It was just strange! I remember him very fondly. DIE HARD was quite a boring job. I was in the movie for three minutes. I worked on the film for seven months. I went to the set fourteen days or so, and seven out of those, I did nothing and they sent me back home. And of the remaining seven, I was dead for three! (Laughs.) But the days that I didn't work, Alexander and I played chess in his trailer. A very nice man, it was so sad that he died so early.

You worked with Tom Cruise and Brian de Palma on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996). How was the experience?
With Tom, it was really quite bizarre because the first time I met Tom, all that I could say about him was that he was polite. I couldn't really say what qualities as a person he had or anything. But about a year ago when I worked half a day on GHOST PROTOCOL, we had a very extensive conversation. He was very nice to me. I remember on the first film in Czechoslovakia that when he got out of his car it took forty seconds for a hundred people to appear! He doesn't lead a normal life. You cannot imagine what would happen if he stuck his neck out somewhere in the States.

With Brian, it's curious because he is unlike most directors. He sits in a room and looks through a monitor. It's hard to say anything about him. He's obviously excellent at technical stuff. He doesn't like talking to actors, he's solitary.

How did you feel after seeing the first film?
Actually, I thought it was a bit complicated and I didn't understand what was going on when I read the script. So that wasn't a big plus! I thought the fourth film was excellent. It worked out well and there was a good mix of characters and so on. I think it's the best one.

Is your role in GHOST PROTOCOL (2011) the same role you played in the original film? That was the idea, yeah. They wanted Vanessa back as the arms dealer and they wanted to use me as a link to her. I was going to do a second day in Canada to do the scenes. What bit I had they cut down, I don't know exactly. Then I guess it fell through. The dialogue I had in the scene wasn't needed when Vanessa didn't return, so I ended up being in the film for three seconds! (Laughs.) I didn't know this until I saw the movie in the cinema. I liked Vanessa very much. I also worked with her daughters Joely and Natasha, and had an extended breakfast at Tony Richardson (their father and Vanessa's ex-husband)'s house when I first went to Hollywood.

After MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, you did a lot of German films and then some TV in England.
It's a tough life. I was reasonably lucky in that I made a living and I didn't have to wait tables. When I started I had ambitions to be a serious actor. I wanted to be Hamlet but for various reasons it didn't materialise. If I look at what I have done, none of the roles I have done (with the exception of some tiny ones that people will never see) represented serious acting. But I am grateful in that I have been able to work with some of the best people in the business.

Did you enjoy your cameo in 'The Bill', a British TV institution, and working on British TV in general? Yeah, when you work on a long-running show like that, you always end up working with the best people. I think England has the best pool of acting talent anywhere. Even down to those playing the tiniest part are just brilliant.

How was working in England with Michael Fassbender on CENTURION (2010)?
I was on it for a day so I can't really say how it was making the movie! It was diabolically cold, it was at night and I did about two or three shots in the thing. Michael's amazing though, I think he's going to have an excellent career. He's a super nice guy.

Can you tell me a little about your short film INSPIRATION (2001)?
I had made a couple of little ones before. I had a friend who is a musician who asked me to direct his music video and I said yes. As I was working on this I decided that I wanted to get something out of it for myself so I expanded upon this this script I had for a non-performance music video. So the idea was that it was a short film that could be edited into a music video. So he had his video, and I had my short film. I guess it's kind of restricted in a way, but it worked out well. I will put it on the Web.

You lived in London for a while. What did you like the most out of living in the city?
I lived there many years. London is one of the great cities. My kids were born there. I have three boys. It was a personal matter moving back to Germany, but time was moving on, and I wanted my kids to know their grandparents. They love it here, so they have been spending most of their time growing up in Germany. But they have a strong connection to England, and they are fluently bi-lingual. I think that's great. My life is very full, and my kids take up most of my time. But I like it that way.

How would you feel if your kids took up acting?
I don't know how I would feel about that. Apprehensive! (Laughs.)

What advice would you give them?
Have a back-up plan! (Laughs.)

What do you get the most out of practicing Buddhism?
That's a very very big question! Let me see if I can sum it up. What's so amazing about Zen is that it gives you a set of tools whereby you can enjoy everything about your life, even stuff that is so-called bad. This is just one angle of it, but it enables you to squeeze everything out of your life, regardless of what it is. It's like enjoying every moment.

Have you raised your children as Buddhists?
No, I think it's strange to raise your children as something because everybody needs to find their own way, but I have exposed them to it.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?
 I made a low-budget horror movie called URBAN EXPLORERS (2011) here in Germany. It has an interesting topic and it's a very scary movie! I don't know how well it is doing. Apart from that, I always have projects in my head. Whether or not anything will or will not come of them is conjecture.

Andreas was interviewed by telephone on 20th February 2012.
I would like to thank him for the generous use of his time.

Paul Rowlands is a Japan-based writer. After completing a BA Humanities course (majoring in English and Science) at the University of Chester, he moved to Japan in 1999. He writes for the James Bond magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has had articles published on Press Play and has had an almost lifelong obsession with cinema, something the advent of DVD only increased. 

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