John Hannah: "When I was 20 I made a life-changing decision"
I wasn’t very academic, so at 16 I was looking forward to leaving school and starting my electrician apprenticeship. Apart from that my life was all about football and girls. Your parents tell you these are the best days of your life and you don’t believe them. But I wish I’d taken them in, enjoyed them more. Those endless summers, out on your Chopper for hours on end. I was quite cocky about life. I didn’t know what it would be like going to work.
The truth is I applied to drama school because I didn’t have the qualifications or skills to do much else and I thought it might buy me time to think about the future. But by the time I applied, when I was about 20, I’d become quite serious and melancholy and I found acting suited me. It didn’t scare me. Being on stage pretending to be someone else felt more like wearing a mask than being vulnerable and judged as myself.
Even at drama school I was a miserable sod. People were always telling me to cheer up. If I could talk to the younger me, I’d tell him to try really hard to step back and just enjoy where he’s at. But being that kind of melancholy Scot, it’s not something I do enough of. It’s like the William Henry Davies poem – we have no time to stand and stare. You stress about not screwing up each job you get, then worry about where the next one’s coming from.
I’d been working for about 10 years when I auditioned for Four Weddings and a Funeral. It didn’t particularly feel like a big deal, not until it came out. Then it became clear it was going to be a breakthrough role for me. I’m quite proud of it. There was nothing clichéd about the gay relationship in that film [Hannah played the boyfriend of the character played by Simon Callow], and Simon was just the loveliest, loveliest man. As John Lennon said, any love in this world is a good thing. So we just played it as this couple who were in love.
Even now, if people describe me as a Hollywood film star, I don’t believe it. It’s funny how your expectations change as you go along. I don’t look back at my career with a self-satisfied glow. The teenage me dreamt of being a footballer. And a couple of boys I knew a bit – Ally McCoist and Maurice Johnston – went on to do rather well in football. That kind of success would be a lot more accepted from our background than what I did. I snapped my knee about 18 years ago and though I knew by then I wouldn’t be a professional, it was really sad to be told that was it, I couldn’t play the beautiful game any more.
Not everything you do will be as satisfying as you hope. When I was 20 I made a hugely monumental decision which impacted on my life in a very positive way. But sometimes you look at your life and think, this has become my job, the thing I do every day. I wonder if there are any big life-changing decisions still to come along, or will I just bob along for ever now? I try not to have any specific ambitions because I’m scared about how it might feel if I achieved that ambition – what would I do then?
I still remember very clearly the moment my wife told me she was pregnant with twins. That was the biggest thing, the closest I’ve come to just standing there and going, oh my God, we are doing the most amazing thing in the world. And, of course, I was there when they were born. It was a bit like getting a great job: euphoria at first then, oh shit, I’ve actually got to do this now.
In 1978, the year John turned 16... Pope John Paul I dies after 33 days of papacy and is succeeded by John Paul II... Argentina win the World Cup, held in Argentina... Garfield comic strip first published... Annie Hall wins Oscar for Best Picture...
A Touch of Cloth repeats on August 31 at 10pm on Sky1