Peter

"... they find me a bit weird when we film in Vancouver..."
— Peter Wingfield in DreamWatch, June 1997

Wingfield @wingfieldfans.org Dr Helm

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"Apocalypse Then..."
by Rod Edgar
DreamWatch #34
June 1997

Methos in "Deliverance"

Rod Edgar caught up with supporting Highlander actor Peter Wingfield, the 5,000-year-old Methos, at Glasgow's Sector 14 event in March. Raised in Cardiff, Peter was a keen sportsman, representing Wales on the trampoline and in the national club finals for pole vaulting. He originally set out to study medicine and ended up supporting himself through drama school — one of his first roles was, ironically, in the hospital series Medics with Tom Baker...

DreamWatch: How did the role of Methos come about?

Peter Wingfield: My agent rang me and asked if I'd audition for it. It was for one episode initially. I never met the people I was auditioning for. I went to the casting director's office, did a couple of speeches onto videotape, and they sent the tape to Paris. They looked at it, and asked me if I'd come back and do some scenes from the episode. I think that was on the Wednesday. That tape went out to Paris that night, they made the decision on the Thursday and offered me the job, and I flew out on Friday and was filming Friday night.

Were you familiar with Highlander's mythology?

I knew the first film, but had no idea there was a TV series. I'd never seen or heard of Adrian Paul. I didn't know anything about the show.

Do you find the task of credibly portraying a 5,000-year-old immortal particularly challenging?

Yeah, it's certainly challenging. I don't actually know how you go about being convincing. All you can do, practically, is try and play the detail of the scenes that you're in as credibly as possible. I don't know that you can actually play the weight of 5,000 years, and the experience of it, so I try to suggest it.

To what do you attribute his popularity?

I think it was a really strong idea, having a very, very, very old man who looks young, because you expect him to be grey bearded and very wise and that if you live to 5,000 you still wouldn't know the answers to the big questions, if God existed or not.

Because of the way Highlander works, there's no reason why he should be old. He's just going to be the age he was when he first died. That was just a good, sound basis for the character. Then you constantly have this dichotomy between what you see, seeming to be very contemporary, but yet he's been around forever. There's so much mileage in the character. However far any of the other characters go back, he's been there.

"Silas! Stop giving us wedgies!"

Peter Wingfield with the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Marcus Testory (Caspian), Richard Ridings (Silas) and Valentine Pelka (Kronos)

Being an athlete, do you find it frustrating that Methos is one of the less active Immortals?

Yeah, I do. I really like doing the fight stuff, and I don't often get a chance. But just recently, Methos has had a few more fights, so that's been great. There's a two-parter around the hundredth episode ["Comes a Horseman"/"Revelation 6:8"] which is great. I get to fight and ride horses. It's terrific.

Would you like to see the character's history explored, or maintain an air of mystery?

I think it's time his history was explored. I think it would be good. I think it's been good that they haven't focused on where he's from, or who he is, until they really had a good idea of where to place him. In "Comes a Horsemen/Revelation 6:8," they are very specific about one part of his history which is a very sound idea, because it's so not what you would expect. And I think that, having taken the step of saying, "Okay, this is one part of Methos' past," they are now more able, because they've lurched so far in a direction you didn't expect, to go off on tangents for other periods.

Were you satisfied with the way in which Methos' relationship with a terminally ill woman named Alexa was handled?

You're never satisfied, but I really enjoyed that. It was great working with Ocean Hellman, and it was nice for us that the story didn't particularly impinge on the rest of ["Timeless"], so that we were quite self-contained. That was great in terms of working on the story, but it means that when they cut the episode together, bits of it disappear, and it's very much more sketched. The follow-up, "Methuselah's Gift," I thought was terrific, very strong. It would have been nice if Alexa and I had more stuff together, but then, that's kind of the point — she was mortal, and she died.

Are there any particular episodes or sequences with which you're particularly pleased?

There's a lot in "Methuselah's Gift" that I think is very good. In "Timeless" there's a scene we did sitting on a fountain in the pouring rain in Vancouver that had a nice feel to it. The stuff that I've done in this season, there's been a couple of bits that I'm really pleased with. MacLeod and I had a huge, great screaming argument in one episode. ["Comes a Horseman"] But it was great, fantastic, and was very exciting to film, because we both kind of went at it full pelt, and made no real concessions to the cameramen, the sound guys, and the pople that are trying to film it. "You get on and do what you can, but we're just going to just play the scene. You catch what you can manage."

How would you describe the relationship between Methos and the other Immortals?

Distant, whenever possible. Things have changed a lot for Methos. He's survived all this time by keeping clear, and now, just in this last year or so, he's very much back in and becoming part of the gang again, which is dangerous for him. I think that's part of the reason he's getting more fights now: once you come back in, that's what you have to do. You elect not to be part of the game to survive, but if you rejoin you have to fight. He's come back in and actually realises he's missed it, and enjoys it.

There have been suggestions that Methos is working to his own agenda, and that he has a vested interest in keeping MacLeod alive. Will this be explored in future episodes?

I don't know, but it is certainly there. That is one of the strong things about the character. Everything he's ever done and ever said is open to another reading. It's possible, with all the things that have happened, that he could be the baddest of all bad guys. I don't know, I'm not writing the scripts.

"On the next raid, please get some shampoo. I can't stand these frizzies."

Methos with his prisoner, Cassandra, played by Tracy Scoggins
("Revelation 6:8")

Is Highlander's cast particularly close?

Yeah, we get on really well. I think that's the reason that there is such a good vibe about the show — we actually like each other. That's something that you can't fake. Actors have a terrible name, particularly in Britain, for being "lovey, darling," and pretending that they're tremendous friends when, actually, the relationships are very superficial. But we genuinely get on well. We like each other.

Has that anything to do with the series being produced in a foreign country for long periods at a time?

I think that it's just a matter of the personalities that have been flung together. Over the course of the years, there have been other characters that have come in and haven't quite worked as well as the writers hoped. And there are other characters, like Methos, who they didn't expect to work in the way that he has. The blend of personalities sometimes just happens.

Highlander has received criticism for being too violent. Do you agree?

The violence in Highlander, I think, is not particularly graphic, and the audience it's aimed at, or follows it, is not a particularly easily impressionable group of people. They are educated, intelligent grown-ups who are able to make judgments of their own. I don't think the violence is gratuitous, and that's the big difference. There are lots of TV shows and films, where the violence is just for the sake of it, and I really don't think that's ever happened in any of the Highlander stuff that I've seen. Sometimes the violence is quite shocking, but I don't think that's bad. What's dangerous is when violence is casual and it doesn't feel like it's a big deal.

"I put my big ax in, I pull by big ax out, and I shake it all about. I do the hokey pokey..."

Methos battles Silas at the climax of "Revelation 6:8"

It would seem that the series has quite a strong moral base.

Very much so. David Abramowitz, the creative consultant on the show, the guy at the heart of the stories, is a very moral man. He's a wonderful guy. What interests him about the world is how to be a decent human being in a society which is not particularly good at rewarding that sort of behaviour. "How do you deal with the conflict between what you want to be good and right, and what you encounter every day on the street?"

Having been so involved in a "fantasy" programme, is this a genre you'd now like to do more work in?

Yes, it is. In England, nearly all that I've done has been English public school-boy stuff. I can't bear it. And because you do something, and people see you in that, they cast you in that again, [and] the only way of getting out of that is by saying, "Okay, I'd rather not work than do this." That's what I've done in [Britain]. I've not really worked there for a couple of years. In North America, I'm much more perceived as being in the fantasy genre. Yeah, I'd love to do more of this stuff. Action hero stuff. I love doing the physical, the fighting, the horse-riding, the stunts.

Has working on Highlander helped raise your profile abroad?

In England, it's pretty rare for people to stop me in the street and say, "It's Methos." Usually, when people recognise me, it's from Soldier, Soldier or the Sega ads I did a few years back. But in Europe it's always from Methos, and North America as well.

Highlander has certainly proved popular with American audiences. Why do you think this is?

I think Americans are very much into their ancestry, and where their family came from many generations ago. I think it's very easy to feel very lost and lonely in an expansive land that big, with so many people. There is a strong need for a root, and they look to Europe for culture, and a sense of the ancient.

How does the production process differ between Europe and North America?

In America, it's much less of a big deal doing film and television. It's a job, and people are very efficient. There's more of an excitement making film or TV here. Everyone's just a little bit more giggly and hysterical. In America they're much more down to earth. It's a big industry, makes an incredible amount of money, and employs a huge number of people. We're much more kind of "Whoah, we're making a film!", which is why I think they find me a bit weird when we film in Vancouver, because I'm just so excited to be making TV. I get very giggly, and very silly.

Do your recurring appearances in Highlander place limitations on your other work?

Certainly. For the last couple years, essentially I've been unavailable for more than half the year, in terms of stuff in England. When you commit to something for that length of time, it always means that in choosing to do that, you choose not to do other things. So there has been a specific choice not to work so much in England because I like doing the show.

Do you regret that at all?

No, not at all. It's part of what life as an actor is: you follow the work. If you don't like doing the work, then you stop and go somewhere else. But if you enjoy doing something, it can lead you in a different direction than you expected. It never occured to me that I'd be working more in North America and Europe than I was in England. It's bizarre, but that's how it's been without making a particular effort on my part, initially. But once you see that that's the way things are leading, then if you enjoy doing the work, you go with it.

What other projects are you now working on?

I also do [the radio series] The Archers, which is about the biggest contrast with Highlander that you could possible imagine. My character's really not very popular. I've had death threats. There are a couple of things that are possible later this year.

What are your future hopes and ambitions?

Highlander 4: The Movie, The Methos Chronicles? I don't know. I'm not really good at career goal focusing. I like acting and this show gives me a great deal of fulfilment because every now and then there are episodes where the stories are emotionally challenging, and sometimes they are very physically challenging. That's exciting.

I'd like to do more film work. I'd like to go back on stage, but it would have to be a project that I found exciting. Stage particularly, because you get up and tell the same story again, and again, and again. If it's not a story you'd really like, it drives you crazy.

There has been talk of a Highlander movie featuring the TV series cast. I take it that this is something that would interest you?

It would be dependent on the script and what they wanted to do with the story, but yeah, I'd certainly be interested.

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