The phrase ‘national treasure’ is bandied about these days to the point of near meaninglessness, yet if the term is to have any meaning at all, surely it must apply to Brian Blessed. Actor, author, adventurer and cosmonaut, few people in the public eye are able to capture the imagination or elicit a grin with just the mention of their name as this man.
In an upcoming audio adaptation of the four part comic series Omega, Blessed takes on the eponymous role. If a single actor was going to portray one of the greatest legends of Gallifrey, surely Brian Blessed is the perfect choice? Famed for his passionate delivery and larger than life performances, when Set the Tape were able to talk to him about this new role we were in for an amazing time.
Blessed is clearly enthused by the whole project, and in an interview that spans his previous role in Doctor Who, theology, views on the importance of colour in art, and a world of ideas more, any thoughts of set questions had to be quickly abandoned as the actor’s rapid delivery tripped out idea after insight after hilarious impression. There’s no need to get in the way when the person you’re talking to is naturally more interesting than any question you might have come up with.
By the end of the half hour you are exhausted, yet grateful that this force of nature masquerading as one of us has been given the chance to portray a fan favorite. You’re even more grateful that an interview with Brian Blessed is everything you hoped it would be.
SET THE TAPE: First off, can you tell us about the part?
BRIAN BLESSED: I find the Omega thing fascinating, you know? The people of the planet Minyos are in revolt against their alien Gods; the chaos has been stocked by the rogue God Omega, who longs to free himself from his black hole prison and wreak revenge. Brave princes Malika last of the Minyos Royal Family determined to fight back. Now, first of all, I’d like to say that I think that Mark Griffiths and Ridgway and Andrew Orton… I think they did a marvellous job. I love the images, in all the four chapters I’ve got, I love the purples, I love the colours.
Actors bore the arse off me when they talk about acting. And my biggest love in life is space. I did eight weeks training in Moscow Space City, making a film to encourage going to Mars. We don’t just belong to the Earth. So I did this wonderful programme about going to Mars, and we worked with NASA on it, and we worked with the Russians on it, and the British. I was working with them, with macrobiologists and scientists and rock climbers, and God knows what. Lovely film it really did awfully well. Mission to Mars on Channel Four.
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I’ve always loved space, I’ve always been a champion of space. I think, therefore, as Omega, I see darkness as a different thing. I think that black is a very beautiful colour. If the universe was white, or blue, or yellow, it’d look bloody awful. You wouldn’t see the nebulas, you wouldn’t see stars. So black is such a gorgeous colour.
SET THE TAPE: What do you think about the character Omega himself?
BRIAN BLESSED: In a strange way, by going through a black hole and beyond to his own kingdom on the other side… he reminds me a great deal of Lucifer. When Lucifer and all the angels were with god, then Lucifer was the Lord of Light. And he was God’s favourite angel. The only reason that they had a fight, the reason he was thrown out of heaven – Lucifer, who God adored – was because he would not kneel to God’s first human born, Adam. This angered God and he threw him out of heaven. And so I always feel sorry for that. And I hope that one day God and Lucifer get back together again, but I feel the whole subject matter is very much Omega. There is an extraordinary creature. He opposes with his servant Oxirgi, he gets rid of the gods, and then he finds her, the princess. But she, oddly enough, has a great fascination for him. And I find it very intriguing; he wants vengeance, and he’s massively more powerful than any of the other gods, but he knows his main adversary is this extraordinary princess. I think almost a love story. I Omega has Oxirgi work working for him, and people like that. And he uses people, and so forth. But she’s different.
First of all, she survives death. I think it’s marvellous that she survives death in the fact that she renews. And therefore, she is a great rival to him. But he’s intrigued by her, but at the same time, I think he wants to meet her face to face. And she goes through the black hole and visits his kingdom. She ultimately faces him, after all kinds of ordeals. And she’s intrigued by him, with his powers, and so forth. She’s used all kinds of forces to help her and she enters into the kingdom of Omega in a strange way – its opposite. And ultimately, of course, when she meets him then ultimately she meets her opposite: Omega. She would like to turn him almost like Luke tries to turn Darth Vader. I think she’s deeply fascinated by him. She says to him “I don’t want to kill you (that you never could). I just want to give you a feeling with all your immense powers, and creativity. I would like you to create worlds, or a universe. You could create a universe in which you can do something beautiful, create beautiful plants, you can create flowers, and jungles and creatures, like has never been seen.”
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I mean, at the moment, the Webb telescope, James Webb Telescope is out there. Wonderful! Oh, my God, the Webb telescope is out there now – these are the implications of these scripts – it’s out there a million miles now from the Earth. And it’s going to penetrate trillions and trillions and trillions and trillions of galaxies, and trillions and trillions and billions and billions of planets, and will soak far through atmosphere and will give us imagers, and will give us sound, and pictures and sending it all back – of other planets. I mean, we are the children of stardust yearning for the stars. We need to get out there. That’s why I promote space travel. We need to get out there, I mean the magic of it all is that every minute. One second. You have a 71,000 kilometers in space on planet Earth. So we’re all astronauts. So when you wake up tomorrow morning, you’re in a different part of the universe. And this is miraculous. So this is what all this is about.
And she has great vision too, the princess, as does Omega. Yes he has problems; there’s a ferocious temper. Terrifying temper. But he has great wisdom and magic and creativity. There’s a Yin and Yang quality. When she meets and says she doesn’t want to kill him, he’s amused. He actually turns up looking like Adonis. He has short hair, sweet little smock, very Grecian. And so he gives her an image she would like, and they get on awfully well. She persuades him, she says “Look you have this quality. Create, I will help you create beautiful worlds.” She persuades him and he does. He creates planets, he creates beings, and he creates soldiers and armies and philosophers. And he says “You want me to create good?”
[At this point, as he mimics the character Omega, Brian Blessed gives that famous, deep, booming laugh, and your interviewer was never happier.]
“I never thought of that. I never thought!”
It reminds me of Mind Warp in Doctor Who. In which I’m King Yrcanos, and the beautiful Peri is the Doctor’s assistant. I am this 18 stone warrior, a Samurai type. They wrote it for me. And she’s always trying to calm him down. “Stop it. You could just walk through, you don’t have to knock doors down. You’re not to break great holes. You’re don’t have to keep killing everybody.” And this, that, and the other. Yrcanos doesn’t understand. “Well I’m going to be reincarnated. And I’ll come back bigger and stronger than ever, and then I can fight and fight!” And she says “But I’m the opposite. I want a home. I want peace. I want beauty, poetry, music, all these things I long for.” And she finds him very comical, yet with all his passions. And instead of the handsome, thin type you see on television you have Brian Blessed, 17 and a half stone, as I was in Flash Gordon. Yet she starts to fall in love, and he starts to fall in love with her. That’s so different.
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I think Omega, when she has persuaded him to create beautiful planets, different creatures, and civilisation, is rather similar to that scene in Doctor Who; at the end, when the Doctor says “Where is my assistant?” to the other Time Lords they say “She’s very happy. She married Yrcanos. And she is his queen.” But it makes sense because she was always nagging him like they’re bloody married before they even got married. “Stop that, stop that! Stop killing people!” I think that in Omega the princess says “All this vengeance, all this hatred, all this, all that” and all these gifts, she thought ‘create beauty’. And I – Omega – do create this beautiful world. I do create these wonderful creatures in government. And then, of course, after a while I can’t stand it. It bores the arse off of me and I started attacking.
She said “You must try and control your emotions.” It’s all very Jedi. He must try but in the end left in limbo. He’s so highly frustrated but he’s already beginning to fall in love with the princess and she is beginning to feel love for him. So when it does end, after the four episodes, I want more. I think it’s the beginning, only the beginning of an extraordinary, creative relationship. I think he learns a hell of a lot and she finds him utterly fascinating and she tries to channel all his power towards goodness and what I’m saying is, ultimately it’s a love story
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SET THE TAPE: As much as you might say actors bore the arse off of you, you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into this, and it shows in your thinking. The first thing I wanted to ask, is you likened him to Lucifer, which I think is absolutely right, but to go on with that, as he starts creating, I was reminded of the book of John. All things come good, come through him, as good has no evil in him. But Omega is flawed. He’s a god, he’s not the God…?
BRIAN BLESSED: To answer your question in a roundabout way let’s take Rosemary’s Baby as a very good example. I think it’s a big, big mistake at the end, when Rosemary goes to that pram and she looks inside and it’s Adrian, the son of Lucifer. She sees these horrible green eyes. I think that’s a big mistake. I think that when she looks into that pram, she should say, “What was I so worried about?” We should see the most beautiful child that you have ever seen in your life. The thing with Lucifer is he’s very good. Good and very, very seductive. But he’s not good enough. He will let you down. And that’s the part of him that needs to develop and improve. It’s like in the film Cabaret. You get this lovely young man with blond hair, singing in the marketplace, he’s beautiful. Then the camera goes lower down. And he’s an SS officer [a Hitler Youth, in uniform with a swastika]. What I’m saying is that I think in Rosemary’s Baby, it should be a very beautiful, beautiful baby, she must go “Oooh… I’m blessed.” And he is gorgeous. He’s not going to growl and spit and tear you apart. He’s good; he’s going to seduce the world with absolute charm like no other creature and she’s got to want him. I mean, who could not want such a baby?
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SET THE TAPE: To me, the journey of the princess is much like Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz, or Sarah Williams in Labyrinth. Is that something you felt?
BRIAN BLESSED: I couldn’t agree more. It’s not a matter of this boring idea of good, bad. No, this is much more complex. I mean, you know Omega is capable of staggering love. He is capable of all that staggering powers and love and kindness and so forth, and this, that, and the other. I feel sorry for he is frightful lonely. And she is. She’s lonely. And I think she’s without… if Omega didn’t exist, she would die if he didn’t exist. If she didn’t exist, he would die.
SET THE TAPE: This interview was a little delayed because previous interviewers wanted to know so much about the character. As you’ve said, Doctor Who fans are fascinated by Omega. He’s obviously appeared before…
BRIAN BLESSED: I’m not just saying this because I love Doctor Who, but they should put my character in Doctor Who and they can animate him or show a semblance of my face, whatever they want. So that, in actual fact, she [The Doctor] should go beyond all our galaxies, go beyond all the dimensions and we find ourselves in a land, in an atmosphere, in a nebula where he lives. And the Doctor would have a wonderful adversary and he would deeply appreciate her. He’s not bad, bad nasty, nasty, nasty, but in actual fact an extraordinary, multi-dimensional creative creature.
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SET THE TAPE: There is the duality of a huge amount of power but yet, as an audience, you feel a huge amount of sympathy for him as well, because of the loneliness of his existence?
BRIAN BLESSED: He is the most lonely character I’ve ever read in literature. And I think that the storyline is marvellous. I think the designers are marvellous, really… quite astonishing designs that they’ve got. Marvellous people and the writing’s superb and creations; the imagination of the planet Draktria. The names of people are very important all throughout. The writer, Mark Griffiths, you have to congratulate him. The artist John Ridgway, and the colourist Andrew Orton. The whole team are outstanding. You can frame any of the bloody pages. You could put them in the museum Not only that, but the great thought goes into the colours. The use of orange and then green suddenly – there’s this wonderful green creature on the planet Draktria – and the use a purple around the black hole is quite… well because it brings a black hole to life. As I’ve said black is very beautiful. It is a great gateway to another universe, it’s not evil. There’s nothing evil about it. It is a phenomenon that needs to be understood and handled with immense perception and care.
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SET THE TAPE: The use of purple was fascinating to me, as we approached this universe known only to Omega. Purple was always a royal, imperial colour and, what with the antiquity feel to everything else, it felt like it was touching on that?
BRIAN BLESSED: Yes. I agree. I agree. I’m mesmerised by all the artistry, every page every frame, a great deal of thought has gone into it. It makes me feel so happy because you do get a lot of trash and people have abused things, they are just trying to be sensational. But in this you have heart and mind, soul and imagination, and you know? It has many implications, and the use of colour is so, so important and so good on the senses when you read it; you can reread it and reread each magazine. And you will notice more and more and more. I love the use of things. I love the use of statue.
You know, I love Omega. You think “This is so cute you created atheists!”
[That laugh again as he switches into character, pretending to be Omega deciding to purge the atheists.]
“Bwahahaha!” And he suddenly becomes almost two dimensional – “Blasphemers etc.” – but I mean he can’t resist. When he makes his world for her, under her instruction, he creates a lovely statue of himself with wings. His vanity is always slightly there you know, which really does amuse her, but she is intrigued by his creation. He can create things that really surprise her.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Omega can be pre-ordered now from Cutaway Comics.