John Hannah, one of film and television’s brightest stars, sat down with our Nick Brandi while in Ocean City during the filming of ‘Ping Pong Summer’
With a screen career that stretches back some 25 years and with well over 60 credits under his belt, John Hannah can safely be described as a veteran. But for the actor who had memorable turns in films like Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Mummy franchise, star status in American households didn’t really come until he portrayed the pathologically ambitious "Quintas Batiatus" in the Starz hit series, Spartacus, where he and co-star Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess) brought more sizzle to the Roman Empire than anyone since Nero and his fiddle.
Hannah’s current role, however, is considerably more placid. As “Mr. Miracle” in director Michael Tully’s
coming-of-age tale Ping Pong Summer, he got to spend the fall of 2012 filming in beautiful Ocean City. During his stay here, the former electrician’s apprentice from East Kilbride, Scotland set some time aside to speak with Coastal Style about a variety of subjects, including his all-too-brief time working with a very special actor named Andy Whitfield, who played the title character in Spartacus. Whitfield died in 2011 at age 39 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leaving behind a wife and two young children.
COASTAL STYLE MAGAZINE: How’s filming going so far?
JOHN HANNAH: Fantastic, actually. It’s almost going too well – wait, I don’t want to jinx it! (laughs).
CSM: How so?
JH: Well, Michael [Tully] is doing a great job; the actors are doing a great job, and we’ve had a string of amazing weather in this absolutely beautiful place.
CSM: So I take it Ocean City, MD has been good to you.
JH: Oh, my God, yeah, totally! It’s truly one of the world’s stunning places, and the people of the community have been just fantastic to me personally and to the production as a whole. I can easily see why Michael felt compelled to tell the story of his youth here.
CSM: You must have had plenty of offers following the resounding success of your role as "Batiatus" on Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. What made you choose such a different role in such a comparatively small production?
JH: It’s precisely that Ping Pong Summer is so different that attracted me to it — that and the charmingly quirky script Michael wrote. I like scripts like that, and I like varied creative challenges. I don’t want to do the same thing all the time, and there’s a real danger of being typecast once you’re in the Hollywood system. I’d really like to avoid that if possible. Besides, if I’m not mistaken, this is the first movie I’ve made that my twins [Gabriel and Astrid] can see.
CSM: What about The Mummy series?
JH: Well, they’re eight years old now, so I suppose they’re just getting to that point now. (Chuckling) I think I just might be getting a wee bit overprotective, but it’s okay.
CSM: You played a Roman in Spartacus even though you’re Scottish by birth. Do you enjoy playing characters of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds than your own?
JH: For the most part, I think every actor does. That’s one of great things about being an actor: the ability to get away from yourself and become something else for a while.
CSM: Who are you playing this time around, in Ping Pong Summer?
JH: I play “Mr. Miracle,” who is Irish, so I guess I’m getting closer (laughs).
CSM: So, then, have you at any point missed the gladiator pit or the ludus you’d left behind on Spartacus?
JH: (Laughing) The only time I missed the ludus since I’ve been here in Ocean City was the day on which I had a morning shoot and had to wade into the Atlantic Ocean… brrrr! I do miss many of the people I’d worked with though.
CSM: May I assume that Andy Whitfield (“Spartacus”) is one of them?
JH: Oh, my, yes. How sad and tragic the whole thing was.
CSM: Did the return of his cancer come as a surprise to you?
JH: It came as a shock to all of us, including Andy. No one was prepared for that. He thought he’d beaten it; we all did.
CSM: The outpouring of love and sympathy from the public was extraordinary, especially considering that Andy was a relative newcomer.
JH: That’s absolutely true. I think it was because people could tell – even through a TV screen, thousands of miles away — what a special and unique person Andy was.
CSM: Many have said that even though Liam McIntyre (who was cast as “Spartacus” following Whitfield’s death) has talent, seems sincere and is obviously working very hard to do justice to the role, Andy is irreplaceable as “Spartacus.”
JH: I think that Andy is just pretty irreplaceable, period. The lesser-known tragedy of the situation is that Andy was just about to break through to the next level. We know because we were there with him. He was about to become a major movie star, known around the world, and have a career like Sam Worthington (Avatar) has now.
CSM: Having watched Andy’s work rather intently, it’s extremely easy to imagine that scenario.
JH: Absolutely. The thing about Andy is that it’s not as if he were some macho-man lantern-jawed hero type who stumbled upon his humanity by accident. Instead, Andy was a lovely, sweet, talented and wonderful human being who discovered along the way that he was also a hero. None of us who knew him will ever forget him.
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