John Hannah opens up on death, ghosts and the afterlife ahead of his supernatural comedy Marley’s Ghosts
As the Four Weddings and a Funeral actor gears up to playing a ghost in Gold’s new comedy he talks up to Ben Dowell about seeing the spectre of his grandfather and the difficulties he faces surrounding his mother’s dementia…
John Hannah is about to star as a ghost in a gentle new Gold comedy.
Marley’s Ghosts is a lighthearted romp in which he is one of three people who die in quick succession and end up living with Sarah Alexander’s Marley (the only main character is who is alive).
One is the female vicar (EasEnders’ star Jo Joyner), another is Marley’s lover (played by Nicholas Burns of The IT Show fame) and Hannah is Adam, Marley's husband.
A drinker and slouch before death, Hannah’s Adam emerges as someone altogether nicer in death.
But, while the comedy is relentlessly upbeat and joyously silly (it doesn’t even consider questions about what universe these ghosts live in) the subject of mortality is very much alive for the Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Mummy star as he enters his 54th year.
He is an atheist, who seems pretty sure death is the end. But he does believe in ghosts. Real actual ghosts, as he reveals when recounting his one experience of the supernatural.
“Years ago both my father and I were sitting in the couch in my house both saw my grandfather who had been dead since 1965, at the same time,” he says.
“We were sitting chatting and we stopped and my grandfather walked across the room and sat down opposite us and we looked at each other and we looked back and he was gone.
“It was around Christmas and it felt like a reconciliation and it felt like it came out of the emotions that were there. We looked at each other and were ‘oh my God’ and then he suddenly wasn’t there."
Hannah then laughs: "My Dad then said 'don’t tell your mother because she will want to move house'. Make of it what you will. I certainly know this happened, but yeah…pretty weird.”
Blimey. That chilling moment aside, Hannah is as jokey and likable in the flesh as you would expect, riffling on stories about his twin children, Gabriel and Astrid who are both aged 11 (“but acting like they are 14”) and a 10km swim he was about to embark on when we met.
He seems to approach his own old age with magnanimity, musing on how hectic his life is – hectic but enjoyable, even if he and says he his actress wife barely have the time or energy to sit down and watch a film in the evenings all the way through.
“We sit there and think, can we really be bothered with a movie? We’ll probably have to finish watching this in three goes…We're so tired!”
But he admits he is older and a lot wiser as he is since he rose to international fame as Matthew reading the poem "Stop All the Clocks.." at the funeral of his partner Gareth (Simon Callow) in the 1994 smash hit British film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
And, like Matthew (and Marley) is hard for him not to reflect on the finiteness of life. He has had some harsh reminders recently. His father died at the end of last year and his mother, who has dementia, is in a care home.
“She really doesn’t want to be here,” he says quietly.
“She’s been in a home for a good four years. And before that she was done with life. Maybe there comes a time when you are done with that natural cycle.
“It’s been quite a traumatic couple of years. My Dad died at the end of last year, we are selling the house, my Mum’s in a home so I have been going back and forward with that.
“It’s horrendous. My Dad, we wanted him in a home and he resisted and resisted and he fell down the stairs and that was it.
“I am hoping by the time we get to that age there will be an assisted exit programme. And do you know why it will come it in this country? Money. Forget the church, forget the morality, it will be 'there’s this older generation going gaga and we can’t afford it'.
“My mum’s got no quality of life whatsoever. I don’t know if she knows who we are when we go in. It was lovely, I went up there [to Scotland], being with her just now and holding her hand. But if someone said you can let her go now, my sisters and I, we would say, yes do that. She can’t say it now, now the demential has developed.
“You can have a non-resuscitation policy. We have got that with my Mum. She was never a big eater. All she eats is a biscuit and a cup of tea. And they were talking about liquidizing her biscuits and tea now, you think f*** is that what it comes to. She can’t even enjoy her biscuits and tea."
It is clearly a very difficult situation, which he admits is taking up a lot of his time, and he doesn’t have any other immediate acting gigs lined up (although he is keen to make another series of Marley’s Ghosts once these three episodes air).
A return to Hollywood – where he has stared in a range of films, most memorably The Mummy franchise – is off the agenda for the moment. But he wouldn’t rule it out.
“I think I would like a career where I do a range of things. I have just done a play in Edinburgh; there is Marley’s Ghosts. I really like doing the indie films because there’s no interference.
“But overall, I have been really fortunate, I have met some great people and always done different things. I have never been bored – well, not often.
“There may he been a handful of people I have met in thirty years that I would be happy not to meet again. But that’s not a bad average in thirty years. You know, in LA, everybody talks about the sharks and all the smoke and mirrors and how everybody is dead nice to you but they don't mean it. I don’t think they are dead nice and phoney. With the best will in the world they are dead nice and positive. And they would like things to happen and that doesn’t always work out.”
Let’s hope it works out for Mr Hannah in the coming months.
Marley’s Ghosts stars on Gold at 10pm on Wednesday September 30