Born in postwar London, Shane Briant has been a globe-trotting thespian since making his professional debut on the Irish stage during the mid-60s whilst still studying law at Trinity College. Playing roles like Hamlet at Eblana Theatre, it was his role in Children of the Wolf that eventually led to a contract with Elstree Studios after the play was transferred to the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. In the intervening four decades Shane has appeared in more than 55 films or TV shows in the UK, USA and Australia. However, you will soon discover that a first class law degree and a career in acting are not the only bows in this man’s arsenal. Nor should it be any wonder as Shane’s father, Keith Briant was a successful biographer and novelist and his mother, Elizabeth Nolan was a prominent stage actress. Creativity, rather than the law, filled the genes of the Briant family tree.
Many English viewers will remember Shane from the great Hammer Films of the Seventies, like his debut, Straight on Till Morning, Captain Kronos, or playing Emil in Demons of the Mind. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell remains a personal favourite for Shane because it gave him the opportunity to work with Peter Cushing. At this time, Shane also starred in the updated version of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. As one IMDb fan says of the two versions, “I especially like Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane and George Sanders as Harry in the MGM version, but Shane Briant as Dorian in the TV-version is much better looking (I think) and far more ruthless than Hurd Hatfield in the MGM version: I think Briant is more true to the novel's Dorian.”
Of course many Aussie viewers will recognize Shane from dozens of hit Australian films like The Lighthorsemen, Anzacs and Nancy Wake, or as a regular guest in hit TV series like The Flying Doctors, Wildside and All Saints. While American and European viewers will remember Shane from TV shows, Veronica Clare, Farscape and Notorious Woman or from movies like John Huston’s The Mackintosh Man (where Paul Newman hit Shane so hard he covered his face in blood) Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Dorian Gray and Hawk the Slayer. The latter has become quite a cult favourite and Shane plays Drogo, who gets to delivers the classic “message of death” line halfway through the film.
Since emigrating to Australia in 1983, Shane has also made a name for himself as a novelist with several novels, including The Webber Agenda, The Chasen Catalyst, Hitkids, Bite of the Lotus and Graphic where the main character is consumed by the alter-ego of his graphic novels, Sainte-Claire. Shane also wrote an updated screenplay adaptation of a story written by legendary American Author Ambrose Bierce, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." The critically acclaimed short film, "A Message from Fallujah," which has been reset in war-torn Iraq won various awards including the 2005 LA International Short Film Award as the "Best of the Fest"
Talking to Shane you’re immediately aware of the very dry humour many Brits are famous for, and you just know that there is a sharp, but gentle response awaiting any wayward question. Yet, like most Aussie actors, he does not take his trade or his many talents too seriously. Actions and words are his stocks-in-trade, and Shane is totally comfortable using them.
Currently residing in a picturesque harbour side suburb of Sydney, with his spectacularly beautiful wife, Wendy, Shane can usually be found doting on their two cats, Freddy Kruger (A marmalade cat. So named because he always ‘Comes back!’) and Freddy’s mom, Giblet. When Shane’s not writing or acting, he also dotes on spectacularly beautiful wife, Wendy too…oh, and waiting for a director to ask him to play King Lear!!!
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David: Do you recall the circumstances when you were asked to sign your first autograph?
Shane: YES I CAN. I HAD JUST FINISHED MY FIRST FILM, ‘STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING’ AND THE DIRECTOR, PETER COLLINSON HAD WICKEDLY INTRODUCED ME TO A LADY I WILL NOT NAME, FOR DECENCY’S SAKE. I HAD ASKED HER IF I COULD BUY HER A DRINK, AND WAS AT THE BAR FETCHING ONE FOR HER WHEN SHE STROLLED UP (I WAS 22 AND SHE WAS 36 OR SO) AND SAID “SO WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO **** ME? I WAS HUGELY SURPRISED, BUT SINCE SHE WAS SO VERY ATTRACTIVE I SUGGESTED THE FOLLOWING TUESDAY. ON THAT TUESDAY, SHE ASKED ME TO SIGN HER BUM WITH A PENTEL PEN. I WAS HAPPY TO OBLIGE.
David: Can you tell us how you went from being the class Dux studying Law at Trinity College in Dublin to becoming a full time actor in London?
Shane: I HAD BEEN ACTING PRODFESSIONALLY FOR TWO YEARS IN DUBLIN WHEN I GOT MY DEGREE IN LAW. I HAD STARTED IN THE TRINITY COLLEGE UNIVERSITY THEATRE, AND WAS ASKED TO PLAY THE NAME ROLE IN HAMLET AT THE EBLANA THEATRE. I THEN PLAYED ‘SVEN’ IN ‘IT’S A TWO FOOT SIX INCH ABOVE THE GROUND WORLD’ AND PLAYED MILO O’SHEA’S SON IN ‘ANDORRA’ FOR RADIO TELEFIS EIREANN. FINALLY I WAS IN THE THREE-HANDER ‘CHILDREN OF THE WOLF’ THAT WAS A HIT AT THE DUBLIN THEATRE FESTIVAL. BERNARD DELFONT TOOK IT TO THE WEST END AND IT OPENED AT THE APOLLO, SHAFTESBURY AVENUE. I WAS DELIGHTED THAT I WAS NOMINATED FOR THE LONDON THEATRE CRITICS WARD FOR ‘BEST NEWCOMER’. SADLY, I DID NOT WIN. NEVER MIND. DIRECTLY AFTER WE CLOSED, HAMMER FILMS SIGNED ME TO A FOUR PICTURE DEAL. THE REST IS HISTORY – OF A SORT.
David: And to take that question a step further, how did you career evolve into writing novels after migrating to Australia in 1983?
Shane: I HAD BECOME INCREASINGLY AWARE OF SOME SHABBY WRITING IN FILM SCRIPTS. HOW OFTEN I HAD PLEADED WITH A DIRECTOR TO ALTER A LINE OF DIALOGUE THAT WAS REALLY QUITE AWFUL. I REMEMBER SOMEONE SAYING TO ME IN THE EARLY 90’S: “HEY, YOU THINK YOU CAN DO BETTER? WRITE A NOVEL.” SO I DID. AT THE TIME I WAS ABOUT TO TRAVEL ON A SIX MONTH SERIES TO EUROPE VISITING SEVEN COUNTRIES. I DETERMINED TO WRITE A NOVEL THAT WAS SET IN ALL COUNTRIES AND WORK OUT A PLOT ON A DAILY BASIS, DEPENDENT ON WHERE I WAS AT THE TIME. I CAME BACK SIX MONTHS LATER AND OFFERED MY DRAFT TO HARPER COLLINS: THEY DISMISSD IT OUT OF HAND. I THEN FOUND A LITERARY AGENT AND HE SUBMITTED IT IN THE PROPER FASHION, AND THEY BOUGHT IT IN AT ONCE. LET THIS BE A LESSON TO ASPIRING WRITERS. I’VE WRITTEN FIVE NOVELS NOW IN ALL.
David: Which film or TV role represents your best work, and which particular role remains your personal favourite?
Shane: AS AN ACTOR I WOULD SAY GLENN JORDAN’S FINE ADAPTATION OF ‘THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY’ AND ALSO JACK GOLD’S ‘THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT. IN THE LATTER I HAD JUST A CAMEO, BUT IT WAS POSSIBLY MY BEST WORK. ANOTHER LESSON FOR ASPIRING ACTORS; LESS IS NOT LESS.
David: Having worked extensively in Britain and Australia what have you found to be the major similarities and differences between the two countries?
Shane: YES, SADLY I HAVE. THE ACTUAL FILMING IS THE SAME. THE TALENT IN AUSTRALIA IS HUGE. WE ARE UP WITH EVERYONE IN EVERY DEPARTMENT. BUT SADLY, UNLIKE EUROPE AND AMERICA, THE AUSTRALIAN PUBLIC THINKS THAT AMERICAN AND EUROPEAN FILMS ARE BETTER. THEY DON’T RUSH TO SEE LOCAL PRODUCT. NOR DOES THE GOVERNMENT UNDERSTAND THAT INVESTING IN THE TV AND FILM INDUSTRY REAPS HUGE DIVIDENDS. IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS OUR OUTPUT HAS DWINDLED TO PRACTICALLY NOTHING.
David: For which of your movies, TV appearances, or the five books you have written do you get the most fan mail or autograph requests about?
Shane: WITHOUT DOUBT MY HAMMER FILMS. THERE IS A CULTURE OUT THERE THAT ADORES HORROR FILMS.
David: Do you collect autographs or movie memorabilia for yourself or your family? And if so, can you share with us a yarn about one of your most treasured items.
Shane: MY FAVOURITE IS A PHOTO PAUL NEWMAN GAVE ME. I HAD WORKED ON JOHN HUSTON’S ‘THE MACKINTOSH MAN’ AND AS I LEFT, I ASKED PAUL, SOMEWHAT EMBARRASSEDLY, IF HE WOULD GIVE ME A SIGNED SNAP – I WAS YOUNG AND SILLY. HE TOLD ME THAT HE HAD NOT SIGNED A PHOTO FOR TWELVE YEARS – NOT SINCE A MAN HAD COME INTO A TOILET AND HELD A PHOTO OF HIM UNDER HIS NOSE AS HE WAS ACTUALLY PISSING. NONETHELESS, HE SIGNED ONE TO ME. IT WAS AN EXCEPTION. ASK AROUND – WHO HAS A PAUL NEWMAN AUTOGRAPH SINCE 1972?
David: If any person in history could sign their photo for you, who would you ask and what would you have them say in their dedication?
Shane: ADOLPH HITLER. THE DEDICATION IN ‘MEIN KAMPH’ WOULD READ. “DEAR SHANE, I HAVE NOTED ALL YOUR RESERVATIONS ABOUT INVADING POLAND AND EXTERMINATING ALL EUROPEAN JEWS AND HAVE DECIDED TO BECOME A PAINTER AGAIN. NICE MEETING YOU, MATE!”
David: Could you share with our readers an unusual or humorous story from working on a film set?
Shane: ON THE SET OF ‘MACKINTOSH MAN’ I WAS ASKED BY THE STUNT CO-ORDINATOR IF I WOULD DRIVE A CAR AT A STUNT MAN INPERSONATING HARRY ANDREWS BECAUSE JOHN HUSTON LIKED HIS ACTORS TO DO AS MUCH STUNT WORK AS POSSIBLE. AS I WAS PRETTY GREEN THEN, I AGREED. IT TURNED OUT THAT THE STUNTIE MADE A MISTAKE AND CAME CRASHING THROUGH THE WINDSCREEN. I HAD GLASS FRAMENTS IN MY EYES AND HAIR. AS THE MAKE-UP LADY DESPERATELY TRIED TO MAKE SURE I WOULD NOT GO BLIND, THE STUNT CO-ORDINATOR SAID: “MR, HUSTON WOULD LIKE YOU TO GO AGAIN, YOU SEEMED TO HESITATE AS GAVIN CAME IN THE WINDWSCREEN.”
David: Did you ever turn down a movie/TV role that you wished you had done? Or for that matter missed a particular role through circumstances beyond your control that you had really been keen to play?
Shane: NO, I HAVE NEVER TURNED DOWN A ROLE. IF I HAD BEEN ASKED TO MAKE LOVE TO A HORSE I WOULD HAVE. YOU HAVE TO DRAW SOME LINES IN THE SAND. THE ROLE I MISSED OUT ON WAS ‘BRIDESHEAD REVISITED’. I WAS IN THE LAST THREE FOR ‘CHARLES’ - EVENTUALLY PLAYED BY MY FRIEND, JEREMY IRONS. THE DAY I RECEIVED THE NEWS FROM MY AGENT, I WAS GOING TO JEREMY AND SINEAD’S HOUSE FOR DINNER. HE OPENED THE DOOR AND POPPED A BOTTLE OF BUBBLY, UNAWARE I WAS UP FOIR THE SAME ROLE AND VERY UNHAPPY. I NEVER TOLD HIM.
David: How did you get the guest role on Veronica Clare in 1991 and did you ever seriously consider trying to work full time in Hollywood?
Shane: I SHOULD NEVR HAVE LEFT HOLLYWOOD AFTER PLAYING DORIAN GRAY FOR ABC, BUT I WAS A CALLOW IDIOT AND WENT BACK TO WORKING FOR THE BBC FOR A PITTANCE… I WORKED ON VERONICA CLARE BECAUSE IT WAS WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY MY BEST FRIEND AND EMINENCE GRIS, JEFFREY BLOOM. IT WAS A SERIES THAT SHOULD HAVE ENDURED FOR SEVERAL SEASONS, BUT WAS PULLED AFTER A FEW EPISODES. SHOWS HOW MUCH THE CABLE PEOPLE KNOW!!!
David: What are your three favourite movies, and which actors do you most enjoy watching?
Shane: “BRINGING UP BABY”, “JULES ET JIM’ AND ‘PULP FICTION.’ FAVOURITE ACTORS: DENZEL WASHINGTON, WINONA RYDER, REDFORD AND NEWMAN.
David: In August, you celebrate your sixtieth birthday, which includes over thirty-five years working in the entertainment business, and I wondered if there was a particular anecdote or story that best sums up your life and your work?
Shane: I AM VERY PROUD OF HAVING WRITTEN A SHORT FILM, “A MESSAGE FROM FALLUJAH’ THAT WON THE ‘BEST IN THE FEST’ AT THE 2005 LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM FESTIVAL AND REACHED THE FINAL TEN FOR OSCAR CONSIDERATION. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME I HAD SET OUT TO MAKE A POINT THAT I HOPED MIGHT MAKE SOME DIFFERENCE - ‘WHY DO WE ALL KILL EACH OTHER IN THE NAME OF OUR DIFFERENT GODS?’
Article (C) David Priol 2006
Photos (c) Shane Briant
And many thanks to the contributors of the IMDb for some of the background details.