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Montgomery Advertiser

Local News-Jan. 26, 2003

Glitz doesn't faze Finney

Award-winning actor Albert Finney searches for strong roles

By Rick Harmon
Montgomery Advertiser

Either Albert Finney is an amazingly down-to-Earth, good-natured man or he is one incredible actor.

Most likely, he is both.

It's close to noon, but the temperature is just above freezing outside, and Finney, who has long-since realized that his thoughts about only needing light-linen clothing in Alabama were misguided, apologizes for his current look, explaining that the pipes in his home are frozen, even though he kept the water running.

Perhaps every hair isn't in place and crisp linen clothing has given way to layers of more comfortable cotton, but few would complain about Finney's look. That look still is dominated by the famous profile that somehow seems contradictorily both happy-go-lucky and determined.

Finney, star of director Tim Burton's "Big Fish," won a Golden Globe last week for his performance as Winston Churchill in HBO's "The Gathering Storm," a performance for which he'd already won an Emmy.

But he was filming in the unexpected cold of Alabama rather than picking up his award at the glitzy ceremony. He doesn't seem to have minded, saying he probably wouldn't have gone anyway.

"I've never been to the Golden Globes before," he said. "I've never been to the Oscars either."

The latter particularly is surprising because of his five Oscar nominations. (He says "four-and-a-half" nominations because his nomination for "Erin Brockovich," was for best supporting actor, as opposed to the best actor nominations he received for "Tom Jones," "Murder on the Orient Express," "The Dresser" and "Under the Volcano.") "I live in London, so usually it would have meant flying about 5,000 miles to sit through a five-hour ceremony, and then flying back," he said.

But he admits that all the glamour surrounding such ceremonies doesn't hold that much allure for him.

"I think I would get a bit fussed about all the to-do," he said.

At this stage of his more than 40-year career, Oscars and Golden Globes don't have that much effect professionally.

"I don't feel it has much effect as far as whether I get a big flood of offers the next day. My career will just bubble along the same, taking its same meandering course," he said laughing.

There are plenty of offers, including a big Hollywood project he doesn't want to discuss until it's finalized and HBO wanting him to reprise his role as Churchill.

He decided to take the part in "Big Fish," which will be filming in this area through the end of April, the same way he decides on all his parts.

"The first thing I look at is the script, then the director," he said. "A script almost finds you because you know it is the right one if it gets your juices running and you start seeing yourself in the part."

"Big Fish" is the story of Edward Bloom (who is played by Finney and by Ewan McGregor in flashbacks), a man who lived a larger-than-life existence that took him from a small town in Alabama around the world and back. Bloom is able to charm his way into the good graces of everyone he meets, with the exception of his son, Will (Billy Crudup). When Edward falls ill, Will's mother (Jessica Lange) calls him home in the hopes that the two will reconcile.

Finney said what he responded to in the script for "Big Fish" is that Bloom is such a storyteller whose tall tales are laced with truth and that the character has such a fun, but dry sense of humor.

"Then there's also the fact that the character is not well, so I spend much of the film in bed and don't have to worry about hitting any marks," he said, making it obvious why he has no difficulty seeing himself playing a character with a dry sense of humor.

As for a director, he said an actor wants to make sure a director is one with whom he will be able to work before deciding to work with him.

He made sure he had lunch with Burton to get to know him before he agreed to be a part of "Big Fish." He believes he made the right decision.

"Tim is terrific," he said. "In the last few days, I've noticed how well he takes care of his actors."

Finney said during one day of shooting they were ahead of schedule. Burton set up the next scene, did a couple of shots, but then called a halt to the day's filming -- "saving the meat-and-potatoes of the scene for the next day."

"You could tell that he wanted to give us the time to digest what we had to do, and then come in the next day and really attack it," he said. "He's also such an enthusiastic director. It makes you feel good when someone responds to what you are doing."

So far Finney said he hasn't had time to learn much about Montgomery other than that "the people are wonderfully friendly," because he's spent most of his time getting to know the rest of the cast.

"I didn't know any of the other actors before, but I think it's getting on very well. It felt almost like a family within the first few days."