Halfway to Hollywood
Michael Palin: Turns out I’m just too damn British for Hollywood
HALFWAY To Hollywood, the second volume of diaries, covers my life from the beginning of the 1980s to the night before I set out from the Reform Club in September 1988 on Around The World In Eighty Days, the journey that was to change my life.
For me, the 1980s was the decade when I could have become a Hollywood star, but didn’t. I made plenty of films – seven in seven years – but they were all incorrigibly British.
Two were with Terry Gilliam. Time Bandits, British to the core, nevertheless topped the US box-office charts for five weeks. Brazil is constantly voted one of the world’s favourite movies.
The diaries remind me of the manic, titanic effort that Gilliam put into every frame of his movies, and show just how much heartache goes in to the finished product.
Personally, I shall always remember Brazil as the movie in which I was shot through the head by my favourite screen actor, Robert de Niro. What a fan’s dream !
They might not have made me a Hollywood star, but none of the films I was involved with was ordinary. They all had something very special.
Monty Python’s last effort – Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life, was our only film to receive an award at Cannes, and our only film to win a Bafta nomination for one of its songs – Every Sperm Is Sacred. This was rather ironically beaten to the top spot by Up Where We Belong (from An Officer and a Gentleman).
A Private Function was Alan Bennett’s first cinema film and Halfway To Hollywood reveals the highs and lows of working with a pig, and shares a few professional secrets about how to win a pig’s affection.
In the middle of all this I found time to squeeze in The Missionary, (sold in America under the tag-line “He Gave His Body To Save Their Souls”) and A Fish Called Wanda, in which I had to endure nasal humiliation at the hands of Kevin Kline, though prolonged embraces with Jamie Lee Curtis more than made up for it.
British though these films were, they all enjoyed success in America and the diaries tell a story of visits to New York and Hollywood to do publicity and to discuss Hollywood’s plans for my future. The diaries also explain why, in the end, I turned my back on swimming pools to take on an unscripted and often uncomfortable BBC travel series.
As in the first volume I watch and write about many things in my life. Our children become teenagers, our marriage enters its third decade (despite, or perhaps because of my long absences from home) and I turn 40 and suddenly start worrying about getting old.
I still have no salaried job and nagging insecurity keeps me constantly busy. In addition to the films I make my first “serious” documentary.
It was one of the Great Railway Journeys Of The World, and I got London to Crewe. I write comedy books and children’s books (one of them with state of the art holograms as illustrations) a collection of limericks and two films for television.
East Of Ipswich is a holiday romance that goes wrong, loosely based on how I met my future wife and Number 27, about a ruthless property speculator who meets his match in a stubborn old lady, played by Joyce Carey at the age of 90.
I’d be wrong to say there’s never a dull moment – there was one in February 1985 – but by and large Halfway To Hollywood is the diary of someone living through fast-moving times and trying to make sense of it all.
Hollywood was there if I needed it, but I turned out to be too damned British.
I accepted failure as a natural part of life, something which Hollywood couldn’t come to terms with. But it makes a much better diary.
■ Bafta presents Michael Palin: A Life in Pictures, Ely Cathedral, Wednesday, September 23, at 7.30pm. Tickets £15. Contact 0871 704 2050 or go online at www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk.