Christopher Eccleston took to the stage at New York Comic Con this week to talk Doctor Who, his new book, what he loves about New York City, and what he gets nerdy for.
The panel started with a sobering discussion of his new book, I Love the Bones of You. It turns out that the name of the book came from something that his father said to him while deteriorating from dementia: Even though he never really said ‘I love you’ as Eccleston was growing up, he believes his father knew what the disease was doing to him and found a way to say it. He claimed that he used his dad as a reference when he played Macbeth, the fact that his father believed that “if he showed vulnerability he wouldn’t be a man.” He admitted that he went into creative work so that he could be a man and still be vulnerable. He also believed that he brought his mother into roles too, particularly her emotional intelligence.
When asked why he waited to write his book—which also details his own struggles with anorexia, body dysmorphia, and depression—Eccleston gamely joked that he was old, but added that he felt he was finally experienced enough to reach out to others by sharing his own trials: “It’s like breaking your arm, it’s nothing to be ashamed about.” He said that he was enjoying being in New York to talk about the book, as the press tour in the UK was harrowing for him, and it was much easier being on the other side of the pond.
What his favorite part of New York City? “The bars.”
When asked how he ended up playing the Doctor, he explained that he was given the background about the character having never seen the show. “I know that’s not popular,” he said to the room of fans, eliciting laughter. The idea of being a Time Lord stuck with him, moving in and out of events without staying a part of them. He realized the character must be lonely, and thought, “I can do lonely.”
Why did he use his accent in the part? “It’s the only one I can do,” he joked. But it turns out that he was very adamant about it from the beginning. “It was class pride.” He didn’t really get how huge the show would be until after he left it. “I was just thinking of him as a character,” he noted, saying that David Tennant, who played the part after him better understood what an undertaking the whole circus would become.
Favorite episode to shoot? “The Doctor Dances.” Interestingly, Eccleston felt that the way that Steven Moffat wrote the Doctor made it clearer to him what the show wanted from the Doctor as a character. He felt that Russell T. Davies’ episodes made it clearer what the showrunner wanted from Rose—which he thought was excellent—but less clear in terms of what they wanted from him. He also enjoyed shooting “Father’s Day” because he just recently taken three weeks off prior to care for his father while he had cancer, and really felt that he could key into the importance of children’s relationships with their fathers while they made the episode.
If he enjoyed Moffat’s writing so much, why did he stay away from the 50th Anniversary special? He was sent the script and said, “It was me, Matt, and Dave, riffing on the fact that we’d been the Doctor. I personally didn’t feel the narrative was strong enough.” He was sent the new draft of the script that replaced him with the War Doctor (played by one of Eccleston’s heroes, John Hurt), and felt that the new version of the script was stronger. He teased the room, saying that he would come back for the show’s hundredth anniversary.
What about getting recognized by fans? It turns out even his kids are not immune to dad’s stardom. One day his son told him, “A man came to me and said you’re ‘the best Doctor.’ Does that mean you make people feel better?” He decided to show his kids his season of Doctor Who (so they wouldn’t get confused and think he was a heart surgeon), but noted that it was often too scary for them—not because of the show’s content, but because, “They know their dad’s a fool and he’s not going to get out of trouble.” His daughter, age six, adorably calls the Daleks “garlicks.”
The conversation later turned toward the problems this planet is currently facing with climate change. Eccleston pointed out that the Doctor “really loves this planet”, but they share worry for it. “[The Doctor] calls humans ‘stupid apes’,” Eccleston reminded the room, “but there’s a younger generation coming up who are not stupid apes.” He was hopeful for change, the same way that Doctor himself always is, saying, “He has two hearts, so he has twice as much love.”
On Thor: The Dark World, Eccleston admitted that he had a very hard time doing the seven hours of makeup daily to play Malekith the “Naughty Elf” (he hadn’t been told he’d have to spend that much time in the makeup chair when he auditioned for the part). He knows that some fans do love the film, and explicitly Malekith as a character, and he respects that. “I’ve gotten so diplomatic in my old age!” he said.
He deeply enjoyed his time working on HBO’s The Leftovers, a show which received more critical acclaim as it went on, noting that the fandom was “slightly cultish.” He particularly enjoyed the writers room culture in the U.S., and how it meant that the show could change and alter with actor input and delivery. His work is forthcoming in The A Word, which focuses on people with autism, and includes actors who have autism in the cast, which he counted as an incredibly positive move toward representation on film. He is also starting his own production company with a partner called Correct Productions to make his own documentaries and films.
When asked what role he’d learned the most from, he admitted it was the Doctor, citing the amazing responsibility, the politics, and the long hours needed to lead a show of that caliber. But that wasn’t all he learned on Who: “If someone asks me to kiss their ass, I bite it, that’s what I learned about myself.” He also learned that it was important to stand up for what he believed in, while acknowledging that actors are just people and perhaps “the biggest fools” around. While it was never official, he claimed he was blacklisted in his own country for four years once he left Doctor Who, and that he lost all his confidence as a result. But he added, “The thing is, if you lose your confidence, once you get it back you know you’ll never lose it again.”
What does he get nerdy about? He told the room that black American music was his life, saying that his older brothers brought home soul legends of the 60s when he was a child. “Aretha Franklin is my queen!” he shouted. He also had to name drop his football team, Manchester United. When someone in the audience piped up in favor of Arsenal, Eccleston replied, “You must be a Coldplay fan.”
All in all, the panel ran a gamut of emotions, but one thing is certain—Christopher Eccleston should frequent more conventions. He was an absolute delight to see on stage.
And yes, he did exclaim “Fantastic!” before the panel was over, without intending to.