To informed film fans, John Rhys-Davies’ name strikes up visions of treasure and magical rings spring to mind. This year at New York Comic Con 2015, Mr. Rhys-Davies sat on a panel showcasing the upcoming MTV series The Shannara Chronicles, a fantasy television series based on Terry Brooks’ novel The Elfstones of Shannara. Afterward, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the legendary actor for a quick interview.
For the purposes of our discussion, I figured it would be prudent to discuss the role that first sent him into fans’ hearts, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, where he played the role of Sallah, Dr. Jones’ trusted companion and friend, in addition to other notable genre film roles:
Matt Curione (AE): You were in two of the most popular film series of all time, Indiana Jones and The Lord of the Rings.
John Rhys-Davies (JRD): You wouldn’t include the Bond series then?
AE: Oh don’t worry, we’ll get there. (nervous laughter) A lot of cinephiles consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be one of the best Action/Adventure pictures of all time. How did your involvement with Steven Spielberg and Raiders come about?
JRD: Steven Spielberg had seen a film/television series that I did called Shogun, that was set in Japan. And he knew that I was working with Blake Edwards on Victor/Victoria and he got in touch with Blake and said “What’s he like? Is he any good?” And Blake said, “Oh you know the usual, crumby Limey.” Anyway, so I got sent the script and it was all descriptions of scenes and action. My agent asked me if I wanted to do and I said “Well, it’s either going to be a complete disaster or set a new fashion in filmmaking, so yes of course I’d like to do it.”
AE: Spielberg is known for his touch with actors, could you in any way describe your method for getting into a character and building a performance from there?
JRD: It depends on the character, really. With Sallah, there wasn’t that much in the script in terms of words and what to do. However I knew I wanted him to be solid, loyal and as authoritative as one could make him. Then when the chemistry actually started, you know, it worked out well.
AE: With Spectre, the James Bond film, on the horizon, I’m reminded of your role as General Pushkin in The Living Daylights from 1987. With appearances in three legendary franchises- James Bond, which has been around for 50 years, Indiana Jones and The Lord of the Rings, what role would you like to be recognized for the most?
JRD: That’s easy, the next film of course.
John Rhys-Davies inhabits all of his characters with a charm and grace that’s hard to come by in modern Hollywood. It’s rare to come across a person in the industry that’s as enthusiastic about his or her every project. As he said himself, I’m sure we all look forward to what’s next.