Eleven years after making a splash as Sick Boy in Trainspotting, the English actor Jonny Lee Miller is playing another Scot as the title character in The Flying Scotsman, a biopic about the cyclist Graham Obree (out May 4th in limited release). Miller — whose credits include Afterglow, Melinda & Melinda, and Aeon Flux — doesn’t like to discuss his ex-wife Angelina Jolie, so we asked him about other stuff, like The Flying Scotsman, James Bond, and a pilot he just shot for ABC.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The press notes call the movie ”Chariots of Fire meets Rocky meets Shine — on wheels!” Is that how you describe it too?
JONNY LEE MILLER: Well, I mean, I couldn’t really beat that. [Laughs]
Tell us who Graeme Obree is.
Graeme’s from Ayrshire in Scotland. He had a bicycle shop business which went bankrupt, and then he decided to break the world one-hour biking record [for distance]. In the early ’90s he designed his own bicycle and built it himself, partly with scrap metal, and some of it was from a washing machine. And he broke the hour record. And he also had battles with bipolar disorder, which affected him really badly when he then lost the record, but he made a comeback. So that’s Graeme.
Sounds like a juicy part for an actor — you get to play intense sports sequences, and the guy had mental problems too.
Yeah, absolutely. That was attractive to me. But it’s also I think a wonderful story, and one that’s not particularly well known, either at home or abroad.
You train hard for the part?
Yeah, it would be pretty obvious if I wasn’t in some kind of shape, since you have to wear so much Lycra. There’s nowhere to hide. But I also had to learn the ins and outs of riding on a track. That’s where most of Graeme’s riding takes place in our movie.
You’ve stuck with this project a long time, right?
It’s been a few years, yeah. I was involved maybe four years ago, and we lost financing at the eleventh hour. And so then it went away for awhile, but my name was still attached to it, and then I think it was two years later that we actually got it going.
Were you worried that it would never see the light of day? I interviewed Brian Cox [who appears in Scotsman as Obree’s mentor Baxter], and he said he did Scottish films like this one out of pride for his home country, but it’s always a worry for him that the movies will never get seen.
Yeah, that’s something you get used to. But I think it can be a problem for everyone. I mean, sometimes I’ve made films that deserved to go straight to video, because they weren’t very good, but there has been the odd one that’s not that bad, and there’s a lot of worse films that get onto cinema screens. So it’s tricky. I have no idea the reasons for it, or what to do about it.
One thing I didn’t know until today was that your grandfather was Bernard Lee, who played M in the James Bond movies. Did you grow up a big James Bond fan?
I did, absolutely, yeah.
Moonraker is probably the earliest memory I have of going to see one in the cinema. But I was a big Spy Who Loved Me fan as well. And Thunderball.
Is it true you were up to play James Bond in Casino Royale?
That’s just rumor and conjecture. I mean, I never heard anything about it, so I doubt that I was. [Laughs]
Would you ever wanna play Bond, since it’s in the family?
Hey, it’s something that if came along, I would definitely consider it, yeah.
I just shot a pilot for ABC. And we’re waiting to see if they pick it up. We’ll know more in the next couple of weeks. It’s called Eli Stone, and I play Eli. The premise is that Eli is a lawyer who starts to get strange visions. And it leads him to take on cases that he wouldn’t normally consider taking on. And he starts to change and reevaluate his values and his life. And this may be for medical reasons, but there may be something more spiritual to it as well. That’s what we have to find out.