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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Emmeline Saunders

'I'm underused in new Indiana Jones film - but I owe it to fans to take part'

At 79, you might expect Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies to be pondering a nice, quiet retirement. Especially so because he could split his time between his 30-acre home in New Zealand and sprawling farm on the Isle of Man

Instead, he is back with a bang starring opposite Harrison Ford for the fifth (and possibly final) Indiana Jones film, The Dial of Destiny.

He reprises the role of sidekick Sallah, the Egyptian excavator who first cropped up in 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark to help Indy defeat the Nazis. He returned for 1989’s The Last Crusade but sat out the fourth film as there wasn’t a big enough role for him.

And after being part of one of cinema’s greatest movie franchises, there was no way John was going to say no to one more outing with old pal Harrison – providing it was the right fit for his beloved Sallah.

John as Sallah in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (CBS via Getty Images)

He says: “‘Well, is the part going to be worth the plane journey?’ ‘Oh yeah, of course it will be’. Oh yeah, right!

“But how can you let down the audience for what might be the last in the five? Was there anything new to be found in the part as is given? I have to see the film again, I don’t know. Personally, I felt underused, but I’m not allowed to say things like that. Oh dear! I think it is going to be one of the big ones of the summer.”

Filming for the first Indy movie involved a snake-infested set in Pinewood Studios, where director Steven Spielberg demanded thousands of live ones for the iconic Well of Souls scene.

Luckily, unlike his on-screen character, Harrison wasn’t afraid of the slithery serpents.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge joins Harrison Ford for Indiana Jones and the Dial Of Destiny (Lucasfilm Ltd/Jonathan Olley. All Rights Reserved)

“He was a young star in the making,” recalls John. “It was really his first real opportunity as a breakout, carry the film by yourself sort of thing.

“And he’s become one of the great stars of the latter part of the 20th century. It would have been disrespectful, actually, not to go and do [Dial of Destiny].

“But right now, cinema needs blockbusters. Real blockbusters – not those wretched superhero things. Like Indiana, let’s have a hero who can get knocked around a bit.”

Taking part in Indy also gives him the scope to do smaller projects, such as The Gates, an 1890s-set gothic horror starring John as a paranormal investigator trying to stop a n executed serial killer’s evil spirit running amok in London.

He says: “I wanted to create a character who didn’t really have the background for science, but wanted to be a scientist, wanted to make a contribution. This is the age when they’re demonstrating X-rays, for instance - who knows what’s out there? We know there is an invisible world.

“Perhaps that invisible world seeks to manifest itself to us in the visible world.”

The Gates is a far cry from his previous projects: including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, of course, in which he played gruff warrior dwarf Gimli.

John appeared opposite both Anne Hathaway and Dame Julie Andrews in The Princess Diaries 2, and starred as Maximilian Arturo in the 1995-97 TV series Sliders, but it’s as Gimli he’s probably best recognised by younger fans.

And he’s got no intention of giving up work just yet, thanks to his 17-year-old daughter Maia, who has flown to the UK from their home in New Zealand for some university open days.

John believes the Bank of Mum and Dad will have to keep its doors propped open for a little while longer.

“I think her debt is going to fall on the old man, unfortunately, which is why I have to keep working,” he guffaws in his rich, booming baritone.

“She’s hoping to go and do a course in Cambridge because she wants to read law. ‘So why law, Maia?’ ‘Because I want to become rich. ‘Well, that could be your first mistake. And why Cambridge?’ ‘Because I read that you failed to get into Cambridge because you were drunk at the interview.’ What a little b***h!”

Maia is the last of his children to fly the nest. His sons Tom and Ben, who he shared with late wife Suzanne Wilkinson, are grown up, and Maia is his only child with screenwriter partner Lisa Manning.

But it’s his daughter’s generation he worries for, especially with the looming shadow of AI.

He says: “I think younger ones are going to have a really tough time. You cannot ultimately expect to have work when AI and robotics remove the vast majority of jobs in the next few years. One of the reasons I’m sane and active is because I work. I’m 79 years old, I bounce out of bed in the morning. I travel a lot. Greta Thunberg wouldn’t much go for my travel.”

Closer to home, John has opened his own film studio on the Isle of Man, in which he can focus on the projects he really wants to do, funded, in part, by those pesky blockbusters.

He says: “I’m going to go out and shake the money tree to get the funds to make the movies that I want to make. And you will love them.”

The Gates is available on digital via 101 Films.

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