Jason Isaacs on the future of Harry Potter, Event Horizon's 'director's cut', and fighting Michelle Yeoh in Star Trek

The British actor behind Lucius Malfoy, Captain Hook, and Captain Lorca takes us on a guided tour of his career so far, role by role, anecdote by anecdote

Jason Isaacs looks back at his career with Yahoo UK for Role Recall (ITV/CBS/Warner Bros./Illustration Yahoo News)
Jason Isaacs looks back at his career with Yahoo UK for Role Recall (ITV/CBS/Warner Bros./Illustration Yahoo News)

Jason Isaacs has more acting credits than most — including playing Cary Grant in the new ITVX series Archie — but one role that will follow him to the end of time is that of Harry Potter villain Lucius Malfoy.

But it won't be long until someone else will be recognised for the part, though, as HBO plans to revive the franchise with a TV series adapting JK Rowling's books for a new generation.

"Those are films I made 70 parts ago, 40 films ago, over 15 years ago," he tells Yahoo UK. "So the fact that someone else is going to introduce people to that world and those stories, God bless them, good luck to them," Isaacs says of the franchise's future and his possible replacement.

He then jokes: "Obviously, I feel deeply resentful and bitter, but that's maybe just some residual Malfoy coming up."

Watch: Jason Isaacs looks back at his illustrious career

In Archie, Isaacs transforms into Cary Grant — an icon of the Golden Age of Hollywood — as the show dispels the myths behind the legend in a stark, honest portrayal of what he was like away from the starry lights of Tinseltown.

"I wouldn't have played Cary Grant because you'd be an idiot to take that job," he admits.

"He's kind of worshipped, and he was all those things that people bounce around, debonair, suave, and everybody in the world wants to be him or be with him. But who he was off screen was so damaged and so unlike that.

"That's why he didn't give interviews, and was so angry so often, or angry at himself, and destroyed relationships all around him. That stuff I kind of recognise, particularly the code switching — he was someone different with everyone he was with."

Speaking with Yahoo UK in a new Role Recall interview, Isaacs looks back at his illustrious career and the roles that had a defining impact on him.

Yahoo Entertainment’s Role Recall sees Hollywood A-listers, Oscar winners and flat-out icons offering a guided tour of their careers via unfiltered anecdotes from classic films and shows — the greatest bits from their greatest hits.

Why Event Horizon (1997) doesn't need a director's cut

EVENT HORIZON, Jason Isaacs, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, 1997, (c)Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
Jason Isaacs, Kathleen Quinlan, and Joely Richardson in Event Horizon, which has become a cult classic (Paramount)

1997's Event Horizon was a box office failure thanks, in part, to a rushed post-production phase which saw around 40 minutes of footage being cut from initial test screenings.

But the sci-fi horror — directed by Paul WS Anderson — is now regarded as a cult hit (a spin-off is in development at Amazon) with passionate fans calling for the director's cut to be release — but Isaacs, who played doctor D.J., isn't convinced.

"I don't know about this director's cut," Isaacs explains. "If you watch the film it does occasionally flash, literally flash frames, to what happened to the ship when it went to hell and there's all kinds of what looks like 'is it an orgy? Is it a massacre? What's going on?'

"Well, they shot it on a soundstage next to us, and there are things that are definitely illegal to do now, probably illegal to do then, with a whole bunch of people with certain things wrong with their body or their mind.

The actor said he doesn't feel there's a need for a director's cut, even if fans are calling for one to be released (Paramount)

"And Paul's best mate was shooting the second unit, and he kept coming back to our stage going, 'you will not believe what I saw this morning'. And I don't think putting more of that in there will make it work, and I don't think more people's visions make it work.

"Maybe Paul's got some footage somewhere. I don't think so, he's never mentioned it to me. I think it's a bit of a myth this director's cut, that's the film. But I might be wrong, I didn't direct it."

Armageddon (1998) was on another level

USA. Jason Isaacs in a scene from the (C)Buena Vista Pictures film : Armageddon (1998).  Plot: After discovering that an asteroid the size of Texas will impact Earth in less than a month, NASA recruits a misfit team of deep-core drillers to save the planet. Director: Michael Bay  Ref: LMK110-J8205-050822 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. pictures@lmkmedia.com
Jason Isaacs' first big film was Armageddon, directed by Michael Bay (Buena Vista Pictures)

"Michael Bay is the loudest, most shouty director I've ever come across. It was a big macho film, a big set. He did have a microphone, but, you know, he makes those films, those big shouty films.

"What felt on another scale was the food. I'd never seen so much food in all my life, the biggest breakfast, every kind of breakfast you could imagine, and there was I remember Thai food and Chinese food on the side of the set, and I took a plate and said 'can I have seconds?' and they said 'have as much you like', and just as I shovel my fifth plate in they were like 'right that's lunch.' So that's what indicated to me the scale of the film, that and the fact we had the entire Pentagon as our backdrop."

The Patriot's (2000) continued legacy

Jason Isaacs is amazed by the continued legacy of The Patriot (Alamy)

"It's on every July 4th in America and many people come up to me and they say, 'Oh, my fifth grade history teacher showed me [The Patriot], we loved it'. And I go, 'And then he told you what really happened, right?' So a lot of people think it's a documentary, which it really isn't.

"The Patriot is still enormous, it's on somewhere every day in America on one of those channels because it's a heroic story about the birth of America, and they love watching an Australian beat a British person from a German director.

"It was always outsiders that told the story of America, it was outsiders that birthed the American dream in Hollywood... and Roland Emmerich has an extraordinary eye so he's the person to tell that story."

Looking back at the Harry Potter films (2001)

(L-r) JASON ISAACS as Lucius Malfoy and TOM FELTON as Draco Malfoy in Warner Bros. PicturesÕ fantasy adventure ÒHARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Ð PART 1,Ó a Warner Bros. Pictures release.    Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy alongside Tom Felton, who played his son Draco. (Warner Bros.)

"I auditioned for Gilderoy Lockhart [the role went to Kenneth Branagh], and when I was in the room Chris Columbus said, 'Do you mind reading for another part, as Lucius Malfoy?' And I thought to myself for a split second, 'he wants me to play two parts. God, he must think I'm good'. And then I realised I wasn't going to get Gilderoy Lockhart, and so I read for Lucius Malfoy rather resentfully and bitterly, and I'm pretty sure that was how I got it.

"I came up with that wig, that was my idea. They wanted me to just have my hair and at the time I was doing it because I wanted every single defence against being compared with Alan Rickman. He was playing the villain so far, and I wanted a cane and a cape, I would have had a parrot on my shoulder if I could.

"But I had the wig and it's been such a blessing because the other people who look like their parts are stopped all day, every day. I get on the subway and go to the supermarket, so God bless the wig."

He adds: "All of the jobs I do, I do for the experience — my working life is a journey, not a destination — but with Harry Potter, the pleasure has come mostly afterwards. I meet people for decades, I still meet them all the time, who say that those films and those books saved their life, not just changed their life.

"When they were suicidal, or when they're in very dark places, or they felt alone or abused or neglected or whatever, those stories gave them hope and to be part of that with people is extraordinary because let's face it, what do I do? I dress up and put voices on, but I still get to ride that tide, which is a real privilege."

Filming Black Hawk Down (2001) 'felt dangerous'

Jason Isaacs Film: Black Hawk Down (USA/UK 2001) Characters: Steele  Director: Ridley Scott 18 December 2001   **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of SCOTT FREE PRODUCTIONS and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To SCOTT FREE PRODUCTIONS is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
Jason Isaacs as Steele in Black Hawk Down, which felt dangerous to shoot (Alamy)

"When we were shooting, we were safe, no one got injured, but it felt dangerous. My first shot there, [they said]: 'you make your way down that street with your unit and things are going to blow up, and cars are going to spin, and people will drop down dead, and they get behind a broken building.

"Normally you would say, 'can I walk through and see it happened?' It was too expensive. So I make my way down the street, things are flying over my head and things are blowing up next to me, snipers were shooting dusk next to me and I was going down the street terrified and then when I got to the end I did my dialogue.

"Afterwards, one of the real rangers was watching and said 'you didn't have a magazine, when you fell over, the magazine dropped out of your [gun], and I think you were saying bang when you pulled the trigger.' I went to Ridley and said 'really sorry I think I was a bit panicked, but right at the end I think I was going bang, bang to pull the trigger, because I didn't have a magazine', and he said 'I'm sure you weren't' but I think I was. So we had to reshoot my closeup of that.

"But it was a big, noisy, overwhelming experience to be there and be part of something that's so chaotic. The thing I remember of Ridley particularly is one day when I went up to him and he had a bank of monitors like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, loads them and they all had cameras.

"He was looking at this going 'camera three raise it a foot, camera six roll 25 scenes per second, camera 19 open the shutter five degrees.' He's just smoking a cigar and I go 'is this stressful?' and he says 'I can do this s*** in my sleep.'"

His short-lived experience on Windtalkers (2002)

"I have one scene in Windtalkers and I was gone by 11.30 in the morning, I think I didn't even get my free lunch but when they made the trailer my one scene is all over it.

"All the exposition with Nic Cage, I praise him and tell him what's going to happen, and so the trailer is all me and my friends said 'you said you weren't in it' and I was like 'no, I really wasn't.' But it was great being with John Woo for an hour, I'm not sure he knew my name."

Working with Jackie Chan on The Tuxedo (2002)

Jason Isaacs starred opposite Jackie Chan in The Tuxedo, who he was more in awe with after working with him (Alamy)

"Jackie [Chan] is the only superstar I've ever worked with who is more of a hero to me after I worked with him than before. He was just remarkable and hilarious, and humble, and there seemed to be five of him. He was always doing many, many things, but there's a heartbreaking story behind why he's so funny and so charming and so helpful, and it's because he was so badly abused at his performing art school when he was a kid.

"It's an orphanage. He wasn't an orphan, his parents were persuaded that he would get a better education if he went there and he didn't. They beat them until they bled all the time and they gave them no education, they trained them in gymnastics, and kung fu, and singing, acrobatics.

"He showed us all the things he performed and then told us the stories of these little kids who cried themselves the sleep getting beaten with bamboo sticks, and that explains partly why he was so helpful and so productive because when they were kids if there was a piece of dirt on the floor they all got beaten, so he was picking up rubbish.

"He's an amazing man."

Why Peter Pan (2003) resonates with women

Peter Pan  Year : 2003 USA Director : P.J. Hogan Jason Isaacs, Richard Briers
Jason Isaacs plays both Captain Hook and Mr Darling in Peter Pan, the only film to get JM Barrie's book right, he said. (Alamy)

"[Peter Pan's] been a huge success since it was made, but when it came out it was catastrophic flop because people thought, 'Oh, I've seen that before'. Actually, no one's ever made a film of Peter Pan before. J M Barrie's Peter Pan is about a little girl who's told, 'You're not a little girl, you're a woman now it's time to grow up', and those days that meant have a family, have sex, leave your brother's bedroom, stop playing pirates.

"So that night she dreams and creates a world with a little boy with baby teeth who'll always play with her, but there's also a man who is strangely attractive but repulsive as well. She's not ready to be attracted to men, and he looks like the only man she knows, which is her father, and that's a really potent Freudian story about mortality and maturity, and no one ever made that.

"They get obsessed with the boy for some reason, he's a figment of her imagination. And there's a reason why that film, still decades later, has resonated with so many girls and so many young women. So many women tell me that's actually their favourite film I've ever been in, because J M Barrie captured that horrifying moment when, as a girl, you realise the world is looking at you as a woman."

His hopes for The OA (2016) to return

(Left to Right) Brit Marling, Jason Isaacs,
Brit Marling and Jason Isaacs in The OA, which was cancelled after two seasons (Netflix).

"I was a replacement. They started shooting with someone else, after a week they realised that his agent maybe had been slightly disingenuous, he couldn't speak English and took phone calls in the middle of the scene. And so they phoned me late at night, they knew me from a short I'd done called Nine Lives years before and they said, 'Do you like this thing? And if you like it, will you get on a plane immediately? You're shooting tomorrow in Grand Central Station.

"I'd never heard anything like it and I arrived and I first met Brit [Marling] in character in Grand Central Station. You knew doing it there was something special about it."

The show, unfortunately, was cancelled after two seasons by Netflix, but Isaacs is still hopeful it could return in some capacity. "Never say never. We left it, we could always go back to where we left it. It's had the most profound effect on people around the globe, tens of millions of people watched it and loved it.

"They had all five seasons of the labyrinth created before they started writing the first season. So this was an auction, it was a bidding war to get this, you could see from watching the story that there's no development fingers in it, they'd be going, 'Why don't we make that a bit more this?'

"It's unlike anything else. So you can't steer it towards a mould, and they have such a clear vision of what they want to do. Yea, we stopped after chapter two of five chapters, and I hope that one day we get to finish it."

He fought injury to film his action scenes with Michele Yeoh in Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

Description: Temporada 1.  Original Film Title: STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  English Title: STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  Film Director: ALEX KURTZMAN; BRYAN FULLER.  Year: 2017.  Stars: JASON ISAACS. Credit:  CBS Television Studios, Living Dead Guy Productions, Rodden / Album
Jason Isaacs was a big fan of Star Trek growing up, so to appear in it was a delight (CBS)

"I grew up in a household where all we did was watch telly, that was all we ever did. We would eat often in front of the television, and we would watch television and we would argue about what we would watch. Everyone would argue a long time for the remote control... my brother and I would fight over the button to change the channel, but we never argued over Star Trek.

"The whole family would watch Star Trek and the thought that I would ever have been in it and the feeling when I was standing commanding my own starship, and hitting the warp drive or transporting places... it was incredible. It was incredible to to have my own starship.

"I was aware that first of all the Trekkies are, rightly, really protective of it, they want it to be somehow a continuation of what's happened before. So at first they were horrified by me, but by the end I turn out not to be who I say I am. So when they were going, 'no starship captain would ever do anything like that. Nobody would ever, he's breaking the Prime directive all the time'. Yes, that's right, and I had to defend myself in the press for almost a year before everyone went, 'Oh, I get it.'"

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 06: (L-R) Jason Isaacs and Michelle Yeoh during the 2022 Film Independent Spirit Awards on March 06, 2022 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
Jason Isaacs and Michelle Yeoh appeared together in Star Trek: Discover. (Getty)

"I had a fight coming up with Michelle Yeoh, a big fight. She's Michelle Yeoh, she moves like liquid. She's such a beautiful person and mover.

"I'm a tennis nut and I played three five-set games of tennis two days beforehand, I woke up and my knees were the size of pumpkins. The stunt guy said, 'You can't do the fight. I'm putting a double in' and I went, 'You can amputate my legs. I'm doing this fight,' and I won't even tell you the things that I had to do to make myself mobile."

Why his The Death of Stalin (2017) character became a Yorkshireman

Jason Isaacs makes a memorable appearance as Field Marshal Zhukov in The Death of Stalin (Alamy)

"I remember reading it thinking they made a terrible mistake. I've never done comedy publicly, I would make stupid jokes privately, and I don't know Armando [Iannucci, the film's director], he obviously meant to offer it to Jason Statham or somebody, he's got that name wrong.

"It came with a note saying call if you have any questions, and I phoned up, 'Would you like to do it?' I said, 'Yes, definitely. Do you mind if I do it in a Yorkshire accent?' And he went 'Well do you think it's funny?' I said 'well when I read it I heard Yorkshire' and he said sure, I don't know what I'd have done if he said no.

"I think that the entrance, first of all the other characters have been on screen for an hour so it's time for new blood but they're all scared, everybody's scared of each other, he's the only bloke who's not scared in it. So he arrived bullishly and it was a stroke of genius on Armando's part to make it slow-mo so those medals jangled.

"I just looked at the Wikipedia page for Zhukov and I saw this picture of a man with 7000 medals on, and I thought, 'Oh, you w***** really?' And I just I said, 'How many medals can we get on my chest?' We built the jacket up so it's got more medals on it, and I thought that told you everything you needed to know before he even started speaking."

He lost his voice every session on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)

The evil Skeksis return to terrorise a new generation of kids in Netflix prequel series 'The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance'. (Credit: John Wilson/Netflix)
Jason Isaacs voices The Emperor in 'The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance'. (Netflix)

"They're shot on these fantastic sets with the world's greatest puppeteers for you, and they do the voices and then moves the puppets according to it. So none of us were free to give our own performances because we were mimicking the puppeteers and I did a lot of screaming as The Emperor.

"So there wasn't one session I did where I didn't lose my voice the whole time."

Why Mass (2021) is misunderstood

MARTHA PLIMPTON and JASON ISAACS in MASS (2021), directed by FRAN KRANZ. Credit: 7 Eccles Street / Album
Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton in Mass, which the actor explained is about the "power of forgiveness" (7 Eccles Street)

"People misunderstood [Mass], I think. Not having watched it, but having been told they think it was about school shootings or something, it's not. No, this is it's such a beautiful film about the power of forgiveness, how necessary it is and how carrying hate only poisons you, doesn't in any way affect the things you think you'd like to affect.

"It's not disguised, but it's delivered through this extraordinary concoction of people, I felt it was the most intense filming experience I've ever had and I felt it when I was in the audience for many people the most intense experience they've ever had, but it's uplifting.

"So I think a lot of people were worried, cautious about approaching it because they thought it was going to be depressing, but actually there's something incredibly spiritual about how these people are. It's not a simplistic ending, but the power of forgiveness is writ large, and I've never seen it without an audience being in floods of tears."

Revealing the man behind the legend in Archie (2023)


Pictured:JASON ISAACS as Cary Grant.

This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or ITV plc. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk.  This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itv.com/presscentre/itvpictures/terms

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Jason Isaacs as Cary Grant in Archie. (ITV)

"When he was young, he was so desperate, so hungry, literally physically hungry, he'd have done anything to survive and he created this character to survive and it worked. He wanted love, so he created this character that the world loved and created him so well that the whole world loved him for decades and he just felt less and less lovable himself.

"You read a ton of biographies, the films are useless for that because that's not who he was, but Dyan Cannon opened up her heart to me and her memory bank, and shared some really difficult stuff to listen to, some of which is in her autobiography, some of which isn't. I spoke to his daughter a lot, Jennifer, but she has a completely different memory of this charming and lovely dad.


Pictured:JASON ISAACS as Cary Grant and LAURA AIKMAN as Dyan Cannon.

This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or ITV plc. This photograph must not be manipulated [excluding basic cropping] in a manner which alters the visual appearance of the person photographed deemed detrimental or inappropriate by ITV plc Picture Desk.  This photograph must not be syndicated to any other company, publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itv.com/presscentre/itvpictures/terms

For further information please contact:
Jason Isaacs and Laura Aikman in Archie, which explores his relationship with his ex-wife and the man behind the legendary persona (ITV)

"[Dyan] held nothing back and shocked me and upset me, this young woman who was being controlled and suffocated and hurt. I felt so badly if I kept on apologising to her, she was like 'why are you apologising? You're not him.' I was like 'I know, but no person should have to put up with that.'

"I think he found salvation by realising, finally, that seeking love was never going to do it and he had a child that he maybe didn't even want her at first, but he loved her and he wanted to give love to her. And it's the giving of love that started him on the road to recovery."

Archie is out on ITVX now.