Kids know him as Harry Potter’s pal Nearly Headless Nick, but back in the day John Cleese used to be in, like, this thing called Monty Python. This month we’ve got a 20th-anniversary DVD of “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life,” an earlier venture into cinematic near-headlessness. Shall we keep being funny, or shut up and let him talk with NEWSWEEK’s Andrew Phillips?
AP: Didn’t I hear you once worked for NEWSWEEK?
John Cleese: I worked for you for about five minutes. I don’t think I was any good. They asked me to start writing an obituary for someone who at that time was alive and about 24 years of age, and I kind of got the message.
AP: Right, tell me about it. But you’ve done OK.
JC: I suppose so, but it would have been more interesting. I don’t regard myself as having led a particularly interesting life. There’s nothing that interesting about sitting in a room writing comedy and then going into a studio and rehearsing it.
AP: How was it being strung up for “Harry Potter”?
JC: Doing that kind of special-effects shooting is the most sterile experience known to an actor. Of course it made me a hero to my grandchildren. But as you know, special-effects supervisors have not really spoken to human beings before during the course of their lives. It’s one of the qualifications.
AP: Do you revisit those Monty Python one-liners?
JC: I suppose once a day someone smiles at me in the street and says something that I know is a quote, but I don’t know what it’s a quote from.
AP: I hope the new DVD has some wild outtakes.
JC: I haven’t seen it myself. And the reason is, I have not reached that sad stage of sitting at home in the evenings and watching my own movies. I will say, in my final week, as I lie there at the age of 104, I shall no doubt be watching this DVD with my 18-year-old bride.
AP: Speaking of that: in the film, you play a headmaster who brings his wife in to a sex-ed class. Is this really how young people should learn about sex?
JC: I don’t think anyone should be educated sexually. There’s far too many people on the planet. If we could hush it up for a few years, that would help.