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Jason Isaacs: "The waves beat the living shit out of me and suddenly I was all alone"

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Actor Jason Isaacs and the boogie boarding incident that almost wrenched him from this mortal coil.

Jason, how are you?

I'm walking about my house making breakfast and a cup of tea.

What are you making?

Porridge. Breakfast of champions.

So. The OA...

It's a very weird one to talk about because Netflix made this incredibly bold decision not to publicise it at all. Now that we are allowed to do publicity, I find myself with the same instinct they had when they made their decisions, which is: I don't walk to talk about it. It reminded me of seeing the Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When you leave, they give you a badge saying 'Keep the secrets'. In the same way, The OA has so many twists and turns and surprises that to talk about it would be to ruin the deliciousness for an audience.

It's exciting to think Netflix might apply a similarly clandestine methodology to other shows.

Once you get to the end of the first episode you don't really know what the show's going to be about. They play with the length of episodes. Just like chapters in a book, they can be any length.

The OA

And in the first episode, the opening credits come in after an hour.

I thought that was both hilariously insane and a fantastic sign of things to come. It lets you know you're not on normal territory.

How's your porridge?

It's fine. It's all done; I've actually eaten a lot of it by now, believe it or not.

Your character in The OA is interested in near-death experiences. What's the closest you've come to death yourself?

Oh God. In the ocean, when I was making Peter Pan. I lived on the beach in the Gold Coast in Queensland, it was this trendy, very exclusive beach where all the models and wannabes hung out. I was a bit of a local celebrity so there was kind of whispering and people chatting behind their hands. I went out boogie boarding and immediately got into horrible trouble. The waves kept on beating the living shit out of me until I had nothing left. And I looked up and there was this wall of water. It smashed my board off me and suddenly I was alone. And I had time to think a whole bunch of stuff: to think “I haven't made a will...that was really stupid”; to think, “Oh God, my kids are only going to be looking at me in movies...I wonder which ones they'll watch”, because I'd played a lot of bad guys at that point. Just as I was in the middle of this reverie, I looked up and saw this 21-year-old surf god on one of those giant rescue boards. I went into very high-pitched squealing appreciation. Then I walked the walk of shame past the same gaggles of models and local cigar-chomping mahogany people.

Jason Isaacs

Actors being politically vocal is always entertaining. On Twitter you described Trump as a “walking anus” the other day.

Anyone can speak their mind about anything. No one has to listen. People who tell me to shut up because I'm English – why are they reading it? They don't have to listen to anything I say.

You seem like a keen Twitter user...

I'm not keen, I hate all of it, I wish it was banned. It feels so antithetical to me as an Englishman to go “Hey, look at this thing – I'm in it, it's great!” I'm never quite sure what to do so I've live-tweeted shows that I'm in and all I do is take the piss out of myself.

You said in one interview that you like being anonymous. Is it a compliment to you if you're not recognised in public?

I never am. I think there's a misconception that actors do it because they want to be recognised. What I'm still curious about is walking in other people's shoes; finding out what makes people hate, love, be jealous, make questionable moral choices. Those stories have powerful value in the world; they make people feel less alone. Going on red carpets or being recognised in Starbucks is no part of it. I always assume that no one has any idea who I am or any interest in what I say.

I understand you're a massive tennis fan. Given a wildcard at Wimbledon, you reach the final against Roger Federer. How many points do you think you could scrape off him?

It depends how often he double-faulted. That's my only chance against really good players.

Roger Federer

Federer: pretty good at tennis

What about against Sue Barker, in her current form?

I was at a hotel a while ago and I called down to the front desk. I said, “You've got tennis courts and you've got a pro. Can I book a two-hour session after lunch? Can we have new balls?” And I went down and this 25-year-old gave this huge sigh of relief. I said, “What?” He said, “Sorry. I thought you were Bjorn Borg.” I went, “Why would I be Bjorn Borg?” He said, “He was here a couple of weeks ago and he called down, said the same things.” I said, “How'd it go?” He said, “He's fucking Bjorn Borg. He beat me 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.” I suspect that Sue Barker could stick the racquet where the sun doesn't shine and beat me by twerking.

Lovely image to end on.

The OA is available on Netflix now

(Images: Rex/Netflix/Richie Hopson)

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