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LEE: THE WICKER MOAN; Exclusive Screen legend celebrates six decades of stardom but remake of cult smash set in Scotland has him fuming.

Byline: By Rick Fulton Showbiz Editor

ACTING legend Christopher Lee calls The Wicker Man his best ever film and has branded the remake "desperate".

Celebrating his 60th year as an actor this year and having made over 300 films and television productions, he has also recently appeared in blockbusters The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, which proves that the 84-year-old is still on top of his game.

He is also the world's best known Dracula and played one of the ultimate Bond baddies, Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun.

But he has no idea why Nicolas Cage has remade his 1973 cult horror film set in Scotland.

Christopher said: "They all seem pretty desperate in the film and television world.

"The Wicker Man was probably the best film I've ever made and it became, next to Citizen Kane, the biggest cult movie in the world and it still has people talking about it.

"And then I hear it's being remade. I don't believe in remakes. You can make a followup to a film, but to remake a movie with such history and success just doesn't make sense to me."

The remake, which will be released in America in September, was made in Canada and is set in the US. And while Cage plays the policeman now called Edward Maulis that was originally played by Edward Woodward, there are radical changes.

For a start the policeman is no longer a virgin which was a huge part of the original's plot and instead has an allergy to bees.

And Christopher's character is a woman.

While he played Lord Summerisle who leads the neo-pagan cult into human sacrifice to restore the fertility of the island's fields in the original, he has been replaced by Sister Summerisle, played by Ellen Burstyn.

While Christopher disagrees with remakes in general, he has appeared in a remake as Dr Wonka in last year's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a remake of the 1971 movie.

But Christopher says it isn't a remake, but an adaptation of the book with Tim Burton's own unique imagination.

He said: "I never saw the original, but my character didn't exist in it.

"I've worked with Tim Burton before and as far as I'm concerned, he's quite simply number one.

"Johnny Depp is a brilliant actor who is never afraid of a challenge and although he's a personal friend, I think he's the best actor in the cinema today."

Like many of the film's original fans, the new version of Charlie and the Chocolate factory is so different, with much of the original story put back in the movie with a new twist at the end.

But will The Wicker Man remake - without director Tim Burton or Johnny Depp's expertise - be the same?

Christopher isn't interested in finding out.

He has a huge love of Scotland and like many, resents one of our most famous films being changed by Hollywood.

In November and December 2004, Christopher was in Scotland filming The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby and is hoping to get back soon to make Cowboys for Christ, which is written and directed by Wicker Man director Robin Hardy.

Christopher said: "It's not a sequel to The Wicker Man, but it has certain similarities in that it's Scottish and has certain beliefs."

Already The Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin and Vanessa Redgrave have signed up for the film which tells the story of pagans who turn the Borders' Common Ridings into fear festivals.

Christopher added: "It's funny, erotic and very frightening.

"It's about two young Americans who are very religious. He's a cowboy and she is his fiancee. They are asked to go to Scotland to spread the word of the gospel."

The actor, whose first love was singing and even sang with Rhapsody, an Italian fantasy metal band a couple of years ago, added: "I actually get to sing quite a lot in the film."

Cowboys for Christ is still waiting for the green light and Christopher moodily adds: "Although nobody has said it, the insurers are probably asking: 'how old is Christopher Lee? Is he going to live through this?'

"I don't know why it's not starting. God willing it's soon."

A Hammer star with his good friend Peter Cushing, in recent years Christopher has moved away from his horror roles and used his expertise to bring depth to big name movies. He used his booming voice to great affect as Count Dooku in the Star Wars films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and as Saruman in The Lord Of The Rings, making him a star with a new generation.

He was only in the first two The Lord of the Rings movies and complained that his final scene in Return of the King had been cut, although it appeared in the DVD version.

He said: "I was upset because I felt it spoiled the continuation of the story. You see Saruman looking distraught at the end of The Two Towers with Isengard being destroyed and then you never see him again.

"I thought it was wrong and a few million others on the internet did too. But you can't hold a grudge. It's sorted out now and it wasn't the vanity of an actor. Peter Jackson did a remarkable job and something no other director has ever done."

Christopher has continued enthralling a new generation of fans and in The Adventures Of Greyfriars Bobby, he played a good guy in the shape of Sir William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh.

It was the first time the actor had been back filming in Scotland for nine years since the television series Ivanhoe in the late Nineties.

He said: "Just like when we were filming Ivanhoe, the weather was dreadful when we made Greyfriars, but it was still delightful.

"Who'd have thought they'd have seen me as Lord Provost of Edinburgh?

"I loved that film, I thought it was enchanting.

"It was a family film and you see far too few of those these days and it's also based upon a true story."

Starring Greg Wise, Ardal O'Hanlon and Gina McKee, the film is the true tale of Bobby, a dog who spent 14 years guarding his dead master's grave.

Although Christopher was in Scotland, he wasn't able to have his usual yearly golf holiday as one of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield Golf Course.

A member for 36 years, Christopher up until two years ago travelled to Scotland every year to play the sport he loves.

He said: "I tried to get in two rounds of golf a day because, in my opinion, it's the greatest golf course in the world. But I've not been up for two years because I've been busy working.

"I couldn't play while I filmed Greyfriars because the weather was terrible."

Married to Gitte, his Danish wife of 45 years, they have one child, Christina, who was born with her feet turned almost backwards so she had to spend her first year in splints.

She has no children and Christopher is sure he won't be a grandfather.

He said: "I'm too old. I don't know how long I'm going to live, well none of us does, but I don't know. Our daughter might have a baby and I might die next year.

"This is what happened with me. My grandfather died the year before I was born.

"But being a grandfather would be another privilege and another award."

Awarded a CBE in 2001, he also holds two records as the world's tallest leading actor (at 6ft 5in) and the "Living actor with the most screen credits".

But he can't imagine himself winning an Oscar.

He said: "I don't think I know the right people.

"Someone said the other day that Mr is a great deal smarter than being sir and I know what they meant when you look at some of the people being knighted today."

He now lives in London after spending 10 years in Hollywood which he claims he "survived".

Christopher, mindful of Hollywood's love of youth and the next big thing, said: "It's a totally unnatural place in every possible way.

"Lots of young people go with stars in their eyes and that's about the only stars they get."

The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby is available to own and rent on DVD, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

'You can make a follow up to a film, but to remake a movie with such history and success just doesn't make sense'

CAPTION(S):

BADGE OF HONOUR: Christopher received a CBE in 2001 PICTURE: PA' MANY FACES: Christopher is best known for The Wicker Man, left, and Dracula, above, but his role as Saruman in Lord Of The Rings has brought him new fans' NEW CHALLENGE: Christopher as Sir William Chambers in The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 15, 2006
Words:1484
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