Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Stephen Fry

British author and actor Stephen Fry. Photo / Supplied
British author and actor Stephen Fry. Photo / Supplied

Stephen Fry - writer, performer, gay rights campaigner, tweeter, geek - is in New Zealand filming scenes for The Hobbit. He is a very British popular hero with a global audience. His four million-plus Twitter followers recently saw him describe New Zealand as a broadband backwater (give the man a gong) and he was incandescent last week about a British pub called The Hobbit being heavied by California lawyers.

Fry, 54, is as connected to his fans irl (in real life) as he is virtually. He is lost for words when asked who or what is the great love of his life. Yet, given his command of them, "words" could be just that.

What cliche do you most abhor?

"We're all singing from the same hymn-sheet on this one." I mean, what? I was delighted to hear a Kiwi, just the other day, come up with a much more likeable way of expressing the same idea. "We're all surfing the same wave ..." so Antipodean. I should imagine in Wellington the phrase would be, "We're all riding up the same mountain ..." Wellingtonians seem to think riding bicycles up steep hills is fun.

It isn't. It's lung-bursting agony and you must stop it at once. I digress.

What piece of advice would you give to Stephen Fry, aged 10.

You're not alone. Everything you feel is fine. Only feel guilty about things you have done that are mean and cheap and unkind. Don't feel guilty about what you feel, no matter what the world might think.

Everyone is scared inside, not just you. That's why reading is so good. Keep doing it. Writers are people brave enough to make you feel better about being human because they're not afraid to reveal their own frailties, weaknesses, desires, failures, and appetites.

What is the best thing about life right now?

My legs, eyes, and other bits and pieces work.

I am lucky enough to be in gainful employment working with fun and talented people. It could all disappear in a flash, so I'm doing my best to be sensible and actually enjoy it all - to make hay while the sun shines - to use a cliche that I don't mind. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying" - as Robert Herrick put it. Carpe diem.

What sucks?

Cynicism. Not healthy empirical scepticism, but "the cynicism that sneers and snarls" as E.M. Forster put it. The cynicism that reminds you that the origin of the world refers to the more snarly and vicious characteristics of mastiffs. Cynicism sucks big time.

Cynics are scared of emotion, scared of commitment, scared of sentiment, and so they snap and scoff and second-guess the motives of others. They are unaware that there is nothing so pretentious as seeing pretension in others. They sneer at what they don't understand (modern art and music, for example) and are infuriated that other people get pleasure and reward from such things. It is the rage of Caliban at seeing his own reflection, as Oscar put it.

What is your favourite Oscar Wilde quote?

Ha! And talking of Oscar ... Well, "a thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it" - that's one. Naturally we must make a bow to "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." "An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." "In the past they had the rack, now we have the press." "As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular." That's not just true of war, it's true of most dreadful things.

Wilde's apothegms, aphorism, epigrams and bons mots always repay careful re-inspection. They are often funny at first glance but true at second. "Work is the curse of the drinking classes", for example. More than just a neat inversion of a sanctimonious Victorian tenet ...

Technology is all very well but it will never replace ... ?

Larkspurs, delphiniums, pussy willow, catkin, sloes, tree frogs, the transit of Venus, the laughter of children, frosty breath, the tufted saxifrage and the shining spleenwort (that's one of yours - asplenium oblongifolium) ...

What gizmo can you simply not do without?

A smartphone.

But you knew that.

What is your greatest weakness/indulgence?

See Question 7.

That and vodka.

If you could say one thing to Rebekah Brooks (former News International CEO), what would it be?

"You silly, silly thing. What a pity. You should have read more plays, poems and novels and fewer cruel, savage columns that you paid for. Then you would have known that cruelty, malice and hubris always lead to terror, pain and loneliness." Her misfortune gives me no pleasure.

What do you like least about New Zealand?

Ha! The broadband. But I've covered that. Otherwise, that it's so damned far away from my homeland which keeps me away more than I'd like. But then if it were nearer it would not be New Zealand. I have to say, after America, you're the worst drivers I've had to cope with.

A long way behind the US, but nonetheless ...

What nation, other than your homeland, do you most identify with?

If I said New Zealand you'd think I was being creepy and crawly. But I do like your quiet lack of brashness and aggression. Australians have their real charms, but losing well and modesty aren't two of them. Whereas most Kiwis are sweetly self-deprecating. The British have a genius for being self-effacing in a way which comes across as arrogant, New Zealanders genuinely seem not to bother with self-image and boastfulness. I think it's the same reason I like the Scandinavian countries.

Can you tell us a joke in 140 characters or less?

I like this one because it only works in a New Zealand accent. One farmer approaches another: "Are you shearing?" The other farmer replies, "No, get your own." Muahaha. I know. I'm sorry.

- NZ Herald

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