Billy Connolly talks to Russell Baillie about giving voice to an ancient king of Scotland in the latest Pixar movie.


might be a cartoon about a princess but it's one with couple of differences.

It's a Pixar film for one thing, so royal lassie Merida doesn't burst into song - just into fiery arguments with her mother, Queen Elinor. She's a tartan tomboy happier to be out galloping in the ancient highlands, a place of epic scenery and hidden dangers.

That includes bears, like the one which once took the leg of her father, King Fergus, a fact her dad (voiced by Billy Connolly) likes to relive at every gathering of the clans.


The story follows what happens when Merida (Kelly Macdonald of Boardwalk Empire) tries to defy her mother (Emma Thompson) with the help of a local witch. Bad move.

A rip-roaring adventure ensues in a movie that also pokes gentle fun at many things Scottish, something with which Connolly has had a bit of past experience. TimeOut caught up with Connolly in Sydney this week, the morning after he saw the completed Brave for the first time as it opened the Sydney Film Festival.

So did you find Pixar's treatment of the Scottish and their genetic quirks - red hair, odd body shapes, that sort of thing - alarming at all?

I was delighted. The funny thing for me is I recognised some of my friends. [The film-makers] came up to my house in Scotland and there's a parade they do every year - pipe bands come up the driveway and various other people's driveways. It's one of those traditional things where they establish the boundaries and there were 160 pipers who came. [The film-makers] took pictures of a lot of my friends in the bands and I recognised some of them last night.

Do you agree with Chris Rock that's it not exactly hard work doing one of these films - you talk a bit and they pay you a lot of money?

That's right. That's pretty much it. Well, I like the process. It's just you and the director in the room - and the sound guys. But I always face away from the sound desk - I am scared in case they look at each other and shake their heads and go "shit, what we have got here?" There is just the two of you and you do several versions of the line and on to the next line and so it goes. It's a nice process. Plus you don't have to look your best. You don't even need to wash.

When you were recording the lines, did they ever stop and say "too broad".

No they didn't. They didn't pull me up about that once. As a matter of fact, they would say "do you have any Scottish words we could replace the English words with?" I think they enjoyed the difference.


Your character King Fergus, what did you think of him?

Oh I like him very much. Big, V-shaped man. I had to boom a lot because my voice is naturally quite high-pitched. He's bit of a monster, he likes to sing and dance and eat and fight and shout. I was glad they left my song in. I thought they had dropped the song.

There was a spot of banjo on the soundtrack too - was that you?

I was wondering whether it was me as well. But it wasn't. I think it's the guy from Mumford & Sons.

But despite playing the king, the movie isn't about you ...

I knew that from day one because they were very, very excited about it being a girl protagonist and so was I. Because I have got four girls and I thought they would love it.

It's not the first story about ancient Scotland that suggests the local witches are best left alone.

I mean when is it going to dawn on people? Don't eat the apple. Don't go near the cauldron. Nothing good is going to happen.

It's quite the scenic advertisement for the country too, even if it is a cartoon.

Aye. The other thing I think is great is they have got loads of the culture in - the wee Gaelic songs and the trees and stuff. The botany is right. They've done their homework and they've got the colours right. It's not as if someone would see it and go to Scotland and be disappointed. Didn't you think it was a bit like New Zealand as well? Because Scotland and New Zealand are remarkably alike. Sometimes I'm driving in the South Island and I forget where I am.

You've been over here doing The Hobbit ...

I'm coming back over tomorrow. I've got more stuff to do.

So you're playing a dwarf in The Hobbit called Dain Ironfoot and here you are in a cartoon playing a character with a wooden leg.

Ha ha ha ha. That never dawned on me. Wooden leg and Ironfoot - I need all the help I can get.

Fergus might be king but he's not exactly head of his household.

Yeah, it's very, very accurate with the father-daughter relationship. I have got four daughters and I recognise a lot of the situations. The guy sounds as if he's laying down the law but it's actually the woman who is the strength behind it all. The dad is desperate for his daughter to like him - I recognise that.

You want your daughters to like you, you want them to think you are a great guy, so you let them get away with bloody murder. And also the way that girls can wrap a man around their little finger from day one, from when they are babies. It's just a joy to see it personified in a movie.

And it's got a natural history lesson in there too - there were once bears in Scotland.

That's right. Wolves and beavers too. There's a guy reintroducing them way up north and he's always in trouble. He's hasn't reintroduced bears but he keeps trying to reintroduce wolves but the sheep farmers are always complaining they might escape and eat their sheep.

I'm not sure if reintroduction is a good idea because it always seems to turn out like a cane toad exercise. It always seems to end in tears. When things become extinct it's for a reason and if you interfere with the balance it always seems to go awry.

But there were bears in Scotland and wolves. The beavers were the one that got me.

He's reintroduced beavers into Scotland. They don't do very well apparently. They keep escaping and being found in the main street of Inverness playing banjos and singing Dylan songs, trying to make couple of bob ...

Who: Billy Connolly as King Fergus
What: Brave, the new 3D animated movie from Pixar
When: Opens Thursday, June 21.