When did you start running?
In 1978, I had to look extremely tan and fit to play the ex-leper in Life of Brian, so I ran up and down the beaches in Tunisia where we were shooting. I got back to London and I thought I must try and make this a regular thing. I have made it a regular feature ever since. That's really when it began.
Why did you start running? Was there was a specific inspiration?
I read Jim Fixx's book [The Complete Book of Running], a classic work very popular at the time. It confirmed my inclination to do some regular exercise and make it running.
The reason I chose running rather than a team sport is it was rather easy for me. I had a very flexible time table. I also lived [and still live] very close to an 800-acre area called Hampstead Heath, which is perfect for running. It has hills, woods, and ponds—a little bit of the countryside in the middle of London.
It suits my work patterns to do a solitary sport like running. Also, having a place on the doorstep that was a great place to run—that's what made the decision for me.
What were your first runs like?
I had been running on and off for years before that, but once I really started running, I felt much more comfortable with it. I knew it was something I wanted to do and could do and would enjoy doing.
It wasn't a physical tussle like when I'd run before. It was something I would do and continue to do. All I changed was the distances I ran. I tended to take it a bit farther each time, then a bit farther and a bit farther—I'm only talking five or six miles.
How does running affect your writing?
I have never come back from a run feeling worse than when I set out. It is terrific in a sense that I clear my mind. I come back from my runs with more energy and concentration.
I don't do marathons or any of that. That space—that hour or 50 minutes I spend running—is very good for unscrambling the mind.
The idea for my movie The Missionary , came to me while running, and it was completely different from what I'd set out with. I finished and just let the concept unscramble from my mind. Not that I go out running with a purpose that I've got to sort this out. I run always with a sense of relaxation, both mental and physical. If in that period something comes to my mind that can help me in my work or writing, so much the better.
Do you tend to run more in times of stress or grief?
Running was always important to me when I was filming or acting. The more that was expected of me, the more important it was to get a run in before the day's work began.
When Eric Idle was cast as the world's fastest runner in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, did he ask you for any tips?
No, Eric never came to me for tips. If he had, I'd have said take it easy and let special effects do the hard work.
Why do you run now?
The reason I ran in the first place: It makes me feel better. It's become, over the years, so much part of my life that I couldn't conceive of not running until such time as my body says, "Hang on, stop, you can't do this anymore." Touch wood, I'm still able to run. My knees are okay. I regard running as my primary form of strenuous exercise, and I think it's very, very important to have some sort of strenuous exercise.
A lot of my work in the last 20 years or so has been traveling with quite a bit of physical work. I do find that running keeps me fit and keeps me mentally and physically in better shape. I need something like that.
I used to go the gym as well as running. I recently gave up the gym because it was all machine-like.
Hampstead Heath is the perfect place to run. I'd rather run there than running on the treadmill. But if I'm away, I do now run on a treadmill in a hotel. There was a time when I used to run wherever I was in the world, but I've gotten a little bit lazier now, and I tend to go for the hotel treadmill.
What's your most memorable run while traveling?
I was staying with someone in the West of Scotland, which is the most beautiful scenery of anywhere in the world. It's all so close—the mountains, the hills, the lakes. When it's a little bit cool and the air is really cool and crisp, that would probably be the most memorable runs, around some of the lochs up there.
And I once ran round an entire island [Bird Island in the Seychelles Archipelago] before breakfast, though it was just a few miles.
Do you track your running?
No, I don't at all. I just know in my own mind if I've had a good run or not. If it's a beautiful sunny day, I run a little bit longer. I'm very conscious of the actual route I take and where I go, but the most important thing to me is the feeling of getting out and that feeling of being on my own.