Interview: Michael Palin on Brazil

By Rob Virtue on November 28, 2012 4:11 PM |


Comedian, writer and actor Michael Palin, 69, was at Waterstones in Jubilee Place mall for a signing of his new book Brazil, to accompany his recent BBC1 series.

We asked the seasoned traveller what he found in the South American country and about a life spent touring the world.

■ Tell us about your new book?

Whenever I travel I keep written notebooks of whatever I see. You have to write them quickly but I don't mind that because your mind is fresh.

Brazil series was four films and after each one I would come back and write that section before going out again.

■ In 2007 you said you were finished with travelling. What changed your mind?

I'm addicted to travelling so I was always going to be easily seduced by the prospect of a foreign trip. It was really that Brazil was suddenly becoming talked about. There's the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 and there's the economic resurgence - suddenly it's one of the biggest economies in the world and people are noticing it.

It's the fifth biggest country in the world and it's incredibly important. So I had to go there and I thought if I'm going there perhaps I could get the team together if they could bear to travel with me again.

■ Was that easy?

Yes, everyone seemed amazingly enthusiastic including the cameraman who's almost my age now, mid-60s, but was still able to weave the camera. Brazil is visually terrific. The light, there's lots of music, dancing, religious ceremonies. There's always something very bright and lively going on. It lends itself to a programme so I said let's do one more.

■ Any parallels with Britain in the run-up to the Olympics?

It didn't come up particularly in conversation but they live very much for the day in Brazil. What's happening tomorrow, they'll confront then. Which is a bit of a problem when it comes to planning.

But I think the mayor of Rio and the Rio state know full well what they are taking on and work very hard on it. The public are much more interested in what is happening today than what's happening in three or four years' time.

The football will be good to look forward to as it's a soccer-mad nation. Just one and a half years' time and that will be a dry run.

■ Do you see signs of its emerging financial status?

I see it from the number of ships docked along the coast to get the iron ore and minerals shipped out to China and Europe.

You can tell there's a lot of mineral wealth there, which is being heavily traded. In terms of the wealth of the country, it's difficult.

I spoke to Fernando Cardoso, who was president of Brazil for eight years and I said "there's so many things we love about Brazil; the beaches, the lifestyle, the samba. Is there anything you envy about Britain?" He said "your legal system". Corruption is still a problem out there.

■ Away from work where do you go on holiday?

Our children are grown up so we don't go to Disney World and all those places. [Helen and I] go for long weekends to European cities, something like that.

We try to go different places and went to Montenegro for a very nice holiday last year. We also both love New York and have a lot of friends there. I've tried to get my wife to go to Australia which I love but she says it's too far.


■ I imagine you veto your wife's suggestions if you've been there?

Ha! Oh no. I'm always happy to go to the same place. People tend to think I tick off places and say "I'm not going there again" but I'd love to go back to Brazil, or to Russia, China and Japan again. You only scratch the surface when you do these programmes.

■ And your novel, The Truth, was a success this year. Plans on writing another?

It got good reactions and there's been a lot of interest, certainly in Europe, in producing translations of the book. Next year I'll help with publicising that around the world when it's in paperback, which will make it more accessible.

I'd think about writing another one. And although I'm getting older, I feel physically OK, it's nice to travel. A novel moors you to the desk a bit.

■ And any more travel series?

I always say after each programme that's going to be the last one, otherwise people say "you've got to go and see this" or "visit my grandmother".

The answer is I don't know. It's always very serendipitous where I decide to go and I wasn't intending to go to Brazil at all but it was just so talked about and the focus was on it.

There are places like the Middle East - Iran, Syria, all the places you can't go at the moment, which is very frustrating. I won't rule it out. Never say never. I've always freelanced, I've never had a job as such so something out of the blue might happen. I might decide to do some acting again. My life has been very serendipitous.

■ Another film?

You never know, you never know.

Michael Palin Brazil costs £20 at Waterstones in Jubilee Place.