The Liverpool-born actor may be best known for his role as the bleached-haired villain Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, yet his film, TV and theatre career has spanned over 20 years, earning him numerous nominations and taking him across the world, from Australia’s Gold Coast to Bratislava.
As a child growing up in Liverpool, wanting to explore felt second nature to me. When you’ve got the docks, and ships arriving and leaving at all hours of the day, you realise there’s a fantastic world out there that’s actually completely accessible. The notion of travel was exciting long before I even knew what to expect, although the furthest I’d go as a kid would be the Lake District!
I was most scared when I went to Colombia in 1991. We were actually there for my brother’s wedding, but it was at the time when the net was closing around drugs lord Pablo Escobar. As soon as we arrived we were subjected to searches and interrogation from the border guards — and instantly wanted to come home. Luckily, we emerged unscathed, although our luggage didn’t, and we spent the next few days buying new suits and shirts.
Heading to the rainforest in Belize was the most intense travel experience I’ve ever had. We weren’t part of a big party — it was my partner Emma and I, plus a couple of others, but none of us quite knew enough about what we were doing to make the experience comfortable, nor did we want it to be. I think that has to be an attraction to travel — you’re out there subjected to whatever’s around you; in our case coming face-to-face, somewhat terrifyingly, with nature. What struck me was how easy it was to become disorientated. Our trip was really on the edge. That said, we discovered some fantastic things about rainforest medicine and the river ecosystem. You can read all that stuff in a book, but when you’re there, it’s real. I’d love to go back.
I find it hard to detach myself completely wherever I travel. We’re the generation that’s so in touch that relinquishing those ties does become incredibly difficult. It’s something I’m working on, but there’s a feeling of being lost if I’m not close to the safety net of my phone and laptop.
Having kids certainly changes your outlook on travel. You become much safer in the choices you make, but that’s OK as youngsters will find amazement in even the simplest of things. Work meant we took our daughter, Lily, to Australia for a year in 2002 when she was just five months old, and that was fantastic — her early life was spent on the Gold Coast around the most beautiful beaches and clear blue sea.
On my travels, I’ve probably seen as many things I’d term as shocking as inspirational. I think you have to buy into the mix. Shortly after the break-up of Czechoslovakia, I had to film in Bratislava, in Slovakia, for Dragonheart. I knew how cool Prague would be and expected Bratislava to share some of that style, culture and identity, but it was a world away. It was clearly a place struggling to kick-start its new beginning and, in a supposed modern society, it was a shame to see such struggles. I guess it’s very different now — I hope so. You could see at the time there was real potential in a place like that, but it desperately needed something to ignite that potential. It’s probably a safe assumption that the kids on the streets and the rundown hotels probably have a better future ahead of them now.
Acting and travelling go hand in hand. I regularly split time between Canada, Rhode Island, Morocco, Hungary, Spain and more. I’m lucky I have a job that allows me to see so much of the world. There can’t be many other professions that offer such a vision.
Film and TV star Jason Isaacs was born in Liverpool in 1963, and grew up in a close-knit Jewish community. His family moved to London when he was 11. His parents later moved to Israel while Jason remained in the UK to pursue his acting career.
Best known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, he’s currently starring in the Sky Atlantic series Awake.
Jason lives in London with partner Emma and daughters Lily and Ruby.
Published in Nov/Dec 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)