Billy the brave
Billy Connolly. Picture: AP Photo/Rob Griffith.

'Are you Lucy?" Billy Connolly's voice booms down the phone. "That's a terrifying name. There was a girl called Lucy that used to beat me up when I was a kid. God almighty she terrified me."

It's hard to imagine Connolly, that feisty, larger-than-life Scottish comedian being ruffled by a lass as a wee boy.

But chatting to Connolly about the parallels he draws with the character in his latest movie, Brave, and his off-screen role as a father of four girls, you get the impression the 69-year-old has spent his life with women calling the shots.

Brave is Pixar's first animation featuring a female hero - a princess called Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), whose spirit is as fierce as her hair is red.

Connolly lends his tonsils to Merida's easygoing father King Fergus and he says that, much like his character's wife Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), it was his other half, Pamela Stephenson, who ruled the roost when it came to raising their three, now grown-up, daughters.

"I can see amazing similarities, not so much among the girls but between Pamela and I and our roles - mum laying down the law and dad trying to be liked," Connolly says from Sydney, where he attended the Brave premiere on Monday night.

"That's just what things were like in our house. I've heard of lots of occasions where fathers love their daughters and they're jealous of their sons. That wasn't the case with me, I got on great with my son, we're pals, but I wanted my daughters to like me. I wanted them to think they would find a guy like me."

Set in the Scottish Highlands, Brave centres on skilled young archer Merida who, determined to carve her own path in life, defies an age-old custom of marrying the son of one of the kingdom's three lords by seeking help from a witch to change her fate.

Connolly, who has a son and daughter from his first marriage to Iris Pressagh, whom he divorced in 1985, says he can't believe it has taken the animation studio so long to feature a female protagonist.

"The theme of the film is excellent," he says. "A little girl, finding her own way in life, insisting things are done her own way, making mistakes along the way and then putting them right again. There are lots of lessons to be learnt."

Connolly has for a long time called the US home but says there's nothing like seeing his native Scotland on the big screen.

"It's high time because I think Scottish- themed films work very well," he says. "Scotland tends to lend itself to colour and rhythm and drama and music."

Not to mention a funny language. Connolly laughs when I tell him the press kit for Brave contains a glossary of Scottish terms - just in case we don't understand all the terminology. "Jings crivens help ma boab" apparently is an exclamation of bewilderment; "googly old ha" a somewhat outlandish, unattractive senior.

"I've always been peed off that when you live in Aberdeen you're supposed to be able to understand people from Louisiana immediately and they don't make any allowances for that," Connolly says.

Language aside, directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman have clearly done their homework, with Connolly amazed by the attention to detail in things like the flora and fauna in the animation, which was three years in the making.

As for his character, while it was largely written before he was attached to the project, Connolly says he brought plenty of his own personality to the role.

"I added the shouting, the bawling and the singing," he laughs. "Sometimes there are words you think don't suit the character and you say 'There's a Scottish word that fits better'."

The comedian, who is well-known for his, ahem, colourful language, adds with a chuckle: "There were a couple of occasions though where they had to check whether I was using a dirty word."

Connolly was only afforded a couple of days in Australia to promote Brave before he had to fly back to Wellington, New Zealand, where he is filming director Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in which he plays "very nasty bad-ass warrior dwarf" Dain Ironfoot.

Wait, the man with the moniker The Big Yin playing a dwarf? I'm a little confused as to how that's even possible.

"They're basically broadening me, making me wider," he explains, adding that the technology being used on the film is making for long, hard working days. "But let me say, this guy will terrify the life out of you. I have a Mohawk and tattoos on my head. You've got to see it."

J.R.R. Tolkien fans can hardly wait. But is Connolly prepared for the scrutiny that comes with taking on such a beloved literary work?

I point out to him how dumbfounded his fellow Scotsman Ewan McGregor was when he took on the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars films and learnt first-hand the meaning of fan obsession.

"Oh God, I was doing my stand-up show in Brighton well before (he signed up for The Hobbit) and a couple came up to me with big, hardback copies of the Hobbit for me to sign," Connolly says. "It was all a secret then, I don't know how they knew." <div class="endnote">


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