BILLY Connolly kept his cancer diagnosis secret when he was making a new film in which he portrays a grandfather who knows he is dying of the disease, the funnyman has revealed.
What We Did On Our Holiday was made on location in Scotland just months before the veteran actor and comedian announced he had prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
Full details of the movie, which sees Connolly appear on screen with fellow Scot David Tennant as a father and son, have been revealed for the first time, including the fact the veteran actor’s character has a terminal illness.
The film will be launched in cinemas almost a year to the day after the 71-year-old actor revealed his health problems.
Connolly, who learned from his doctor that he had cancer and Parkinson’s on the same day, only told the film-makers he worked with for almost a month that he was about to undergo prostate surgery after he had finished work.
Connolly, who has already started work on another movie, had to film a number of poignant scenes on What We Did On Our Holiday showing his character’s struggle to keep the seriousness of his illness from members of his family.
However, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, the film’s writer-directors, said they had “no idea” Connolly was ill, and that he never once complained about feeling unwell or tired.
The film, which features Connolly performing alongside three child actors playing his grandchildren, is expected to be one of the most high-profile British films to be released this year, due to its star-studded cast.
The plot of the black comedy revolves around a lavish party planned for the 75th birthday of “Grandad Gordy” at his Highland home.
The cast also includes Rosamund Pike, Celia Imrie, Annette Crosbie, Ben Miller and Amelia Bullmore.
Hamilton and Jenkin’s previous work includes TV comedy series Outnumbered, Drop the Dead Donkey and Not the Nine O’Clock News.
It is set to provide a boom for the Scottish tourist industry, thanks to dramatic footage captured on a remote beach near Gairloch in the north-west Highlands, where much of the shoot was based.
However, the subject matter of the film will inevitably draw fresh attention to Connolly’s health. It was confirmed in mid-September that he had undergone minor surgery for prostate cancer and had also been diagnosed with the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Earlier this year, Glasgow-born Connolly told how he had been at home in New York with his wife Pamela when he was given the double diagnosis. He revealed in October that he had been given the cancer all-clear.
Hamilton, who said he and Jenkin were writing Connolly’s part with the actor in mind before he had even accepted the role, said: “We always had Scotland in mind for the story.
“Billy was initially very keen on the film when we first approached him and when we met him in London, he was really up for it.
“We were unaware of any health problems with Billy at all. We had no idea.
“As soon as we finished shooting, he e-mailed to let us know and he had an op for prostate cancer, which went very well. It was definitely a surprise.
“I’m sure he was being very stoic, especially when we buried him in the beach, covered in sand, for one scene, which was obviously not ideal for someone with prostate cancer.”