Category Archives: Uncategorized

Portrait: #4 – Tom Baker

IMG_2739

Tom Baker was, in the guise of Doctor Who, the true hero of my childhood. From 1974 to 1981 he was, in my opinion, the ultimate embodiment of the BBC’s Time Lord – utterly eccentric, mercurial and unpredictable, but still filled with compassion, warmth and humour. An alien and a human at the same time.

He has gone on to enjoy a chequered career – he played Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ for the BBC, he provided the voice of BT’s spoken text message service, and gloriously, he played the insane, piratical sea captain Redbeard Rum in ‘Blackadder II’:

But to me, and millions of others, he will always be The Doctor.

Jelly baby, anyone?

Who am I today?

Sometimes, as an actor, it would be very easy to develop an identity crisis. Over the past few weeks I have been an ER doctor, a police internal affairs officer, a sleazy Tory MP, a museum visitor, a disgruntled airline passenger, a fisherman, a Vietnam veteran and a snooty restaurant critic. My life has been not unlike an entire season of ‘Quantum Leap’:

I am talking about auditions, of course. An actor’s existence can be bewildering, to say the least, because our impulse is to fully invest in every role, even if we only inhabit it for ten minutes in a Soho casting suite. Every good actor will have done her research before the meeting – who is the director? What’s the accent, the physicality, the context of the play? Who is the casting director and – crucially – have I met them before? (This gets harder to remember as the years go by, especially as they are often the ones you pay least attention to in a meeting, your attention being focused on the director and whichever actor is reading in.)

Inevitably, as you prepare, you will start thinking yourself into a part. Even if, on a first reading, the character might seem a million miles away from your normal casting, you can’t help climbing into it to see how it fits. After a second pass over the script, you start to find a voice emerging, and an attitude, and by the third or fourth reading you have convinced yourself that you were born to play the role. It is only a short hop from here to the dangerous waters of planning how you’re going to spend the fee, and what you’re going to wear at the premiere of the Spielberg film you will be cast in as a direct result of this two-line part on ‘Casualty’.

Acting is mostly about dreaming, after all. We were the ones who sat in class gazing out of the window, imagining ourselves piloting X-Wing Fighters or invisible planes…

Luke Skywalkerwonder woman

…and now we we have to keep dreaming. Any performance is kept aloft by imagination – it’s like a magic trick, really, a feat of self-hypnosis. We have to believe we are the character, or the whole enterprise will fall out of the sky.

So it is only right and proper for an actor to walk into the audition room thinking he is the part – we need to be buoyed up by that fluffy cloud of imagination just to get through the door.

The hard bit comes when we don’t get the part, of course, and we have to let it go. All those half-formed characters drift away, often never to be seen again, and we have to move on and forget we ever knew them. Mostly we don’t give them so much as a backward glance, but for all of us there will be some parts it is harder to say goodbye to. I coulda been a great sleazy Tory…

 

 

 

Portrait: #3 – Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee by Chris Naylor 2016
Christopher Lee was a giant of the cinema in more ways than one. Of course, his 6’5” stature put him very literally head and shoulders above most other actors, but he was also one of only a few in the profession to achieve international fame through association with a particular role.

Lee was one of my great childhood heroes. This was partly because I shared a first name with him, but also because he was the ultimate embodiment of one of my obsessions, namely Count Dracula. The very fact that I have chosen to paint him as he appeared in this role would probably have irritated him enormously, as he frequently expressed frustration at being associated with the vampire king, and could be scornful about the later Hammer films in particular.

Bur despite this, he will always be Dracula to me, and to millions of film-goers the world over. The image of Lee striding through his castle, his eyes glowing red and his cloak billowing behind him will always thrill me.

Portrait: # 1 – Richard Burton

Richard Burton by Chris Naylor July 2015

The first in a series of watercolour paintings of acting heroes of mine. Richard Burton was a tremendously inspirational figure to me – his work in films like ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?’, ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ and ‘Night Of The Iguana’ has a great power and a sort of wounded poignancy. Even something as wildy schlocky as ‘The Medusa Touch’ is elevated by Burton’s mere presence.

William Hazlitt – ‘On Actors and Acting’

william-hazlitt-3-sized

My friend Tim Frances has just reminded me of some of the most acute words about the acting profession ever expressed – worth a few minutes of your time, I think:

‘PLAYERS are “the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time;” the motley representatives of human nature. They are the only honest hypocrites. Their life is a voluntary dream; a studied madness. The height of their ambition is to be beside themselves. To-day kings, to-morrow beggars, it is only when they are themselves, that they are nothing. Made up of mimic laughter and tears, passing from the extremes of joy or woe at the prompter’s call, they wear the livery of other men’s fortunes; their very thoughts are not their own. They are, as it were, train-bearers in the pageant of life, and hold a glass up to humanity, frailer than itself. We see ourselves at second-hand in them: they show us all that we are, all that we wish to be, and all that we dread to be. The stage is an epitome, a bettered likeness of the world, with the dull part left out: and, indeed, with this omission, it is nearly big enough to hold all the rest. What brings the resemblance nearer is, that, as they imitate us, we, in our turn, imitate them. How many fine gentlemen do we owe to the stage? How many romantic lovers are mere Romeos in masquerade? How many soft bosoms have heaved with Juliet’s sighs? They teach us when to laugh and when to weep, when to love and when to hate, upon principle and with a good grace! …

Actors have been accused, as a profession of being extravagant and dissipated. While they are said to be so as a piece of common cant, they are likely to continue so. With respect to the extravagance of actors, as a traditional character, it is not to be wondered at. They live from hand to mouth: they plunge from want to luxury; they have no means of making money breed, and all professions that do not live by turning money into money, or have not a certainty of accumulating it in the end by parsimony, spend it. Uncertain of the future, they make sure of the present moment. This is not unwise. Chilled with poverty, steeped in contempt, they sometimes pass into the sunshine of fortune, and are lifted to the very pinnacle of public favour; yet, even there, they cannot calculate on the continuance of success. With respect to the habit of convivial indulgence, an actor, to be a good one, must have a great spirit of enjoyment in himself—strong impulses, strong passions, and a strong sense of pleasure; for it his business to imitate the passions, to communicate pleasure to others. A man of genius is not a machine. The neglected actor may be excused if he drinks oblivion of his disappointments; the successful one if he quaffs the applause of the world in draughts of nectar. There is no path so steep as that of fame: no labour so hard as the pursuit of excellence. If there is any tendency to dissipation beyond this in the profession of the player, it is owing to the prejudices entertained against them. Players are only not so respectable as a profession as they might be, because their profession is not respected as it ought to be.’

An extract from William Hazlitt’s “On Actors and Acting”, first published in The Examiner, January 5, 1817. Hazlitt was a writer and philosopher, and a passionate advocate of the theatrical arts.

Hi Diddle Dee Dee…

cropped-earnest-2328-047.jpg

This blog is a very personal attempt to explore the actor’s life – how it feels to progress through a career in theatre: drama school, first agent, first job, dealing with crisis and success.

I will be examining attitudes both outside and inside the profession, sharing my own experiences and talking to fellow actors, directors, casting directors and agents.

I will also be looking for ways to help support actors, and in particular, to encourage mid-career actors to stay in the profession.