Tag Archives: michael caine

Fox Hunting

a theatrical fox

The poor fox has always been a beleaguered beast, chased from pillar to post and constantly living under threat of being torn to shreds. And without wishing to add to the misery of this handsome creature, there are a pair of foxes that I, too, feel tempted to hound.

The foxes in question come from a familiar theatrical skulk (collective noun, don’t you know) – namely father and son actors, James and Jack Fox. These two have lately been roaming the English countryside in a play called ‘Dear Lupin’. The imminent opening of the show in the West End has occasioned an interview with the Daily Telegraph, during the course of which the rather weary topic of ‘posh’ v. ‘common’ actors was raised. Now, this is something I have written about before, but at the risk of going over old ground, I think it’s worth another look.

james and jack fox in dear lupin photo by Manuel Harlan

When it was put to them that there are too many ‘posh’ actors about these days, the Foxes barked, almost in unison:

‘‘Complete balls!’ James exclaims. ‘Balls!’ his son echoes.’

Is the resurgence of ‘posh’ actors really, as James Fox suggests, just the pendulum inevitably swinging back the other way – from working class types like ‘Albie’ Finney (and dear Mickey Caine) back towards young toffs such as Eddie Redmayne and Jack Fox himself? I rather think it’s less a question of shifting tastes and fashions, and more about the ‘posh’ kids being the ones who can afford the lifestyle of an actor. It’s all very well to quote Lillian Gish, as Jack does, and suggest that all you really need is ‘taste, talent and tenacity’; these days, having an enduring acting career is more about being able to afford to support yourself while you try to find work – and once you do find it, to supplement the usually pitiful actor’s salary.

lillian gish by edward steichen

I have no desire to cast aspersions on Jack Fox’s acting ability – indeed, I haven’t seen him act. But he doesn’t seem to have been too busy thus far – certainly not as busy as his father

James Fox, actor. By David Levene 28/2/2008

or his brother Laurence

Laurence-Fox

or cousins Emilia

emilia fox

and Freddie

freddie fox

and definitely not as busy as uncle Edward

Daily Mail - FEATURES

He has had some work on TV and short films, although his only stage acting work to date has been ‘Dorian Gray’ at the Riverside Studios, not a high-paying venue. Often by this point, an actor might be staring at his dwindling bank balance and asking himself if the writing was on the wall. But I wonder if money worries are such an issue in the Fox household. Perhaps sensibly, Jack Fox lives with his parents – mother Mary and father-and-fellow-cast-member James – at their home in Wimbledon.

But regardless of all this, I think Foxes Senior and Junior are barking up the wrong tree anyway. The ‘posh’ issue is quite a separate thing from the ‘Fox’ issue…

The Foxes live in an alternative reality to that experienced by all other actors, with the possible exception of a Redgrave or two. On the cruise liner of the acting world, they have a standing invitation to the Captain’s cocktail party, while the rest of us queue up at the buffet. In Jack Fox’s case, it really isn’t a question of being ‘posh’, it’s about being a member of a showbiz club far more exclusive than the Groucho or Soho House. When asked about getting the part in ‘Dear Lupin’ alongside his father, Jack employs the traditional cry of the cornered Second-Generation actor: “I had to read for the part like everyone else,” forgetting that for ‘everyone else’, just landing the audition in the first place is as hard as getting the job.

Of course, the Foxes have an inevitably skewed take on the acting profession. In order to have a true insight into what it’s really like out there, perhaps young Jack should have changed his name, refused all financial help from his parents, moved out of the family home and gone it alone. Then his career really might be about taste, talent and tenacity. All right: luck, talent and tenacity. But even then, tenacity is only any good if you can afford to feed, clothe and house yourself while you hang on, waiting to be lucky enough for someone to recognise your talent. So if you really want to succeed in the acting world, perhaps the best answer is a simple one – change your last name to ‘Fox’.

fox escapes

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The Whites Of Their Eyes

Mayfair's Pollen Estate As Norway's Wealth Fund Buys $576 Million In London Properties

Actors, as a breed, spend a lot of time being observed while pretending to be unobserved. Many of us have perfected the art of utter indifference to our spectator, be it human or mechanical: Michael Caine, in the wonderful BBC masterclass he gave on screen acting, described the film camera as “the most faithful lover, while you, for most of your career, look elsewhere and ignore her.”

When I was a boy, I would nominate a random piece of street furniture to be the camera and attempt to stroll nonchalantly past, aiming to walk as naturally as I could under the post box’s unyielding glare. Once you arrive in the theatre, these skills are eminently transferrable, as most plays are in the Fourth Wall tradition. We will often find ourselves having to gaze wistfully into an imagined middle distance, our minds filled with thoughts of Moscow, or watching in horror as Birnam Wood starts heading our way, while actually looking straight at someone munching through a packet of Revels, checking their Twitter feed or frowning into the programme. It requires the full force of our concentration not to be thrown off-course when someone sneezes, coughs, or indeed, joins in with the play.
Embracing the enemy

audience
But there are times when the opposite is called for. We will probably all have tussled with a monologue at some point, or thrown out the occasional barbed aside, but this nothing compared with having to spend the whole play talking straight to your audience – actually looking into their eyes and trying to make a connection.
My first significant experience of this came in ‘A Christmas Carol’ for Creation Theatre in Oxford, which involved lengthy passages of Dickensian description and meant we sometimes had to work hard to convey the meaning, especially to an audience of fidgety primary school children. But I have a fond memory of picking a small boy to receive one line: ‘the firm was known as Scrooge and Marley,’ and watching him nod back at me to show he was following the plot.

womaninblack
A few years later I was lucky enough to land a West End stint in ‘The Woman In Black’, and I found it to be a theatrical education (or re-education) in many ways. Perhaps the most useful lesson was in the great benefits of direct address. As the character ‘The Actor’, you are ostensibly alone on stage for long passages (not counting Spider the invisible dog), unable to acknowledge your fellow performer, and are required to share the narration between you. So essentially you are telling your story directly to the audience. There are many speeches and shorter interjections which have to be played straight out, in particular a long speech at the start of the play, ‘it was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve’. I was thrilled to discover that, once I surrendered myself to the goodwill of the audience and truly told them my story – actually picking out individuals and making eye contact – it became far easier and much less daunting. I felt completely supported. Even when we had an audience consisting of fearsome-seeming schoolchildren, once I began really to talk to them, in a way they became part of the play too – implicit in the action – and shared my journey through the story. After ten months of this, it was rather a shock to the system to return to a Fourth Wall play. In a way, it seems absurd to stand up in front of hundreds of people and ignore them.

Jonathan-Guy-Lewis-in-I-F-001

Perhaps the purest direct-address experience can be found with the solo show. I was recently talking to my friend Jonathan Guy Lewis, who tours a very successful show called ‘I Found My Horn’, which, like many solo shows, calls for constant direct address. Jonny told me how liberating it is to open yourself up to the audience – to make yourself vulnerable and invite them in. As Gareth Armstrong puts it in his book ‘So You Want To Do A Solo Show’, “it is in effect a two-hander, with the audience as the other, silent player.”

These days I treasure those moments of pure connection with the audience; psychologically it must be healthier to talk to all those people than ignore them. It’s certainly more polite.