Tag Archives: Roger Moore

When is an actor not an actor?

han solo chewbacca chewie, we're home

‘Chewie, we’re home.’

Those three simple words will have sent a seismic frisson through most film fans of a certain age. I have to admit to feeling a thrill of emotion when I watched the new trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and saw Harrison Ford’s grizzled visage alongside his Wookie sidekick once more. But quite apart from a Seventies’ child’s nostalgia rush, ‘Star Wars’ has another significance for me: I remember coming home after seeing the first film, setting out my chairs in an X-Wing fighter configuration, and playing at being Luke Skywalker. But the important part, at least as far as my future self was concerned, was that I didn’t want to be a pilot for the Rebellion, I wanted to be in ‘Star Wars’. Along with Dr Who (Tom Baker, of course) and James Bond (Roger, naturally), George Lucas’s epic started the ball rolling on my fascination with acting.

Over the following years, like most thespians in waiting, I spent many a happy hour wielding cardboard light sabres and plastic Walther PPKs, hanging off helicopters (or climbing the banisters) and ignoring imaginary cameras everywhere. I even very nearly severely damaged myself leaping down the stairs, trying to recreate that moment in the ‘Starsky and Hutch’ titles where David Soul jumps off a wall onto the roof of his Gran Torino. In other words, I put in years of training. Slowly (and nervously), I started to take my ambition further, and began acting outside the safety of my house – school plays, amateur productions, drama at University, all the way to three years at LAMDA. It’s rather astonishing to think of it now, but I actually made the jump from day-dreaming boy to an actual, professional actor.

Bond, James Bond

I can’t remember the exact moment when I first described myself as an actor; funny really, as it should have been a major milestone, considering all those years of yearning. But I have a feeling there might have been a certain tentativeness to it. Calling yourself a ‘drama student’ is pretty safe and unequivocal – pay the fees and don’t get kicked out, and no one can challenge you. But when you first call yourself an actor, you are opening yourself up to investigation. You are inviting judgement – and more to the point, you need to have concrete proof, which is where it starts getting complicated, because there are some times when it can seem harder to describe yourself as an actor than others. It’s almost as though there is a sliding scale of legitimacy:

actor sliding scale

This can lead to some uncomfortable encounters – at a first-night party, in a taxi, at family events – depending on where you are on the scale at the time. It can be reminiscent of that lovely old Peter Cook joke:

‘I met a man at a party. He said, “I’m writing a novel”. “Oh really?” I said, “Neither am I.”’

In truth, it’s not so much how others see us, but how we see ourselves. All those old jokes and clichés about the ‘resting’ actor can bite deep – after all, ‘to act’ must be the most active verb there is. Can there be such a thing as an inactive actor?

Christopher Naylor Woman In Black

I remember when I was appearing in ‘The Woman In Black’ – 10 months of wonderful, stimulating work. In my final week I was invited to talk to a kids’ drama workshop. The chap who was running the session said, ‘You can hear how Chris’s voice is really resonant and well-exercised because he’s been working so long’. I felt thoroughly legitimate – a proper actor, with plenty of evidence to back it up – after all, my actual face was on the poster. A week later I was unemployed, sitting at home, and someone else’s picture was plastered outside the theatre. Was I still an actor?

But of course I was. Being an actor is about more than your last job, or your next one – it is an identity, even a philosophy. It is a brave choice to devote your life to a job where the work itself is its own reward, especially when there is so much propaganda telling us that we can only validate our existence through the accumulation of money and material goods.

Anyway, I think there comes a point of no return, when you realise that you are so far down the path, it’s too late to turn back. So it is important to brazen it out, and call ourselves actors, even if the closest we’ve come to a job in six months is a couple of castings and a voice class. The title of actor is hard-won prize and we should cherish it.

Advertisements

Heading for the light…

elo
Last Friday night I spent 90 minutes watching a truly magnificent performance – moving, accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable. I wasn’t at the Old Vic watching Kristen Scott Thomas in ‘Electra’, or Harriet Walter in ‘Henry IV’ at the Donmar – actually, I was sitting at home watching ELO on BBC4.
Now 10 or 15 years ago, to make an admission like that would have been social death – it would have invited waves of derision to pour on my head. But now, it seems, we have happily bade farewell to those shame-filled days of the ‘guilty pleasure’ and we are able at last to enjoy things for their own sake – simply for the pure pleasure we find in them – in music, at least. But I wonder if this amnesty extends to the humble actor.

fiennes_2841396bMichael-ballterry
The acting profession has for some time been subject to a rather inflexible system of classification. There are ‘classical’ actors, i.e. the serious ones, like Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hiddlestone, Fiona Shaw etc.; the ‘musical theatre’ types such as Michael Ball, Julia McKenzie and Ruthie Henshall, and then there are the ‘light comedy’ actors. An interesting bunch, this one – over the years it has included such people as David Niven, Terry-Thomas, even Jennifer Aniston.
I suppose the implication is that the work produced by those at the serious end of the spectrum is somehow more significant, that it carries a greater cultural heft – that it is in some way better than what issues from the lighter end. It’s a bit like saying a serious music fan will be listening to Leonard Cohen, Captain Beefheart or Scott Walker rather than the Bee Gees, Kylie or – yes, ELO.

hughrm023cary-grant0Personally, some of my greatest joys in the cinema or theatre have come from ‘light’ actors: Hugh Grant in ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, Roger Moore in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, and perhaps the king of them all, Cary Grant in just about anything. These were all tremendously skilled performances, perfectly tailored to fit what was required of them, and consequently giving their audiences hours of pleasure.

To this end, it was very encouraging to read the film critic Anne Billson’s glowing profile of Hugh Grant in The Telegraph, in which she describes him as ‘an accomplished character actor who makes everything look so easy, and whose most extraordinary accomplishment has been hoodwinking us into thinking he doesn’t even try.’

Actors like Grant have always tended to be overlooked when it comes to critical recognition – indeed, when his illustrious namesake Cary was finally given an Oscar, it was an honorary one awarded four years after he had made his last film.

Hay_Fever
Some of the hardest work I’ve done in the theatre (and frankly, some of my least successful performances) have been in ‘light comedy’ roles. I was an instantly forgettable Sandy in ‘Hay Fever’ and a wholly unremarkable Tom the vet in Ayckbourn’s ‘Table Manners’ – the same role which, when it was originated by Michael Gambon, caused an audience member to actually fall out of his seat with hilarity. So I know how hard this stuff is.

medea
Of course, I have spent many happy hours sitting in the dark contemplating the futility of life and the monstrous cruelty of man, as I watched Fiona Shaw butcher her children or Ian Holm descend into madness. But I’m not sure I found as much true pleasure as I did at ‘Noises Off’ in the Comedy Theatre, watching the magnificent Derek Griffiths sliding all over the stage.

derek