1991

Romeo and Juliet

I played Romeo in this production at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London.  Tim Supple, who had directed me in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, directed and Lucy Hall designed.

The RNT studio is an amazing place because you fully rehearse a play but only pout on a couple of performances for an invited audience, and so it was with Romeo and Juliet.  The amazing Sophie Thompson, whom I had worked with in As You Like It at the RSC was my Juliet and the cast also included Lenny James and June Watson.

What struck me most about playing Romeo was how tortued he is at the beginning of the play, and in many ways he is falsely represented by the connotation that a Romeo is just someone who keeps falling in love. On the contrary, at the beginning of the play there are several mentions of how depressed he has seemed and there is some relief that he falls in love and gets out of his misery.



Bernard and the Genie

Bernard and the Genie is a BBC film written by Richard Curtis (who also wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) and directed by Paul Weiland.

I play Bernard Bottle, an art dealer who is having the worst day of his life: he is fired by his boss (Rowan Atkinson) then left by his girlfriend. When he rubs the Christmas present his girlfriend gave him the previous year (a lamp, duh), there is an explosion and he wakes up in hospital with singed testicles!! When he returns home, he discovers a genie (Lenny Henry) living in his flat, and after an initial fight they become fast friends and go off on an adventure round London.

I absolutely loved making this film. I got to work with people I had admired for years like Lenny and Rowan, and I got to fly on a magic carpet! I also got to have breakfast in my trailer with Gary Lineker and to stand on Melvyn Bragg's head. (Yes, I really did. I actually went up to him at a party years later and drunkenly reminded him of this but it didn't go down too well!)

It's also great to have been in something like this that was shown at Christmas and has a really special place in people's hearts. There is a certain age bracket of person who comes up to talk to me and Bernard and the Genie is always the first thing they mention.



Dread Poet's Society

Another film I did for BBC2, Dread Poets' Society was based on the amazing Rasta poet Benjamin Zephiniah's experiences of being nominated to be an Oxford don.

In real life, The Sun newspaper suggested that the ghosts of Byron, Shelley and Keats would be turning in their graves at the thought of this happening. In the film, during a thunderstorm, the ghosts of Byron, Keats, Shelley and his wife, Mary, actually appear on the train taking Benjamin to Oxford to find out the outcome of his quest.

The film was shot in Wolverhampton, on a real train encased in a tent to enable the storm sequences to be shot efficiently. Sadly, a real storm blew the tent away, and the rest of the shoot had to be done at night. I remember it being a bit of a nightmare because we were all exhausted and the hotel we were in wasn't finished, but I really like the film. It's weird.

I played Shelley opposite Alex Jennings as Byron, Dexter Fletcher as Keats and Emma Fielding as Mary. Timothy Spall and Benjamin Zepheniah himself completed the cast.



Full Board

This was a short film directed by Charlie Gormley for Channel 4, which took place at a seaside bed and breakfast in Scotland.

I played a policeman who was having an affair with his boss' wife, played by Susan Wooldridge. Also starring were Katy Murphy (who I had previously worked with in Cuttin' A Rug at Dundee Rep), Iain McColl and Freddie Boardley.



Victor and Barry - In The scud

Victor and Barry's swan song was entitled In The Scud, which is a Scottish phrase meaning naked.  And so Victor and Barry were bearing their souls and selves one last time for their fans.  Forbes and I worked really hard on the script for this show with our friend Ashtar Alkhirsan, and in one of the previews at the Tron theatre in Glasgow Ashtar actually appeared as Victor, wearing Jimmy Somerville's motorbike helmet which we had borrowed from him! Don't ask! Suffice to say that the reason she was impersonating Victor was that Forbes was getting ready to re-enter as one of Victor and Barry's female friends.  The scene was cut when we did the show the next night in Cumbernauld, and Jimmy's helmet was returned.

We went on to perform In The Scud at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh during the Fringe festival and then took it to the Kings Theatre in Glasgow before taking it to the Perrier Pick of the Fringe season later in the year where we performed a short run of a version of the show at the Purcell Rooms on the South Bank in London.

 



The Last Romantics

I went straight into The Last Romantics after shooting Prague, without even meeting the director Jack Gold.  I felt that was so terrible, and disrespectful, especially because Jack is a legend and had directed some really seminal TV films in Britain, like The Naked Civil Servant.  I suppose I should have felt honoured and happy to be swanning from one movie to the next without needing to audition or go for a meeting, but this was the first time it had ever happened and it sat a little strangely with me. (I've got over it!!)

The film, made by BBC2, was based on the life of F.R. Leavis, a real-life critic and lecturer at Cambridge University, played by the utterly brilliant Ian Holm. I played Tulloch, a shy and toubled student whose behaviour turns destructive against his mentor, prompted by his room-mate, Costain, played by Rufus Sewell. Also in the cast were Sara Kestelman, who I had worked with in the London production of Cabaret, and Leo McKern (better known as Rumpole of the Bailey.)

I have two abiding memories of this film...

1:  That I am a little porky in it because I was still in the first flushes of excitement of being on movie sets and enjoying all the food that was available all the time, and...

2:  One hot afternon we were shooting a scene between Ian and I, and in my close-up he unintentionally made me laugh when he did a line of a T.S.Elliot poem in a slightly different way and I totally lost it and couldn't get myself together to finish the scene. It was a hot, stuffy room and it was a Friday and all the crew just wanted to go home and that just made me worse. Eventually I was sent out to have a walk around the quadrant to regain my composure, but even then i couldn't stop laughing when we went back into the scene. It is the most agonising and hysterical thing to be trying to not laugh knowing that so many people are longing for you to just get through it. I must have managed it eventually, but since then I have really been able to pull it together when it happens. I still am prone to a fit of the giggles, but never to that extent.



Prague

My first full length feature film, Prague, was shot in the Czech Republic, also stars French actress Sandrine Bonnaire and Swiss actor Bruno Ganz. It was written and directed by a fellow Scot, Ian Sellar, and produced by yet another one, Christopher Young.

I played Alexander Novak, a young Scot (yes, we are everywhere!) who returns to his ancestral home, Prague, to search for a piece of film he knows exists of his grandparents being taken away by the Nazis in World War II. At the film archive, he meets and falls in love with Elena (Bonnaire), then later discovers she is still involved with her boss, Josef (Ganz). A love triangle ensues, with Alexander searching for more than just his past.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992 and was released soon after. I won the Best Actor award at the Atlantic Film Festival, and was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA Best Film Actor award for my performance.



Scottish Power commercials

Forbes Masson and I did a whole series of commercials as various characters from history for Scottish Power.  This was the first one.

I remember finding it galling that the budget for these commercials was many times larger than the budget for Prague, which I was about to shoot next.

But I did get paid more money than I ever had in my life.


1990

Victor and Barry - Clean Ripe Gentlemen

Victor and Barry returned to the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh for a few shows during the 1990 Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. Forbes and I hadn't been working together very much for a while so it was a bit of a reunion.  We called the show Clean Ripe Gentlemen.



Accidental Death Of An Anarchist

This Royal National Theatre production toured Britain before opening at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in 1990. I played The Madman and I also co-adapted the Dario Fo play with the play's director Tim Supple (published by Metheun Books). The role called for many disguises and changes, and the adaptation caused some controversy because of its criticism of the British government for the wrongful imprisonment of The Guildford Four and The Birmingham Six, innocent men accused of IRA crimes, who were all later released. The play was nominated for Best Revival at the 1990 Olivier Awards, and I won an Olivier for Comedy Performance of the Year.  Here are some production stills and me in rehearsal with Dario Fo himself.

Tim and I worked really hard on this. We wanted to retain the wit and the farce of the original but also to be truthful to the political issues that were at stake at the time when Dario Fo had written it. So we went back to the original Italian translation, and then decided that the wrongful imprisonments of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four (two groups of innocent people who had been accused of IRA bombings) were comparable political issues of our time, and so we wove them into the dialogue and the plot. It was really successful because although it is very funny, it also was very shocking and that was what Fo intended. So even though we were quite radical in our approach we felt we were being more faithful than other adaptations had been. What was exciting was that during the run of the play we had to make changes all the time, because the Birmingham Six were released, and shortly afterwards so were the Guildford Four.