19 December 2013
I have been interviewing an unconscionable number of very famous actors lately. You know of Dench and de Niro and there are more to come in the New Year. In the course of doing one phoner with a very big actor indeed, I was stopped in my tracks when she apologised for talking about the film in question because she knew actors sounded so boring when they did that.
Well, I’m afraid she was right, they often do. Indeed, years ago I used to liven up drab dinner parties with tales of the most boring actors I had ever met. How we used to laugh at the luvvies! The exceptions were actors I understood as I did Monica Bellucci, the chemistry of which encounter Clive James was kind enough – and surgical enough – to dissect. But, on the whole, actors were a gruelling task.
Yet, as Clive pointed out, the actor interview is a journalistic staple. Meeting big stars is something that can happen surprisingly early in your career. Getting good at it is another matter. I watch videos of actor interviews conducted by journalists and I am often amazed they can stay awake. Also when mainstream news shows on TV or radio wander, all innocent, into ‘the arts’, they invariably end up producing an uninformative, soupy promo for the film or play. But, in fairness, I admit I still come out of actor interviews feeling a miserable failure. Why is this?
Well, as the anonymous lady who apologised made clear, there is something a bit odd about actors talking about the works in which they appear. Why should they know anything except the necessities of their own part? Indeed, I am always noticing that even the most actor-friendly directors tend to conceal the big themes of the work from their stars. The themes would get in the way. They can talk about other things of course but these tend to be much more boring than art – my cocaine hell, my battle with fat/drink/the law, my love rat husband etc.
These thoughts have, in recent years, made me much more understanding of actors. Asking them how they did it is rather like asking them to explain how they ride a bike. Also, in spite of the rabid, contractually necessary self-promotion, unless they are in the very highest reaches of fame and sometimes even then, they are vulnerable creatures. I have seen them stare in almost pathetic wonder and gratitude as I rambled on about some aspect of their performances. They also tend to have become accustomed to deliberately constructing what they take to be an interesting persona, sometimes involving bad politics. This has to be got out of the way asap. Some act their way through the entire thing and, when that works, it is pure fun – Helen Mirren being my best example. But I find it easier these days to make them interesting – basically you start with the amazingly banal, thereby putting the being interesting ball in their court. Acting, after all, is just another art, once mastered it becomes all but impossible to explain how you do it. This is why I find indirection is often the best approach.
After years of laughing at them, I have mellowed into acceptance. No, I would go further, I find, to my surprise, that I love the luvvies.