Simon Callow is one of those most treasured of British actors, equally famous for their many acclaimed roles on stage as they are for their screen roles, appearing in an eclectic mix taking in everything from surrealist drama Waiting For Godot to romantic comedy Four Weddings And A Funeral.
The common thread running throughout the majority of his many projects, however, is a love for classic texts and literary greats. From roles in the 1985 much-loved film adaptation of E. M. Forster’s famous novel A Room With A View to his recent stage outing in the National Theatre’s Twelfth Night and even as courtier Edmund Tylney in the possibly not quite historically accurate but still literature-based Shakespeare In Love.
Now, as Callow returns to the West End with a revival of one-man show The Mystery Of Charles Dickens, a celebration of the writer and a journey through his life and characters, he took the opportunity to look back on his long-spanning career and tells us what he wishes he could have done differently and the moments he would have no other way.
If I could go back to my first audition, the thing I wouldn’t do again is:
Wear quarter metal heels. There was a stone floor and my leg was shaking so much that the speech was accompanied by a sharp ratatat which nearly drowned out my voice.
…but I’d still:
Do it as passionately as I did it.
The thing I’d do more of would be:
The thing I’d do less of:
The acting job I wished I’d done:
John Dexter was going to direct John Gielgud in a final [King] Lear at the National Cottesloe and I was going to play Edgar. John unwisely announced the production in an interview, Gielgud got cold feet and it was off.
The acting job I wish I’d never taken:
Playing Face in The Alchemist. In theory I should have loved it, but I hadn't figured out how much I hate Ben Jonson – a misanthropic, smarty-pants who wrote more to impress his fellow writers than for the enjoyment of his audiences.
The advice I followed in my early career was:
Do as many different things as you can – cover the waterfront.
The advice I follow now:
Tell the story.
The experience I’ll draw upon when going on stage in The Mystery Of Charles Dickens is:
My long experience of doing one-man shows. First rule: establish a relationship with your audience. Second rule: establish a relationship with your audience. That's what it's all about – as Charles Laughton said at the beginning of his one-man show: "Well! This is a pretty old arrangement – an actor and an audience." It's the fundamental theatrical situation.
I am drawn to Dickens because:
Of his fantasy, his powers of observation, his sense of character, his delirious relationship with language, his compassion and, above all, his fundamental theatricality.
What I’d like to tell my younger self:
Do what you love. Without love, the work is nothing and, as King Lear so memorably remarked, nothing will come from nothing.