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28 October 2014

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Film Features

Simon Callow
Four weddings actor Simon Callow

Q&A with a 'Four Weddings' actor

By Guest writer Edward Gleave
What is actor Simon Callow, who is probably best known for his role in Four Weddings and a Funeral, doing in Leicester?

Simon Callow is an actor and writer, who is probably best known for his role in the hit British film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

"When people write the part of Charles Dickens they probably have me in mind. I must be one of the people they want. "
Actor and writer Simon Callow

However, his recent credits include the screen adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, a Little Britain cameo, and playing Charles Dickens in the new series of Doctor Who.

Leicester University's Ripple newspaper interviewer, Edward Gleave caught up with Simon just before he narrated a classical concert at De Montfort Hall, to see what else he’s been up to since Four Weddings…

Tonight you're narrating biblical quotations amid the Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of German composer, Liszt’s work. How did this come about?

De Montfort Hall
De Montfort Hall ecard

I know Leslie Howard, who is the conductor, and he just asked me. Well, it’s an amazing piece; a rather sprawling epic of Christ’s life, birth and death. I find the composer Liszt very fascinating, as everyone did. No one ever played piano like him before. People thought he was diabolically possessed! He was very attractive to women and had many affairs. His illegitimate daughter Cosima ran away with Richard Wagner and became the keeper of the flame, and this man Liszt, at a certain point, became quite religious unexpectedly. Indeed he took holy orders and was known for the last third of his life as Abbe and his music also went under tremendous changes during his life, from being flamboyant, and then very religious, and obviously this oratorical is very much part of his faith, but also very experimental.

Were you familiar with Liszt’s work prior to working on this production and are you a fan of his work?

Yes, very much so. I’m delighted to work with Leslie. We are going to work on a film together, which will use a lot of Liszt’s music.

What stage is this film at?

It is at the embryonic stage.

As part of your extensive theatre experience you have acted in many Shakespeare productions, most noticeably your one man show of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Did you prefer performing his plays or his sonnets?

It’s a very different thing. Sonnets are private, confessional – they’re poems. Plays always serve dramatic purpose and have characters, which the sonnets don't have.

What was it like doing a one man show of Shakespeare’s sonnets though?

It was one of the most exhausting things I've ever done. They're wonderful, great, stupendous poems. I think they are in some senses autobiographical.

So do you think you learn a lot about Shakespeare from them?

Jane Lapotaire as Lady MacBeth
Jane Lapotaire as Lady MacBeth

I think they are in some senses autobiographical. It’s hard to tell if it’s him, or if he’s adopting a character. There’s a school of thought which thinks the sonnets refer to William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke. There are also theories that suggest it was the Earl of Southampton, who changed his initials to conceal who he was. Oscar Wilde thought it was player Willy Hughes, but whatever it is, the emotion in the sonnets is overwhelming, devastating.

You're probably most famous for your role as Gareth in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Does this role stand out as one of your favourites?

Yep. I’ve loved it. It was a well written part and film. It was nice to play a gay character at that time, who was not stereotypical and didn’t die of aids.

Last year you starred in the film production of Phantom of the Opera. Do you think it transferred well from the stage to the screen?

I think it did. There’s something not quite right about the movie though. Sometimes it’s too stagy, rather than theatrical. Sometimes the sets look rather set-like. There’s a scene in the cemetery that looks rather set-like.

Did you enjoy being part of it?

I loved it – it was delightful to do. I got to sing!

You're career is quite exceptional in the sense that you've achieved such a lot in film, television and on stage. Is there one form which you enjoy more?

The difference between television and film has disappeared. In the old days you would do television in studios, but now you shoot television anywhere. It is just like in a film, just with less time to do it in. The theatre has the obvious difference of the audience, and you have three, four, five weeks of rehearsals.

You, more than most people, can judge which they prefer since you've experienced all three to such substantial levels. Which do you think you feel most comfortable in?

I feel very comfortable on stage, and on film. At first I didn't, I didn't used to understand that you need to invite the camera to watch your performance, but in theatre you compel the audience to watch you.

Earlier this year you had a cameo role in the Comic Relief special of Little Britain. How did that come about?

Because I did an episode of Miss Marple, which David Williams was in.

You were in the Prime Minister’s sketch. Was that your decision and is it one of your favourite?

They just told me. I had never seen Little Britain before I did that sketch. I've only watched a couple of episodes since, I have to say.

Was it exciting to be involved?

Yes, amazing. I am astonished at the number of people who say they have seen it, especially the young.

You recently played Charles Dickens in the new series of Doctor Who. How did you come to be involved in that?

DR Who - The Leisure Hive

Well I suppose, when people write the part of Charles Dickens they probably have me in mind. I must be one of the people they want. They probably intended the role for me, just like Richard Curtis did with Gareth in Four Weddings and Funeral. It was fantastic to do, very well written, and well directed.

So you've been in Little Britain and Doctor Who – two of the most successful programmes of recent times!

Not bad is it?

What can you tell us about the forthcoming book you've written?

It’s a biography of Orson Wells and this is volume two. Volume one came out ten years ago.

Why did you leave it 10 years to write the second installment then?

I've done a lot of other things for other books. It took a long time to work out the form. It was a lot of work - two solid years in my spare time.

When can we expect it to hit the shelves?

May of next year.

And isn't your new film Bob the Butler is released later this year?

Yes, that’s being shown at Cannes this week. It stars Tom Green who used to be married to Drew Barrymore, and he also lost a testicle. I don't think the two are related though! It also stars Brooke Shields, who is lovely.

Also in the pipeline you've got animated film Flushed Away with Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen. What part have you got, and how’s that going?

Geoffrey Palmer and I play two… it might be a mouse, hamster or a gerbil! These things take a long time. I pop in every six months or so. I haven't seen Kate or Ian though.

last updated: 30/06/05
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