To The Ends Of The Earth
William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The
Charles Dance plays Sir Henry Somerset
Handsome, debonair, charming - the matinee idol good looks
and the twinkling blue eyes are still there, despite the fact that Charles
Dance is approaching an age when he'll shortly be due for his
The man who has been making hearts flutter for over 25
years on screen has a ruthlessly honest and self-deprecating attitude
towards his advancing years.
"When you get to a certain age, the work begins to thin
out. I'd had a career of playing mostly romantic leading men and there
is an optimum age for those characters and that's around 40, tops," he
"There are one or two exceptions. There are just a handful
of older romantic leading men: Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson and Robert
Redford. Most mainstream films are written and made with a hero around
35, or even 25."
While he may no longer be first in line as a romantic
lead, he is still as busy as he ever was.
"I just like working. Sometimes it's work that is really
fulfilling and enjoying and demanding and stretching and furthers my career.
And sometime it's jobbing work.
"If you're seen to be playing cameos, you get offered
cameos. If you are seen playing small parts, you get offered small parts;
if you're playing leading men, you get offered leading roles.
"I am very much in the marketplace. I concentrate
on the work now because it's a way of life - it's not just a job. It's
very difficult to make it just a job; that's not to say I don't have any
other kind of interests, which I do, but it focusses your life."
He responds in his usual laconic way when asked what attracted
him to the part of Sir Henry Somerset in to The Ends of the Earth.
"Apart from the money, do you mean?" he asks with a knowing
smile. "Sir Henry is rather comic: a bit of a buffoon. He's described
as being 'a wide man, ample girth' and I thought it would be interesting
to play a fat man. The scripts are excellent and even though it's only
a cameo, it's hopefully a telling one. I thought it was something I'd
like to be part of."
To The Ends of the Earth was filmed on location in South
Africa and it was the first time Dance had been in the country, although
he had filmed on the African continent before, in Kenya, for White Mischief.
"It's very hard to go to South Africa and not feel politicised
in some way," he says. "There's such an undercurrent in everything you
do in a country that's finding its feet and you're not quite sure where
it's going. Even though it's had this miracle peaceful revolution ten
years ago, there are still things happening that could go either way.
"I didn't feel completely at ease because the country
hasn't stabilised itself yet. South Africa has enormous potential and
I really hope it achieves it. It's going to take a while for the vile
system that was in operation there for so long to completely disappear.
"I don't believe all of those people who maintained
the system have suddenly turned into liberal human beings overnight. Their
prejudices have gone underground but I think it still exists there. It's
going to take a couple of generations, but the young generation working
on to The Ends of the Earth were a great bunch of people."
Filming for To The Ends of the Earth took place in Richard's
Bay, a two and half hour drive from Durban. It was a location that offered
a wide range of leisure activities for the cast and crew, including visiting
game reserves, whale watching and diving.
Unlike the rest of the British cast, Dance was not tempted
to partake in the traditional attractions on offer. "I didn't want to
go game reserving - I know what lions and rhinos look like. I'd rather
get within ten feet of someone who lives in township or a shanty town,
because there are a great many of them.
"I'd have liked to find out how they are coping and
how they live. I didn't get the opportunity because I was only there for
ten days and then it was back to the UK for filming the role of a Victorian
pornographer in Fingersmith."
Dance originally trained as a photographer and graphic
designer, leaving art school halfway through his course when he realised
it wasn't what he wanted to do. Unable to get a second grant for drama
school, he decided to learn the craft of acting from "two wonderful old
men", based near his home in Devon, who had coached some of his friends
for their drama auditions.
Two years later, he got his first theatre job - as a stage
hand and a dresser. "I just basically wanted to be inside a theatre, rather
than driving mini-cabs," he recalls. "I could be around actors and smell
what the business was like."
Eventually, he got an acting job of 16 weeks in weekly
rep, playing juvenile leads in 16 different plays - where he honed
his technique. From there he was offered better roles and eventually in
1975 was asked to joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he spent
five years until television beckoned.
Twenty five years later, he took what was possibly the
biggest risk in his career when he directed a movie from his own screenplay,
Ladies In Lavender, which was chosen to be last year's Royal Film Performance.
"I have a good visual eye and I understand the language
of a camera, what lenses do. I also understand what peculiar creatures
actors are and how paranoid, deeply insecure and what strange people we
are. I had a lot to learn technically as I'd only directed bits and pieces
of film before.
"I found this short story which I thought lent itself
to being a rather charming little film. So I wrote it, hawked it around.
I needed two extremely bankable actress to play the leads and thankfully
when Maggie Smith and Judi Dench read
it they both wanted to do it.
"Even better, they were prepared to put their trust
in me. I was either going to fall flat on my face and people would dismiss
it, or I was hoping enough people would love it - and it seems they did."
Making the film came at the right time in Dance's life,
following the surprise break-up of his 33-year marriage.
"It was a huge wrench, a turbulent time I don't want
to go into, but the fact that I elected to write and direct a film at
the same time makes me amazed I've still got a brain left. I concentrate
on work now, because it's a way of life, not just a job."