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29 October 2014
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To The Ends Of The Earth
Charles Dance plays Sir Henry Somerset

William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The Earth'


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 bus pass.


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 says.


"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."



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