between the lines

From Mike Leigh to... The Archers?
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The Independent Culture
In 1978, I had read about the way Mike Leigh worked but I can't say I knew what to expect. Given a chance, I'd work for him again at the drop of a hat. I'd got a part in Who's Who, a "Play for Today" film about Yuppies. I spent three weeks watching a firm of City stockbrokers at work. They were awful people. Then slowly I was introduced to other actors. I'd meet one of them in a wine bar, while Mike would sit at a table across the room taking notes. From these improvisations we'd slowly build up a storyline. It was an extraordinary working process. My character enjoyed fine wines, and I remember thinking, "Great. I can buy all these expensive clarets and charge them to the BBC." One day, Mike came up to me brandishing a bill and said, "This is going a bit far. It has to stop." So, sadly, there were limits to his methods.

As an actor, I learnt from Mike not to be afraid of my background. I'd had this middle-class, public-school upbringing, and I felt it was boring. But Mike taught you to be proud of your originality. He's careful. He steers you towards playing someone who has a background with which you can identify. My character, an upper-class boor called Anthony Trotter, had, like me, been educated at Charterhouse. I found myself using hidden aspects of my personality - things that had lain dormant since I'd left school. I discovered these were legitimate things to draw upon - although by the final week of filming I was paranoid that Mike thought I was like Trotter. It's a bit of a jump from the odious Trotter to nice-but-dim Nigel Pargetter, the character I play in The Archers. But without Mike Leigh, I suspect Nigel might be less three-dimensional than he is now.

n Graham Seed is in 'Confusions' at Theatre Royal, Windsor (01753 853888); then tours

Interview by Adrian Turpin

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