FILM / Take One Actor: The second time as farce: Are you a Catholic? Been in a mob? Run a jazz club? A year of tricky questions
I've just joined a club. Very select. It's made up of all the actors in the history of movies who have had to deliver the line, 'Tie her to the stake]' I should imagine there's quite a few: Jose Ferrer in Joan of Arc, Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, and if you could interpret the grunt of Stone Age Hollywood, someone's bound to have said it to Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC. Then there's me. I've just said it as the evil black-armoured antagonist for an NBC Movie of the Week. I think it's time I took control of my life. I have decided to do a Stallone and, like every other actor since him, write a screenplay for myself.
I've written it - lots of wet streets, 'whacking', rosaries and plenty of Catholic angst. I'm to play the gangster-king pretender who runs his own late-night jazz club. I think it's rather good. I've sent it to a
Things are going well. I'm with a literary agent. 'Are you a Catholic?' he asks. No. 'Have you ever been in a mob?' I have to think. The last time I can remember things turning vaguely ugly was under the strawberry tents at Wimbledon. 'Have you ever been to Little Italy?' No. 'Have you ever run a jazz club?' Well, no, but then Robert Bolt didn't lead the Arab Revolt on Aquaba. 'Why is it that all young film-makers want to be Martin Scorsese,' he says. 'Write from your own experience.'
I take his advice and decide to stick to what I know. So, I go back home, sit at my desk, switch off my computer and passively wait for my acting agent
My grandfather's dying. I go to visit him. My grandfather doesn't trust anyone. This is mainly due to a long life and more recently to daily catheter changes. He certainly doesn't trust my profession. In fact, he doesn't think of it as a profession at all. He likes to quote the seven stages of Marxism to me, from Slave to Proletariat right through to Actor, and keeps asking if I'm sure I know where he hides his pension so I'll remember where it is when I need it.
I've written another screenplay. I don't think much of it. Who'd want to watch a short about a dying old Marxist who doesn't trust anyone?
My new literary agent would. He thinks he can sell it in a week.
January 1994: Somebody wants to make that screenplay I'd almost forgotten about, I'm very excited.
I think I might be fooling myself. The director's going to film it in New York and I'm trying to forget that it was originally set in Scunthorpe. 'Just so long as you don't turn it into some sort of Martin Scorsese rip-off,' I declare loftily.
I've received a note from New York. Everything is going well: the funding . . . the locations . . . It's only when I reach the final paragraph that I read, '. . . there have also been a few minor script changes'.
I believe my script's been shot.
I am finally watching the film. Sadly, my grandfather isn't. He died. But I'm sure none of it would have come as a surprise to him. He was right - you can't trust anyone. Having consoled myself with the thought that at least there'd be absolutely no chance of this developing into some sort of Scorsese clone, I can hardly believe my eyes when I see my main character sitting in his living room with a rosary above his head and Raging Bull on the telly. And then I realise that what had started out as a portrait of a geriatric heterosexual Yorkshireman had ended up as a film about a sprightly, gay New Yorker.
But, hey, so what if the photo of this character's dead partner bears more resemblance to Ike Eisenhower than my grandmother? The images may have changed, I am finally reassured, but the themes remain the same.
So when, the following week, my acting agent rings about an audition to play another stake-sharpening black-armoured bastard, I no longer have any doubts about doing it. Now, if I got the part, I could happily afford to spend the following months writing something else. And I have to admit that for that, I'd be willing to tie up anyone.
Hugo Blick writes regular reports about life as a working and resting film actor
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