HOW WE MET

INTERVIEWS WITH KERRY FOX AND PETER GORDON
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The Independent Culture
The New Zealand-born actress Kerry Fox, 31, first made her name in Jane Campion's award-winning 'An Angel at My Table', before moving to Britain and landing the lead in several films, including 'Shallow Grave'. She recently appeared in the West End in Jean Genet's 'The Maids'; the critics generally liked her performance but slated the production. Peter Gordon, 34, is also a Kiwi; he is head chef at The Sugar Club in Notting Hill, perhaps the most fashionable restaurant in London. He lives with his long-time partner Michael McGrath, an actor and drama teacher, in a west-London flat they share with Kerry Fox and her actor husband, Jaime Robertson

Kerry Fox: In early 1989 I was doing a play in Wellington in which I played one half of a Siamese twin, and Peter's partner Michael was also in the cast. Michael and I became good friends and Peter came to lots of performances. He had long, curly black hair then, and looked extremely imposing, almost frightening. I thought he seemed rather mysterious, quiet yet observant.

At the time he was working as a chef at the Kiwi version of The Sugar Club, which was one of the trendiest joints in Wellington. Being just out of drama school I couldn't afford to eat there. He and Michael had a house on the beach and they had a big party. My friend Emma Robinson and I stayed to help them, and that's when I got to know Peter's buoyant, party-animal side.

A little later Peter and Michael made the decision to come to London - about the same time I did, so I stayed with them. I'd just finished filming An Angel at My Table and all I wanted to do was to sleep for a month; I was a total recluse. Peter still seemed quite intimidating, because he's so direct and boisterous. New Zea- landers are non-confrontational as a rule, you never know what they're thinking, but Peter tells it like it is. I think I've become more like that because of him.

I was completely ignorant of any European culture when I came here. I'd never even had an olive. The boys introduced me to Beaujolais, and they'd take me to little restaurants where you could fill up for pounds 3 a head, because none of us had any money. I saw a lot of them when I was making A Village Affair for television, in which I was playing a lesbian. We talked a lot about dykes and they took me to gay nights at The Fridge.

I moved to Australia for a while in the early Nineties, but all the work seemed to be here. By the time I did Shallow Grave in 1994 I felt I'd really found my niche: Britain felt absolutely the right place to be. So when my husband Jaime and I decided to base ourselves in London, Michael and Peter said they were looking for flatmates. We thought we'd see if it worked out, and it did.

We had nothing when we came here two years ago, no possessions. Michael and Peter's taste is very eclectic. Pete loves collecting on his travels, so their flat is crammed full of knick-knacks and mementos, like two-dozen hash pipes, and a plastic Statue of Liberty. It's the sort of stuff I have in my place in Australia, so it makes me feel at home.

It sounds odd, I know, two adult couples sharing a flat, but we don't have rows. We feel very comfortable with each other, very much like a family. I like the way Michael and Peter work hard at their relationship, keeping it fresh. They talk about everything, which keeps the air clear, and they're openly affectionate.

Pete's work is unbelievably stressful, the restaurant is full all the time. He accidentally chopped off the end of his finger the other day and I'm sure that was due to stress. I don't think he has fully recovered from donating his bone marrow to his sister three years ago, when she had leukaemia. I wish it was possible for him to take six months off so he could recuperate properly.

Because we're doing such different things, it's rare that we'd have a night off at the same time. But if I have a dinner party, I always ask Peter and Michael, and vice versa. I gave a dinner party for The Maids company, and it was just after Pete cut his finger off, so he couldn't actually do anything (he doesn't cook at home much anyway). But I made him sit in the corner in the kitchen and shout instructions at us. He's an extraordinary chef. What he cooks just makes you feel better, like this magical gift.

Pete has leadership qualities, he takes people with him, inspires them, and I love his directness about everything. We're quite alike, I suppose, being upfront and positive, with this tremendous sense of ambition.

Sometimes I have fantasies about Jaime and I buying somewhere in the country, but I can't imagine life without Peter and Michael. They're my other family. We've talked about buying separate places, and Peter said he liked the idea of staying together, only in a bigger place. That was when I realised that he loved living with me as much as I loved living with him.

Peter Gordon: It must have been about 1989. Kerry was in this bizarre play about Siamese twins with Michael, my partner, just before Michael and I left New Zealand to come to England. It was at a time when most of the women I knew had short hair, and Kerry had this long hair in a pony tail. She struck me straight away as a strong person, very self-assured and completely natural, like her hair. I suppose she saw Michael and I as this nice, older, gay couple who were perhaps a bit more worldly than she was. She was someone I thought I'd like to get to know better.

About a year later, Michael and I were living in west London, and she came to stay after filming An Angel at My Table. It was her first time in England and she seemed a bit like a fish out of water, not knowing anyone except us.

Then in 1990 we moved to Westbourne Park, sharing a flat with Emma Robinson, a mutual friend from New Zealand, and Kerry came to stay again. This time she was quite ill, having just come back from India. I fed her up with lots of rice dishes to make her feel better - it's always nice to look after someone when they're not well. It gives you a sense of purpose in the relationship. I think that's when we became really close. She was at a low ebb, not knowing whether to stay in Australia, where she had a place, or whether to come to England, where all the work was.

Soon after, all the acclaim started for An Angel at My Table. I noticed a big change in her. She became more aware of herself, more outspoken about things, though never arrogant or obnoxious. I never thought I'd see her better - she was born to play that role - but I have to say that she is equally fantastic in her next film, Welcome to Sarajevo. The character she plays is like her in many ways: very strong and totally in control. I feel really proud of her performance.

Kerry was very supportive when my sister Tracey was diagnosed with leukaemia. I was to be the bone-marrow donor and was holed up in Melbourne for 10 weeks, waiting for the transplant to take effect. Kerry was filming in the Philippines, but was on the phone all the time to see if we were okay; by the end of it all our friendship was real- ly strong. So when in 1995 she said she and Jaime wanted to come to England permanently, Michael and I asked them to come and live with us.

When I'd lived with other people it never really worked. This time we just got on so well with each other. Things like housework and shopping just seem to happen, we don't have rosters or kitties or anything. We share similar taste in food, we like eating organic and vegetarian stuff at home. And it doesn't seem overcrowded, like there's lots of people around, because we'll each be doing different things.

I've heard it said of Kerry that she has a bit of a temper. There's this very English thing where you never raise your voice or offer an opinion, and you put absolute faith in the people around you. Kerry and I have both come up against that because we tend to say what we think; Kerry particularly will defend her opinions - and her friends - to the end. But I can only remember having one row with her, over paying a cleaner. She had no money at the time, and she wasn't happy about me paying the whole lot. It was just one of those silly domestic things and it all blew over really quickly.

We're alike because we both have this ability to work really hard for long periods, Kerry on a play or a film (when she's involved with something she loves, she's at her happiest), me with my book. We're also similar in that we befriend people we like rather than the people we're supposed to like.

When I saw The Maids, I was just pleased for Kerry because I'd only seen her on stage once before, and I know she was worried about it. Kerry can be quite thick-skinned, which is very useful in her career - she wasn't at all demoralised by the reviews for The Maids. She just looked at the points she thought were valid and ignored the things she thought were silly. I'm glad I'm not involved in the theatre/film world, it's too cut- throat for me; but she will always be a success because she's incredibly generous and people like working with her.

Kerry has a great belief in herself, which I'm sure comes from her parents being so supportive when she was younger. She doesn't put up with things she doesn't like. Her philosophy is to go for what you want, to distance yourself from minor problems and not let unimportant people get you down. I really admire that.

I'm sure there will come a time when we'll want to live just with our partners, but for over two years now it's been just perfect. We don't work at it, it just happens. We're just lucky that we get on so well with each other.

'The Sugar Club Cookbook', by Peter Gordon (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 20), is published on 28 August. 'Welcome to Sarajevo' opens here in the autumn.

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