HOW WE MET; SIMON CALLOW AND SNOO WILSON

Simon Callow, 48 (right), was born in London, and educated at Queen's University, Belfast and the Drama Centre in London. He is best known as an actor, on stage and in films such as 'A Room with a View'', yet he has also directed numerous plays and operas, and written acclaimed biographies of Orson Welles and Charles Laughton. He is 48 and lives alone in London. The writer Snoo Wilson, 49, was born in Reading and educated at the University of East Anglia. He was a BBC TV script editor in the Seventies, has taught script writing at the National Film School, and is the author of three novels and numerous plays for TV and theatre (including 'HRH', currently being directed by Simon Callow). He is married with three children and lives in south London

SIMON CALLOW: It was 1975 and I was doing a play in the West End with Harry Secombe which was coming to an end. Roy Marsden and I were sharing a dressing room and Roy was sent a script called The Soul of the White Ant, set in South Africa, with Snoo Wilson as the author. Roy was in the middle of some terrible love affair and couldn't face it, and said, "Why don't you do it?" I read it and said, "I went to school in South Africa and I think I could handle that." The director offered me the part.

I met Snoo at rehearsal and was a bit intimidated by him, to be honest. He's a very striking-looking man and at the time his hair was green, or red and green, and he was obviously powerfully intelligent and seemed to be full of inner preoccupations. He would be quoting from Babylonian mythology, and the works of Marx and Jane Austen, and making silly music- hall jokes.

His play was completely peculiar. It was about a woman who's having an affair with her house boy in South Africa, but she thinks it's immoral to have intercourse with someone who's married so she has him relieve himself into Tupperware. My character was called Pieter de Groot, a journalist. I'm afraid I endowed him with some of the qualities of my late father, a man with whom I didn't get on very well.

Snoo and I had a good rapport, but we didn't have terribly much to do with each other. We didn't really become friends until about 1982, when we co- directed his play Loving Reno, about an incestuous Chilean magician. We were at supper with people who ran the Bush theatre and Snoo wanted to direct the play himself, and they said they didn't think he was good enough, so I said, "Why don't we co-direct?" He thought that was a terribly good idea. I was filming Amadeus so couldn't do it full-time, but that was my debut as a director.

I was such an alcoholic in those days that I lured him into my alcoholic ways. We used to have crates of wine and drank bottle after bottle and smoked hundreds of cigarettes - and probab- ly a bit of dope. We discovered we thought much along the same lines about his plays and their mystical quality. He wanted to stress the mystic element and I was happy to liberate that. I think other people had tried to rationalise his plays.

We liked working together as co- directors very much, but we thought the name "co-directors" was too prosaic, so we called ourselves the Co-Optimists instead, after a music-hall group who used to do turns on the end of the pier.

Snoo's always working on ever more extraordinary projects. When he wrote a film about the mystic Aleister Crowley, we went on a recce to Sicily (where Crowley lived). Snoo's visionary powers are so overwhelming he goes into a trance when faced with extraordinary phenomena like those in Sicily. That film never got made.

He sent me his play HRH, which I'm directing at the moment, when he first wrote it - when obviously there would have been no way he could have anticipated the death of Diana. After that happened, everybody working on the show was terribly worried because they felt it might seem defamatory: but this is a play about an earlier generation of the House of Windsor and how they behaved.

Neither of us is political, but we like to think that we're both quite radical. He's a great humanist and has all kind of fascinating and curious pursuits - he keeps bees and casts astrological charts, and he knows everything about the natural world and a great deal about the intellectual world. His brain is a very weird kind of crucible out of which curious things emerge.

Every generation throws up people who are approved actors and dramatists, and I don't think Snoo or I fit into that category. Yet he is such a valuable man of the theatre because he simply puts on stage what nobody else does. We both believe in the future of the British theatre, and the future of the British theatre is dependent on the production of as many of Snoo's plays as possible.

I think he's the friend I'm most relaxed with, though our friendship is based on intellectual talk about the books we've read, the plays we've seen. We don't live in each other's pockets, but we have many friends in common and we see them. And dogs have gone from my house to his house and his house to mine.

We're both bound up with the fact that we're theatre people. We're very different, but we both have a great desire to break away from ordinary naturalism and drag in a bit of poetry if we can find it. And we're always planning things. We never stop planning.

SNOO WILSON: Simon was in a play of mine called The Soul of the White Ant, which has a plot which is hard to describe unblushingly. It was a very interesting experience, because he was actually exorcising his father who had lived in South Africa: he had these photographs of his father wearing baggy tropical shorts, which he brought in for a bit of local colour.

After that, I don't think we worked together until we directed Loving Reno. Rapidly - in about a week - we established that he was the better director, having never directed anything before. Thank God he doesn't write plays.

It was fascinating because what we were trying to do was get rid of the play's naturalistic elements - but the designer was mired in naturalism and we had terrible problems getting anywhere with him. It just shows there are two very different ways of looking at theatre. Naturalism can be sublime, but we try to find some deep symbolic logic and psychological truth in the stuff of theatre. I think we've got common priorities about that. But Simon is an awful lot better at pulling out organ stops in actors to make them realise their potential. He's not afraid to jump in and ask things from them.

Simon's got a good and easy familiarity with my work, and is very good at helping with the editing and bringing out the best in it. Most writing in theatre is completely soaked in the personality of the writer who wrote it, and that's particularly true in my case. I'm not an easy writer to be a broker for, but Simon has good ideas. My play HRH works not just because of the way I've written it, but because Simon's made a number of choices about how the material is to be relayed to the audience which are absolutely invaluable. He also has some interesting ideas about why I write like I write - to do with ultimate responses to the nature of the universe. But I'm not sure whether they're true.

HRH had an interesting genesis. I think I showed Simon an early draft. It was written in 1991 and Alan Rickman did a reading of it in The Ivy for anyone who was interested. Theatr Clwyd did it and its Broadway rights were bought. I wanted to work with Simon again so we devised this Broadway- ish version of it which had submarines coming up through the floor and swimming pools and things. It would have had hordes of West Indian servants. I'm sure it could have been done, but they subsequently couldn't get the cash to put it on. Then that option lapsed and it languished until the producer Paddy Wilson picked it up.

Simon's enormously generous both in person, and professionally with his time, and he's very good to work with. I think he has a lot of people who feel close to him. My fondest memories of him are to do with a stage when he had a friend called Bruno Santini, who had a dog called Brunj which seemed to end up living with us. I remember Simon bringing around some absolutely marvellous presents for us and a crate of dog food. It was done with great charm.

But sometimes months go by when we don't see each other. He's always extremely busy, always doing 18 different things. It's quite impossible to telephone him, so we have a faxing correspondence.

When we do meet, we have a vigorous mental exchange. But probably the only political discussion we've ever fallen out over was when I'd written a film about Aleister Crowley and we went to Sicily. We had a wonderful time, but we disagreed about Margaret Thatcher. I think Simon wasn't prepared to toe the anti-Thatcher line. He just thought she was a woman in a hurry and I thought she was doing the country quite a lot of harm.

He's extremely perceptive about the world and about other creative people. He's a very good biographer, particularly of Orson Welles. He's a Gemini and the base line for Geminis is "thought as sensation", which I think summarises quite a lot of Simon's activities. He's very compassionate, but very mentally driven.

In retrospect, when I think of him and the polymath he's become, I think he must have had a hard time of it in adolescence and early youth - because he's highly intelligent, highly energetic and totally individualistic, and you can't look for role models for somebody like that.

I think our friendship is about a debate in ideas and a fascination with theatre. The myth of our friendship is that everything is terrific. We don't bring major problems into it. And we make each other laugh.

! 'HRH', wriiten by Snoo Wilson, and starring Amanda Donohoe and Corin Redgrave, is now previewing at the Playhouse Theatre, WC2 (0171 839 4401); opens Thurs.

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us