The Sitter's tale: Simon Callow
New faces at the National Portrait Gallery: the actor recalls squeezing into plastic armour and declaiming Falstaff's lines
Sunday 23 May 1999
Then the idea came up for his new `fantasy' series. When he asked me to take part last year, I'd just said yes to doing Chimes at Midnight at Chichester where I was going to play Falstaff, so I suggested that I could pose as him. David said great, and that he'd get some props; he got a huge suit of plastic armour - it would have to be huge for me. I had quite a full beard at the time and he said, just come along to my house as you are.
It was unusual sitting for that kind of portrait, as he added things using a computer later. I didn't see the overall image until it was finished. Also, I hadn't yet played Falstaff - I hadn't even learnt the part. I donned the armour, which was too small, so we had to hold it together with bits of string, and I just let my brain kind of wander off into the idea of playing Falstaff.
It was done in an afternoon in July. I live just round the corner from David so it was very easy to set up. He asked for a key speech by Falstaff to accompany the picture, so I gave him the lines about honour: "What is honour? A word. What is that word `honour'? What is that `honour'?" I don't think he was very familiar with the character, but he was terribly struck by the lines. I gave him a book about Falstaff, and he was really taken with the story of this reprobate who was the friend of the King's son.
As I posed in the armour something happened to my mouth, and a kind of dog-like jaw developed. It turned out that I didn't do that in the performance. So this is a visualisation of an early vision of Falstaff I had, which in rehearsals turned into something quite different.
I'm delighted with the portrait, I love it, so much so I got 100 copies of the postcard of it from David. One so rarely gets meaningful images of yourself - as an actor you are photographed all the time but they are very formulaic images; people asking you to look this way, or smile. Doing this portrait was a real change.
Today is the last chance to see `David Buckland: Performances', including Simon Callow's 1998 portrait, at the National Portrait Gallery, WC2 (0171 306 0055).
filmIn Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 School playground evacuated over 'unusually aggressive' grey squirrel
- 2 Hollywood actor Mickey Rourke beats opponent 33 years his junior in exhibition boxing match
- 3 Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
- 4 Today was a bad day for renters, landlords, and democracy
- 5 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer: What we know about JJ Abrams' film
Exodus Gods and Kings casting controversy: Ridley Scott would never cast 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
Christmas TV schedule 2014: The best shows to watch from Downton Abbey to Black Mirror
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
David Cameron sets out immigration reforms: We should distrust Ukip and their 'snake-oil of simple solutions'
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police