Why Gambon isn't big enough for States over 3 deckys hy

Equity rules: Producer condemns eccentric decision as leading actor fails to land Broadway role because he lacks `star status'

Michael Gambon has been refused permission to recreate a West End role on Broadway because Americans do not consider him a big enough star, it emerged yesterday.

The National Theatre had hoped to transfer Robert Fox's production of David Hare's play Skylight, about an affair between a restaurateur and a radical young teacher, to New York with Gambon in the lead role.

But, following talks, American Equity has refused to let Gambon perform, arguing that the actor who played the lead in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective is of insufficient "star status".

Its prohibition was confirmed by a spokeswoman at the National Theatre, where Gambon played the part of Tom Sergeant when Skylight opened last year. American Equity, the American actors' union, to comment on the decision described by Mr Fox as "eccentric".

Complicated rules presided over by the actors' union mean it can be extremely difficult for British actors to play in America if, like Gambon, they are not passed under the star status rule.

Producers are then obliged to prove that there is no American actor who can replace him or her in the part in question by carrying out auditions throughout the country.

The only alternative is for an actor to go to America under the exchange scheme, which allows an American actor of similar status to play in Britain in a straight swap.

Those who have previously fallen foul of Equity's perception of their star status (or otherwise) in America include Juliet Stevenson, who could not take her lead role in Death and the Maiden to New York, and Billie Whitelaw - despite her unique position as Beckett's muse.

Michael Pennington was also not deemed a big enough star, and missed the chance to act in Shaffer's Gift of the Gorgon on Broadway. Meanwhile, those who have been allowed include Elaine Paige, Tom Courtenay, and Vanessa Redgrave.

Such decisions raise the controversial question of what exactly is a star. Equity in Britain, which applies the same rule in reverse to American actors, admits it has never written a definition.

"It's impossible to say," admits Peter Finch, who heads Equity's theatre department. "It's often obvious, but if there's an element of doubt we would apply criteria such as what work that person has done, whether they have played in more than one country: and if so, which countries, and which theatre companies."

Jeff Kaye, European bureau chief of the entertainment industry paper the Hollywood Reporter, notes that British actors and actresses have been inhibited by traditionally being stereotyped into certain roles: the upper- class twit (a la Hugh Grant), the suave gentleman (Sean Connery's James Bond) or the evil villain (Alan Rickman).

"Michael Gambon rated 22 out of 100 in our star power list of the most bankable actors and actresses for last year," he added. "That's pretty low. Other Brits did far better. Kenneth Branagh was at 74, Sean Connery was at 94, and Hugh Grant was 81."

Stardom also differs in the worlds of theatre and film. Hollywood is about looks; the stage puts ability further up the pecking order.

"Theatre is much more about the quality of the actor because that's part of the experience of going to the theatre," said Nick James, deputy editor of the film magazine Sight and Sound. "In cinema it's to do with glamour rather than talent.

"Gambon rose to prominence in the English theatre as a marvellous stage performer, and that's enough on the English stage. But in the States he gets seen in movies where he plays parts more to do with hack-work - like Julia Roberts' father in the film Mary Reilly."

The problem is that any definition of what makes a star cannot include the imponderable quality which lifts a lead actor into a household name. That is an elusive mix of track record, personality, marketing, looks, enviability quotient, bankability and love life.

Emma Thompson, for example, seems to lack the enviability quotient, partly a result of her jolly-hockey-sticks looks. Daniel Day-Lewis, however, has a broodingly tragic appearance which fits the bill. The jury is still out on Kate Winslet: her looks and films so far are a plus, but her youth and naivete may prove a problem.

Of course, early death always helps in the quest for entertainment's holy grail. The ultimate star remains Marilyn Monroe, who combined a mysterious demise with an affair with the President, breathtaking looks and a tragic childhood.

US welcome...

Vanessa Redgrave in Orpheus Descending was accepted in the US because both Equities (UK and US) accept such "star'' performers without demur.

American Equity denied Billie Whitelaw star status, even though she was acting in plays Samuel Beckett wrote for her.

Sir Peter Hall's revival of Ibsen's Master Builder recently met the same fate. Alan Bates, who played Solness, was acceptable to Equity but Victoria Hamilton, who played Hilde, was a brilliant newcomer and thus taboo.



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss