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.

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
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.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album