My Secret Life: Steven Berkoff, actor and playwright, 73


My parents were ... working class; my father was a mathematical genius but was forced into a tailoring workshop by his father when he was 14. My mother? She was a very ordinary housewife who fed me.

The house/flat I grew up in ... I was born on Whitechapel Road, on the upper floor of a house that received a direct hit in the war, while we were in the shelters; then we moved to a small house with a garden and cat in Luton under the evacuation scheme.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... I always had a fantasy of being somebody, like an actor or even a priest. I had an overwhelming desire to communicate.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... poetry.

You may not know it but I'm no good at ... controlling my outrage when I hear about hunters killing beautiful wild beasts.

At night I dream of ... things so varied and complex that they're almost impossible to define; they're usually rather fantastical, sometimes taking the form of the images of nightmares by Hieronymus Bosch.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... I see two blue eyes surrounded by age, angst, care and passion.

My favourite item of clothing ... is a jilaba, which I bought in Morocco. It makes me feel relaxed and also, slightly princely.

I wish I'd never worn ... I have never worn anything that wasn't absolutely right for me.

It's not fashionable but I like ... blues and 1950s rock music, by people like Johnnie Ray.

I drive/ride ... a new black VW Beetle.

My home is ... a very simple council flat that we've had for many, many years; now for the first time we've installed an inside bathroom.

My favourite work of art ... is 'The Drummer' by a Scottish painter called Peter Howson, who is the most dynamic painter in Britain at the moment. Where's the painting held? I've got it!

My favourite building ... is the Empire State Building. I first saw it when I emigrated to New York as a child and it has since come to symbolise the mystery and power of America.

A book that changed me ... was Kafka's 'The Trial', which I spent much of my life working on as a play; also 'Scroll of Agony' by Chaim A Kaplan, a daily diary which describes, in the most astonishing detail, the slow suffocation and brutality of the Warsaw ghetto in the 1940s. It's heartbreaking.

Movie heaven ... is the cinema of the 1940s and 1950s, when we had the movies of people like Jacques Becker, and of course 'Les Enfants du Paradis' with Jean-Louis Barrault and 'La Strada'. It was an unforgettable era.

The last album I bought/downloaded ... I have never downloaded anything. The last album I bought was an incredible Buddhist chant cross-fertilised with Western music.

My secret crush ... is Isabelle Adjani, I've been in love with her for a long time. I hope all the other women aren't now downhearted.

My greatest regret ... Regrets are a waste of time; you must be happy that you are alive and thriving and that you can see.

The person who really makes me laugh ... is Richard Pryor. He was mind-bogglingly brilliant, as was the early Eddie Murphy.

The last time I cried ... was watching my cast act 'Samson and Delilah' in rehearsals.

My five-year plan ... is to keep creating the best theatre I can.

What's the point? Ecstasy and illumination; help others, be brave, don't moan.

My life in six words ... From the pits of hell to the crest of paradise. A good one, right?

A life in brief

Steven Berkoff was born on 3 August, 1937 in Stepney, east London and, as an actor, is most famous for villainous roles in Octopussy, Rambo and Beverly Hills Cop. As a playwright, he adapted Kafka's Metamorphosis and in 1986 wrote Sink the Belgrano!, a diatribe against the Falklands War. He lives in east London with his partner, the pianist Clara Fischer, has parts in several upcoming films, and his new play, Biblical Tales, is at the New End Theatre, London NW3, to 28 August

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