Simon Callow: The actor and writer on Jesus, a hatred of monster virus verbs, and the curse of Four Weddings and a Funeral


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Every time I'm on stage I feel that I'm making the case for the theatre [Callow has appeared in more than 40 different stage productions over his 40-year stage career]. The theatre is an incredibly precious place; it's a chance to convince people that it's a life-changing and necessary experience filled with extraordinary emotions; it's an aesthetic version of the National Health Service, giving people new life, hope and energy.

'Four Weddings and a Funeral' was an important film to do My character, Gareth, was a gay man who was a) not very typical and b) died of something other than Aids. But there was an unfortunate consequence of my character's eccentricity; it stuck in people's heads. Twenty years on some people think I am like Gareth in real life – or think that particular acting style, which I call "the life and death of the party performance" – is all I can do, which certainly isn't the case.

Coming out as gay was one of the most valuable things I've done While I often told interviewers I was gay [in the 1980s], they never printed it. So I thought, "I've got to get this out in the open air," and I wrote the book [his 1983 autobiography, Being an Actor]. Many people were concerned on my behalf about the consequences, but as it happens, it was [using the book] to attack the power of the directors in theatre that might have had the biggest consequence. Some directors probably said, "That actor will never work again."

I had a bizarrely colourful vocabulary as a child My mother used to read the lead column of the Daily Telegraph aloud to me, as she was training me up quickly to become a suitable conversation partner. The English Oxford Dictionary was my prime reading material, and I'd torment my teachers by introducing polysyllabic words. Teachers didn't like it at all.

I grew up fixated over the figure of Jesus I was raised as a Catholic and was very involved in the church as an altar servant. I rather disliked Mary on the whole, a terribly pious figure, but this god-become-man Jesus figure fascinated me and I read hundreds of books about it as a boy. Whether we're atheists, Muslims or Richard Dawkins, he's so much a part of our mental landscape we can't ignore him, which is why I'm doing a one-man play called The Man Jesus.

Reading aloud was one of the great forms of entertainment until the arrival of TV and radio It is a primal experience. Dickens, for example, was expected to read instalments of his books to an audience, who would take a copy home and then it read aloud to others. I've spent much of my career storytelling. In the [adult storytelling] TV series Crackanory, I'm reading aloud a savage little tale that satirises a well-known figure.

I have a personal obsession with eliminating slack words Such as the phrase, "Is that alright?" Meaning, "There's no negotiation at all". But for me the monster virus verb "pop" is the worst. It's a just substitute for other more confrontational verbs: "Pop yourself down there..." I think it's to do with not being non- threatening. But in fact it's just a fraud, as it's still telling you what to do.

I'm not good at sticking to parameters I'm known for colonising things of mine over an entire house, my stuff spread in all directions. That over-expansiveness I inherited from my grandmother.

Simon Callow, 65, is an English actor and writer, best known for the films 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and 'Shakespeare in Love'. 'Crackanory' starts on Dave on 24 September at 10pm