The 5-Minute Interview: Timothy West, adctor

'I don't like being put in a pigeonhole - people don't live in pigeonholes'
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Timothy West, 71, stars in Alan Bennett's play 'The Old Country' which goes on national tour next month.

The character I play in The Old Country is ...

Someone who is in exile - an educated man dying to get back to England. He is terrified it won't be the same and if he goes back he'll betray the things he came away for in the first place. It's a difficult decision. I do identify with some aspects [of my character] but I'm not a communist; I'm a socialist. There are things I wish were different in this country, but at the same time I'd find it very difficult living anywhere else.

The things I wish were different in this country ...

I'm very against the Iraq war and the gradual privatisation of everything. I'm still an old socialist. Public transport went wrong with the assumption it will all be all right when everyone has a motor car. Now everyone has one it's not all right.

If I wasn't talking to you right now I'd be ...

Getting dressed, going to a rehearsal and giving myself 10 minutes to go over the words.

I wish people would take more notice of ...

Other people. I think there is an awful lot of self-absorption. It happens not only in personal relations but, to a certain extent, a lot of people write about the self as victim instead of as they ought to feel in a group, community or workforce.

The most surprising thing that ever happened to me was ...

Walking through a railway tunnel on a line I was convinced was closed and finding a train coming. It was a long time ago when I was a schoolboy. It was a steam train. The frightening thing was, I wasn't sure if it was coming from one end or the other, so I stayed where I was. I flattened myself against the wall in an alcove.

A common misperception of me is ...

People always say "You play gravitas" and I don't think I do. I hope I don't. I don't like anything that puts me in a pigeonhole - people don't live in pigeonholes on the whole.

I'm not a politician but ...

I'd renationalise rail and stop all the centralisation of hospital health care and make each region responsible for itself. Devolution, so services in each place had an identity that was recognisable.

I'm very bad at ...

Settling down to things immediately.

The ideal night out is ...

A nice quiet dinner with not more than four or five friends. A really beautiful fish restaurant by the sea.

In moments of weakness ...

I usually work.

You know me as an actor but in a truer life I'd have been an ...

Orchestral conductor. Probably mostly the romantic, post-Mozart and 19th century, and a lot of Russian music, Beethoven and Mahler.

The best age to be is ...

It depends who you are. I think the best age for me was in my 40s. My wife's saying I'm very good now, but she's biased .

My philosophy is ...

If at first you don't succeed, try something totally different.

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