The 5-Minute Interview: Stephen Poliakoff, playwright, director and screenwriter

'I became a writer because I was such a bloody awful actor'


Stephen Poliakoff, 53, is one of the judges of the TCM Classic Shorts competition at this year's London Film Festival. The winner will be announced at a ceremony tonight.

This year's TCM short films...

Technically they were extraordinary [showing] amazing technical competence. Maybe some of the films are too weighted on special effects. They weren't quite haunting enough. A great short film should be like a great short story that stays with you.

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

Rehearsing my new work for the BBC. It has one of my finest casts.

A phrase I use far too often is...

"Vivid" - "everything must be very vivid" - which is what I say about my work, and "haunting" - I want it to be haunting.

I wish people would take more notice of...

Conservation, which I think this Government has been extraordinarily limp on for 10 years. Climate change is a huge issue. I always wanted to be a conservationist and zoologist like Gerald Durrell. I've just become an ambassador for the WWF.

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

Being left out of the school play when I thought I was one of the world's best actors. I was 14 or 15. It was my wake up call when everybody else in my year at Westminster School who wanted to be an actor got a part in Billy Budd, which had about 50 speaking parts. That's why I became a writer because I was such a bloody awful actor.

A common misperception of me is...

That I'm an autocrat and don't listen to people. I think of myself as quite collegiate. When people work with me they find me less of a control freak than they first imagined.

I'm not a politician but...

If I had a bit of power I'd try to make everybody in the political class have some curiosity about their fellow human beings - about the people they're meant to be representing. Politicians are far more wrapped up in their own agenda than actors. Every politician I've ever met has been totally without any curiosity about the world or finding out about other people.

I'm good at...

Returning phone calls. Actors who I've worked with ask me to see them in a play. I always try to.

But I'm very bad at...

Replying to letters.

The ideal night out is...

Eating a large French meal.

In moments of weakness I...

Talk to people in a loud voice and pace up and down more than normal.

The best age to be is...

70. I'm a considerable way off. If you make it to 70 you have an Olympian view of what matters and what doesn't.

In a nutshell, my philosophy is this:

Always try to be original.

Elisa Bray

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