What would I call myself? Middle class, I suppose. I don't
quite know what all these denominations and categorisations mean.
I was a child in the war years, so I just remember the strictness,
the rations. It was a very simple life, really, that I lived.
My father was a cellist and my mother was a pianist, and they
were both very fine players, and had a huge love of music, so
I grew up in a house where music was played and heard a great
deal. That was a subtle influence of some kind, I'm sure. My
brothers and I all resisted -- as children wilfully and sometimes
wrongly do -- to follow them into it, but then my brothers were
both rather gifted artistically. One is a painter now, and an
art lecturer. My other brother began in art direction but gave
it up, and I became an actor. We almost deliberately did something
else, which sounds a bit perverse. I suppose it's not; if that's
what we wanted to do. Hopefully, people in life do what they
either want to do, or are good at.
a child, I listened to the radio. My mother, when I was 9 or
10, started taking me to the local theatre, and I started going
to the local cinema. I became infatuated; I had to go
every week. I realised, about the age of 11, that the reason
I was going was that I'd found out what I wanted to do, and what
I thought I could do. I admired certain films, and certain actors.
I wanted to be me, I didn't want to be them, but I think
actors do influence you. I will always remember James Mason,
from the day I started going to see films, as absolutely one
of the finest movie actors perhaps who's ever been. He somehow
resonated with me. And I think, later in my teens, I was influenced
by all sorts of people: Gerard Phillipe, and then a bit later
on, Mastroianni, and Swedish actors, and American actors like
Spencer Tracy and Montgomery Clift, and others. You don't want
to be like them, but you like what they do, so therefore they
are, to some extent, influencing you.
My parents supported my decision
to become an actor. They filled me with all the warnings, you
know. They said 'If you haven't done it by the time you're 26,
then think about stopping', but they were basically very encouraging.
My father got me into a class with a marvellous voice teacher,
and my mother got me into the local Shakespeare society, so they
both took a very positive stand towards me doing what I wanted
I applied for RADA, just that one place,
and got it. I don't think I knew about the others. And I got
it because of a brilliant teacher in Derbyshire, called Claude
Gibson, who was absolutely terrific. He really knew how to get
hold of somebody with talent, and draw something out of you,
he knew that you had to learn how to speak first. He got you
to really articulate, to breathe properly. I went really quite
prepared for RADA, from this great teacher.
- A terrifically good year
I was there in the
last years of a wonderful character called Sir Kenneth Barnes,
who was really at the end of his powers. He was running the place,
and he was the brother of two famous actresses -- Irene and Violet
Vanbrugh, which is why the theatre at RADA is
called the Vanbrugh Theatre. It was very technically based; it
was based on diction, on movement. The teachers were varying
degrees of good and not so good. Clifford Turner was a wonderful
teacher. He wrote a great book on voice, which is a classic.
So we did have some very good people. There was a highly competitive
feeling to it, which was quite good training, although not really
what drama schools are meant to be about. For the wrong reasons,
perhaps, it got you quite used to the rat race. I mean, there
was a rat race right there, or the beginnings of one, anyway:
trying to get into the public show, trying to get jobs. You were
a little bit aware of the favourites. I wasn't one to start,
but I became one of them. I really knew both sides of that; I
knew what it was like to be just a student, and then suddenly
I was chosen for something and did it well. And you could just
feel the change in the attention of the teachers if that spotlight
suddenly falls on you a bit. When you've got a hundred people
there, training, some are bound to stand out. Perhaps it's inevitable.
It was a terrifically good year;
I don't think they've really had a year like it. I don't quite
know how it happened, but you will know a lot of these names:
Richard Briers, John Vernon, Brian Bedford, John Stride, Albert
Finney, Peter Bowles, Peter O'Toole, Roy Kinnear, myself, Keith
Baxter, Rosemary Leach, James Booth; it was really quite astonishing.
And we were always competing with each other perhaps without
knowing it. It was a real great clutch of people.
The outside world: talent and luck
But of course the
world outside was waiting, was ready, and we fell into the theatre
just as it was coming into a very powerful time with a lot of
astonishing young writers -- Wesker, Osborne and Pinter. People
like Joan Littlewood at Stratford East and George Devine at the
Royal Court Theatre. So they were there to grab us, you know.
It was a very lucky time, quite apart from however good we all
were, or not, or whatever has happened to all of us. Whatever
we actually were, we were also lucky. Of course you've got to
be able to do it, you can't just be lucky.
- I was following a path.
I can't describe it to you -
At the beginning of my career,
I took what job I could get, which was with the Midland Theatre
Company, and it happened to be Frank Dunlop who was running it.
I went into a company that he was directing in Coventry, which
was a very, very strong and well-thought-of company. In a way,
I was slightly better off, because if you went to Stratford,
you walked on, you were the crowd, you might have a line or two,
then you would graduate. It could take years, if Stratford got
hold of you in those days. They would keep you for a very long
time before they let you begin to emerge. In the other companies,
like Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry, Bristol, Nottingham or
Dundee, all these places, you went and played big parts, or at
least parts with substance, if not big ones. But friends who
got into Stratford weren't learning anything by experience. They
were learning by apprenticing, but they weren't actually functioning
as well as you were if you were in one of the other regional
theatres. Even at the National, in much later days, it took you
a long time to get what Olivier once said to somebody, was his
'turn', which is an awful phrase, really: your 'turn', I suppose,
practically speaking, that's what it amounts to.
pure bit of luck was the Royal Court. For me, that was better
than going to Stratford and waiting five years to get a speaking
part. At the Midland Theatre Company, in the middle of my contract,
I heard about the Royal Court from a wonderful actress called
Sheila Ballantyne. She said 'You really ought to go and audition
for it', which I did, and got in. I didn't really know what I
was going into. It was London, it was a step further on; I'd
not heard of this new theatre which was to be a writers' theatre.
I went into it quite innocently, but I got in. And then three
or four of us auditioned for this part in "Look Back in
Anger," quite soon after getting there. I think it was the
third or fourth production, and I got the part of Cliff, so the
luck really followed me through the end of RADA,
into Frank Dunlop's season, and then into the Royal Court, with
"Look Back in Anger." That's the sort of thing where
people say, 'I should be so lucky'. I was following a path. I
can't describe it to you; it was intuition, and I suppose, being
aware of opportunities and taking them, and it was very much
to do with me, the actor. I became aware of where I was when
I got there, what it was all about, and considered myself very
The American actors -- like Brando
and Montgomery Clift -- were a huge influence; they were very
much admired. I would think that the individuals that came out
of the Method, what James Dean and Julie Harris, and others were
doing, were all powerful images, beautiful work to go and watch.
European films were very much admired, too, in those days. And
also, of course, our own older actors; the whole range of people
such as Olivier, and Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave. We had
various pools of influence to respond to. And of course it was
all discussed, everything was always discussed.
© Carole Zucker, 1999
Inspiration and Technique: crawling up to a role
Staying open: 'no decisions'
Remarkable writers and outrageous characters
The value of research
Working on stage and in film
Playing with Shakespeare
The current state of British Theatre
The job of acting
Identifying with a part: emotional effect