A much missed actor friend of mine – of blessed memory for some decades now, took me to visit a well known colleague in his Brixton apartment when we were mere striplings. I had no idea about this senior thespian’s standing in the business, but several years later he became household name when he starred in a television sitcom. This man observed me for a while. Suddenly, he announced that he could see me becoming a star. He even said he wanted me to perform in a show he had written, giving me his details to stay in touch.
The friend who took me to visit him was surprised, since I hadn’t indicated any real interest in an acting career at that stage. He said he couldn’t see what the older actor was talking about, but the senior artist wasn’t deterred. As far as he was concerned, I wasn’t necessarily going to be a great actor, but I had star quality. Sadly, both of these men have passed away now. And I never got around to pursuing acting as a career, even though I’ve done a huge amount of work that either involves working with actors (as a composer and music director) or using acting skills in a different context (as an opera singer).
What did the older actor see in me? It must have been something difficult to define. Sometimes I see small children perform and my intuition tells me they have the inner glow required to stand out in treading the boards. I have played a role in giving them opportunities to develop those skills wherever I’ve had the chance.
There is a story about Bette Davis – one of the iconic figures of Hollywood acting, saying a similar thing to colleagues when she first encountered Marilyn Monroe. I have seen interviews with the likes of Laurence Olivier, in which he spoke about the difficulty of getting the performance he wanted out of Marilyn when they worked together. The fact that Ms Monroe will never be remembered for playing roles that require technical acting skills does not change the fact that she is probably the most luminous female screen presence that Hollywood has ever produced.
Being capable of holding an audience’s attention in the public telling of stories is sometimes a gift that one either has or doesn’t have. I still don’t know whether the older actor was right about me.