When I was a child, people of a certain age who met my father often remarked, ‘You look just like Simon Callow.’ I had no idea who Simon Callow was, so my father bought me his autobiography, Being an Actor (1986). Over the years it has become my battered treasure, all creased corners and cracked spine, highlighted and annotated, lent to friends and quickly sought back. Callow takes us into a singular world where the emotions and anxieties of ordinary life are exposed, examined and amplified. He offers insight into what it is to be an actor and, I would say, what it is to be human.
Callow’s roles both in film (notably Four Weddings and a Funeral) and in theatre are too numerous to mention. But there are surely few who could step nimbly from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Woman in White, from playing Orlando in the National Theatre’s As You Like It to Dickens in Peter Ackroyd’s one-man show The Mystery of Charles Dickens – as well as directing operas such as Die Fledermaus and Così fan tutte. In addition to all this he is a seductive writer.
When I was eighteen, I wrote Laurence Olivier a letter. Hereplied, by return of post, inviting me to join the National Theatre company – in the box office. I accepted immediately,and as I crossed the foyer to be interviewed by the box office manager, I thought, crystal clear and without any sense of destiny about it: ‘One day I shall run this place.’
The essence of Callow is contained in that one little paragraph: first, in the way he skips over the fact that even as an 18-year-old his writing had the power to catch the attention of Laurence Olivier. What was in that letter? He never says. Second is his ability to create a theatrical moment as the young Callow crosses the foyer towards his future. Third is his honesty – no
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