I’ve always considered myself a working actress and like about 98 per cent of my fellow thespians spend a great deal of time ‘resting’ involuntarily. It therefore irks when great swaths of the media refer to actors disparagingly as ‘luvvies’ and represent us as parasites and people who love swanning around and dressing up. I’ve just started rehearsing Full Circle with the nicest, most hardworking and dedicated group of people you could find, and that is how I’ve found most actors to be. Because they love working in a vastly overcrowded profession, they often get paid far too little. For rehearsing six days a week, eight hours a day, and often spending extra hours going to fittings and learning lines, we are all receiving the Equity minimum of just over £300 a week, which is a lot compared with a pensioner’s £102 per week, but I believe is on the low average means of the nation and certainly a complete joke when compared with my accountant’s sum of £650 an hour! However, and according to the distinguished theatre director Stephen Daldry, when Jane Root, controller of BBC2 (earning, I’m sure, far beyond Equity scale) deems the Olivier awards — where the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Kevin Spacey, Maureen Lipman, Ross Kemp, Anita Dobson, Lee Evans, Richard Wilson and Joan Plowright were presenters and honorees — as being ‘not worthy of televising’, I really must ask, was it because no one was prepared to flash their boobs?
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Archibald Leach. Born in Bristol in 1904, Cary Grant became an incomparable movie star. I truly believe there is no modern screen actor today who comes close to him in terms of looks, humour and charisma. Certainly there have been more talented actors — Brando, De Niro, Hackman — but C.G. was in a magical class all of his own. Watching him on a plane last week sparring brilliantly with Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story was like taking a master class in comedic acting. Even the transatlantic turbulence was forgotten as I admired these two unforgettable icons. Happy birthday, Archie Leach — we miss you.
Pickings are extremely thin on the ground for this year’s Oscars. I don’t particularly like any of the nominated films and the couple I thought had merit did not get a look-in. However, there is one stand-out performance in an excellent movie. Charlize Theron in Monster gives simply the best performance I’ve seen since De Niro’s in Raging Bull. Shorn of her make-up and eyebrows, wearing false ugly teeth with a mottled complexion and stringy hair; and having gained 30 pounds, this ravishing beauty is nothing less than astonishing in not only her physical but her character transformation as well — this performance goes far beyond last year’s prosthetic nose. If the Academy Award voters don’t give Charlize the gong for best actress next week, then there ain’t no justice.
On the subject of performances, the great musical comedy star Ethel Merman recently had a London musical written about her entitled Call me Merman, which I heard thrilled audiences out in Islington and which I’m sorry I missed. Merman was not only a great belting performer but also a pretty witty lady, as evinced by this exchange between herself and her then husband, whom she loathed, Ernest Borgnine. Upon returning home after an audition with a producer, Borgnine asked Merman, ‘So, what did he say about your 50-year-old face?’
‘He thought I looked just fine,’ replied Merman.
‘And what did he say about your 50-year-old tits?’ he asked.
‘He said they looked fine, thank you,’ she replied.
‘And what did he say about your 50-year-old asshole?’ he asked.
‘He didn’t mention you,’ came the reply.
Travelling in the United States is becoming more and more tedious, particularly the endless and intrusive security procedures. I’m often unlucky enough to be picked out for those euphemistically titled ‘special searches’ (due to my obvious resemblance to Mr bin Laden, no doubt) and I try to endure them with stoic indifference as I stand there, coatless, shoeless, hatless and sunglass-less, arms akimbo rather like a scarecrow while the officer wearing the grim, sadistic expression of an Alcatraz security guard runs what looks very much like a cattle prod far too close for comfort to one’s private parts. It is not what I would term a good look, particularly if some sly soul who’s just gone through the procedure sneakily takes a couple of snaps on his cell phone, which he’ll invariably email to his mates. Nevertheless, refusing to do a Diana Ross, I close my eyes and think of England while the contents of every piece of carry-on are examined minutely. At one airport in the States recently, an amiable searcher, having examined the contents of my jewellery case in detail, remarked pleasantly, if a bit too loudly, ‘You got some nice stuff there!’ While his partner nodded in agreement, I yelped, ‘It’s all fake!’ ‘Looks good to me!’ his partner said. I spent the rest of the flight imagining thieves under every seat.
Although I can’t blame airport security for being extra vigilant these days, it can nevertheless be despotically extreme, as demonstrated by the minor horror story I was told when leaving LA last weekend. A well-known woman was about to walk through the X-ray machine holding her 18-month-old infant when she was stopped by a brusque security guard. ‘Can he walk?’ he inquired of the infant.
‘He’s just learning,’ she replied.
‘If he can walk then he’s got to walk across by himself — that’s the rules,’ he stated with the authority of a Gestapo commandant. ‘Put him down.’
‘But he doesn’t like walking,’ protested the poor woman, as the baby was wrenched from her arms and stood on its feet. Bedlam ensued — the poor little chap started bawling his brave little lungs out as the frantic mother was rushed through the sensor to encourage him to follow her, which he steadfastly refused to do, unable to comprehend why he’d been so unceremoniously dumped on the floor. In protest he plonked himself down on the ground, still screaming, while a gaggle of adults, including the security guards, tried to coax him through. In spite of his mother’s continued protestations that he was not ready for this terrifying toddler trial, the officials insisted and after several minutes of cajoling the distraught infant managed to cross the barrier on his own, after which point he had to be thoroughly body-searched because the rivets in his little jeans had set the sensors off. Meanwhile, several turbaned gentlemen were allowed through without the barest flicker of the fairy wand, much less the request to remove their headgear.