Evening News (7 April 2001)

Submitted by Mimi

Not so merry Dance

THE honey-blond hair may be a little thinner and the lines beneath those distinctive blue eyes are deeper, but Charles Dance still cuts quite a dash when he enters the room. So why is it that this imposing star has apparently been shunned by TV bosses?

Despite landing a role in ITV's lavish adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, Dance insists he's almost a stranger to the small screen. "I can't get arrested in British television," asserts the man whose whole career exploded when he made a massive impact as Sergeant Guy Perron in the 1984 smash TV hit Jewel In The Crown, which led to him being dubbed the British Robert Redford.

"It's not that they can't afford me. It's just that now you've got to have been in a long-running series, or a soap for the people who say 'yea', or 'nay' to decide whether you're worth having in a TV drama.

"I'm now of an age that I can play parts I was too young for before and I wish I could get offered more stuff that takes me away from being 'suave and debonair'."

Dance's only recent TV role was in an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca a couple of years ago and now in Nicholas Nickleby he plays wicked Uncle Ralph, the miserly money-lender who sets hapless young Nicholas on the road to ruin. "He is such a depressing character," says the actor. "OK, it's not as heavy as working down a coal mine - but it's heavy. He's a miserable old bugger, a man worn down by his meanness. It's difficult to find any redeeming features in him but, thankfully, it takes me about three seconds to get out of a character like that - you have to."

The role does make Dance more cheerful about his TV prospects though. "I hope it ups my ratings at the network centre," he says. "I just wish I could get offered different parts.

"I am by no means suave and debonair and I don't have an iota of class - I'm quite common actually. It's something I'm employed to do and I do it reasonably well so I get asked to do it again.

"In Hollywood they say, 'Oh Gawd, Charles, I can't possibly make you a valet or a butler - look at you for Christ sakes!' But I'd love to play the outcast."

Dance, now 54, was born in Worcester. His father was an engineer and died when he was a small child and his mother struggled to raise him, at one time working in the once famous Lyons Corner House cafes.

After leaving art school - where he met his wife Jo with whom he now has two grown-up children - he filled his time with odd jobs, but his heart was in amateur dramatics and drama lessons.

It paid off and he landed a stint at the Royal Shakespeare Company where he soon made his mark in classical roles such as Henry V and Coriolanus. His imposing physique even got Bond film executives interested in seeing him in 1981 - three years before Jewel In The Crown.

"My agent was approached to ask if I'd screen test," he reveals. "Probably wrongly we said no. There were worries about being typecast - which was probably a mistake at the time - and one would have to start worrying about retaining one's looks.

"I'd have had to start getting toupees and face lifts. But I'd rather nature took its course and does what it has to do. I may moan about it, but I'd rather go with it and deal with less hair and bags under the eyes without taking any remedial measures."

He is best known for playing the handsome lead in a variety of Hollywood films including White Mischief and Plenty and recently completed a West End run of Eugene O'Neill's play Long Day's Journey Into Night.

Now, however, he wants to be seen more on the small screen, playing parts that might take viewers by surprise. "Television has changed a lot. There is less time and less money, but given the right people it can look sensational. "I know that if I'd been more ruthlessly ambitious I'd have taken more advantage of the success of Jewel In The Crown. But if a good script comes along, with a good director, in a nice location, with nice people, that's what I'll do. "I don't think much about what something will 'lead to' - that doesn't mean I don't have regrets, but there is no point worrying about things you can't change."

Dance's next project is to join a galaxy of stars in Robert Altman's film Gosford Park and surprise, surprise, he plays an aristocrat.

"It is with Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, all sorts of wonderful people," he says. "We will probably all be just glorified extras with half a dozen scenes each."

But it is work and the one thing Dance admits he can't cope with is idleness. "About five years ago I had a spell of about 18 months doing absolutely nothing. For two or three months it was out of choice, then the choices dried up. "I had read about it happening to other actors and then it happened to me and it is difficult.

"Actors are actors because they need to act - I am driven by it."

The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby starts tomorrow on Scottish at 9pm. The concluding second part is on the following week.

© 2001 Olivia Convey for Evening News

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