Transcript of Michael Parkinson's Radio 2 interview with Charles Dance

January 24th 1999

(First 20 seconds of interview were missed)

CD: ----- this week, the last ten days, there hasn't been a newspaper that hasn't had a piece in it -----

MP: No.
CD: ----- about it. The critics, I think, by and large have been -- have reviewed the film quite favorably. One or two people haven't. The -- the negative response to the film has come from people who knew Jacqueline du Pre professionally mostly. But the film is called "Hilary and Jackie", it's not called "Julian and Jackie" or "Yehudi and Jackie". Do you know?

MP: Yes.
CD: It is called "Hilary and Jackie", and it's taken from the book written by Hilary and her brother, Piers du Pre, about what it was like growing up with Jacqueline du Pre, the relationship that they had, and the effect that genius has on the victim of genius, because genius finds you, you know? I mean, you're -- you're born with a great talent or genius and it sits on your back and drives you. And it's difficult, I think, if you possess a gift like that, and it's equally difficult for people around you.

MP: Mm.
CD: And I think that's what the book tells you and what the film attempts to tell you, and I think it does that quite successfully.

MP: You read the book before you took the part?
CD: Yes, I did. Yeah.

MP: You -- you play the part of Jacqueline du Pre's father, of course.
CD: Yeah, a cameo. A telling cameo I hope, but a cameo.

MP: (Laughter) And what sort of a man was he, then? How -- how did -- did genius refract on -- or reflect, rather, on him?
CD: There's a -- a very useful paragraph towards the end of the book written by Hilary, I think, because the alternate chapters in the book are from Hilary's and Piers' contribution (Inaudible), and I think it was Hilary who summed her father up and said, "He was a deeply sensitive man who could be hurt by the most innocent of remarks, a kind, loving man who realised towards -- as Jacqueline became more successful that the most effective role that he could take was that of a supportive person." Which he did basically, I mean, he sort of retreated to the background and was there and was supportive and -- because mother was a very strong woman, and apart from having a reasonable talent on the piano-accordian, I gather -----

MP: (Laughter)
CD: ----- as a young man, Derek du Pre was not a gifted musician in the way that his wife and two daughters were.

MP: Yeah.
CD: So, you know, he was there to carry the case, the cello case, when it was required of him, to -- to be supportive, which I think he was. A loving kind man, but a deeply sensitive man, so I mean, that's what I tried to do.

MP: Was it -- was it in any sense in -- the period it was set in, which is the -- sort of the forties -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: ----- was it in any way evocative of your -- your own growing up in -- in that sort of period?
CD: It was -- it was evocative in as much as it was, I think, quite a claustrophobic upbringing.

MP: Which is what you had?
CD: Yeah, oh yes, indeed. Yeah. I did a -- an interview recently (Daily Mail) that -- to promote this film, which is why anybody with any -- the only reason anybody with any sense does interviews and things, newspapers, because it sometimes can be quite a painful experience, and I did a piece with a woman from the Mail, and it -- it was from -- in my opinion one of the best interviews I've ever done in as much as she wrote what I said.

MP: Yeah.
CD: And she created an environment in which I said things that I don't think I've ever said before, and I kept saying to this woman, "This is turning into a therapy session." It was extraordinary, the things that I was coming out with. But yes, I did have quite a claustrophobic upbringing. But there wasn't any music in -- in my house. Very few books. My mother worked from the age of 14 till almost the day she died. She married the lodger after my father had died, and he was a good, kind man. I never knew very much about him; he didn't seem to have any friends, his family had all died. He spent a great part of his life trying to do -- well, 'trying to do' -- he did the football pools.

MP: (Laughter)
CD: But he did it with a most elaborate system. He could tell you the result of Man United and Everton in 1925 or some -- all these books, you know, and he'd go back and -- and -----

MP: (Laughter)
CD: ----- he was forever saying to my mother -- (Laughter) -- he was a bit of a Walter Mitty -- he -- he used to say, "This season, darling, we're going to get it" -- dear -- dear he used to call her, dear -- "This season, dear, treble chance this season, dear." Hours and hours he used to put into doing these systems. I think he -- I think he won about £500 in his life.

MP: (Laughter)
CD: Terribly sad.

MP: It's -- it's int -- I was fascinated in reading -- I read that piece, and I was reading about -- about your background, you see, what we see on screen -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: ----- is this chap who, to all intents and purposes, came from a different background.
CD: Yeah.

MP: We assume that -- I had assumed that you'd gone to public school -----
CD: Mm.

MP: ----- that you'd been born of middle class or upper middle class parents -----
CD: Right.

MP: ----- and that you kind of swanned through life.
CD: Right.

MP: Now, you read this and your mother was a -- was a waitress, she worked below stairs -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: ----- to start with -----
CD: Sure.

MP: ----- she was -- she was from the East End of London -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: ----- she was a -- a nippy.
CD: Yeah.

MP: You know, all that stuff, and it's -- it's quite -- it's quite remarkable. I mean, it makes the -- the -- you wonder how the -- where the child came from.
CD: Where the child came from?

MP: Yes, I mean, you know, the -- the way -- how the child developed into the man from that background, from that -- from that -- I mean, what were the aspirations -- there's no books in the house, there's no music -----
CD: No.

MP: ----- nothing like that -----
CD: No.

MP: ----- so what was it -- the -- the aspiration? Where did you get that from? Or was it there, or did it happen by chance?
CD: I don't know. I never really knew my father. My mother told me a bit, that -- that he used to do musical recitations and things, you know, concert parties and such -----

MP: Yeah.
CD: ----- and I don't know, I was -- I was always fascinated by actors and acting. I worshipped Steve McQueen as a kid.

MP: Oh, I did too.
CD: You know, I mean, he wasn't the greatest actor in the world -----

MP: No.
CD: ----- but he was a phenomenal star, wasn't he? And I would go and see anything that Steve McQueen was in.

MP: Yeah.
CD: And then a little later Peter Finch was an actor I greatly admired.

MP: Mm.
CD: And it -- I -- I knew at about 19 that was what I wanted to do, and it was a great sense of relief that I realised what I wanted to do, well, 'cause I was floundering around like most of us do in our adolescence, you know.

MP: But did you want -- did you want to be an actor or Steve McQueen?
CD: Well, I wanted to be an actor.

MP: Who looked like Steve McQueen?
CD: (Laughter) Possibly, because I know I don't look anything like Steve McQueen, but this whole business of -- you know, you -- there's the public perception -----

MP: Mm.
CD: ----- is what I think has caused the controversy with this film, "Hilary and Jackie" because, you know, we all have public and private faces and there are situations and environments when we reveal our private face, but most of the time we have a public face, whether people are in the public eye or whether they're doing a job where they're not in the public eye.

MP: Sure, yeah.
CD: Do you know?

MP: Yeah, sure.
CD: And the complaints that people have made about the film saying, "This is not the Jacqueline du Pre I knew" -- well, no. They knew another Jacqueline du Pre.

MP: Mm.
CD: This is the Jacqueline du Pre that Hilary du Pre -----

MP: Mm.
CD: ----- and her brother Piers knew.

MP: Mm.
CD: And if you don't like it, well, tough shit basically.

MP: (Laughter) I better go and see it!
CD: Yeah.

MP: All right, well, talking about tortured geniuses, I mean, this next lady was one such: Billie Holiday.
CD: Oh, yeah!

MP: And one of the great artists of the 20th century, mind you -----
CD: Indeed.

MP: ----- but -- well, she had many faces too. Billie Holiday.

(Music break)

MP: That was the wonderful Billie Holiday. My special guest this morning is Charles Dance. Charles, you -- you've done a lot of movies actually. You've been to Hollywood and -- also I didn't realise (Inaudible) that you actually turned down the James Bond part.
CD: No.

MP: Ah.
CD: On the advice of my agent at the time, I declined the invitation to screentest.

MP: Ah, ha ha ha. And did you regret that? Have you changed agents since?
CD: Yes, but not because of that. I -- I think I probably do regret it actually. (Laughter) But I think both her and I, I have to say, were -- were probably being a little grand at the time. I can remember it. It was a very sunny day in July when she rang me and said, "Well, it's happened, darling," -- you know, the offer -- "Don't -- please don't do it. Please don't do it." I said, "Oh, all right," then I thought, "Why not?" (Laughter) Anyway, I didn't 'cause -- well.

MP: You'd have been the first red-headed James Bond.
CD: Yes, yes.

MP: That would have been the blow for redheads everywhere, because it's not only being -- having red hair is -- again, I read about -- you were talking about that saying that -- that limits you in a sense in -- in casting and that sort of thing. Or it affects people's virtual view of you.
CD: Yes, well, ginger hair has always been -- has always caused comment. Derisory usually. It -- it's very strange, you know, and the producer of "Rebecca", Jonathan Powell of Carlton -- and I mean, he won't mind my telling you this I'm sure, he said when it was decided that I was going to do it, to play Maxim de Winter, he said, "Oh, we can't possibly have a ginger-haired Maxim. Dye his hair, dye his hair." And I went through this ridiculous palaver and then I eventually put my foot down and said, "Look, this is crazy," you know? But it -- people have this strange idea -----

MP: Yeah, yeah.
CD: ----- you know. I mean, my wife tells me that there was a time when she swore that she would never marry somebody with ginger hair.

MP: (Laughter)
CD: You know.

MP: Terrible prejudice.
CD: But good or ill she did, yes.

MP: Did that come after the -- the offer for James Bond? Did that come out of the -- the Granada "Jewel in the Crown" series?
CD: What, "Rebecca"?

MP: No, no, no, no. The James Bond. It was shortly after that, I mean?
CD: Yes. Yeah.

MP: I mean, that -- that was extraordinary the way that propelled you, fueled your overnight success. You'd been a while in the background still learning your craft -----
CD: Sure.

MP: ----- Royal Shakespeare Company and all that sort of thing. It -- when you see that back, and I watched the replay of it actually -----
CD: Mm.

MP: ----- it's interesting -- it is the kind of programme actually that doesn't get made nowadays, doesn't it?
CD: No, it doesn't, no. Well, there is a view held by the makers of television programmes now that -- that audiences won't -- they have such a short attention span that they won't sit through things like that.

MP: Mm.
CD: Well, they do.

MP: Mm, they do.
CD: They did and they do.

MP: Mm.
CD: But it was -- I think it was made for something like £6M, 14 hours of high quality television film. I wish programmes like that still could be made, but -- maybe they can but there's -- there's a reluctance to make them, and I'm not quite sure why.

MP: There's a -- I mean, that propelled you into a different level of course, and -----
CD: Well, it was my break, sure.

MP: ----- it changed you, didn't it?
CD: Sure.

MP: Changed -- changed everything and took you toward that ambition that you had to -- to be the actor and the film star as well, the Steve McQueen life, you know, you went to Hollywood. Did -- did you like it? Were you disappointed by it when you got there or what?
CD: Well, I regard L.A. as -- as a -- as a location.

MP: Yes.
CD: You know, which is what it is really, and I tend to go wherever the work is, and wherever that is depends by and large on how well off I am at the time.

MP: (Laughter)
CD: So if somebody says, you know, "Come to L.A. and do this pile of junk for an enormous amount of money," if I need the money at the time, you know, we've all got bills to pay, then that's where I go and do it, you know. If somebody says, "Come to Mexico and do this thing for £1.9M," if I can afford to do it, off I go and do it. I would hate to be in Los Angeles and be out of work.

MP: Mm.
CD: I've never wanted to go over there and hang out, you know.

MP: Mm, mm.
CD: There's too many people who do that.

MP: When you -- when -- it's interesting, when you do something which know is a load of junk -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: ----- and all of us have done that -----
CD: Mm.

MP: ----- do you approach it in the same way as you would a masterpiece? Do you ever go into it with the same determination to make the best out of it, or do you say -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: You do?
CD: Yeah.

MP: Yeah, yeah.
CD: You have to.

MP: Yeah.
CD: Unfortunately.

MP: Yes.
CD: It -- it consumes an enormous amount of energy trying to make a silk purse out of a pig's ear.

MP: Yeah.
CD: And on those rare occasions where you've got a silk purse and you don't have to expend that energy, then you can concentrate on the acting, you know.

MP: So in a sense it's more difficult to do junk than it is the -- the really good parts?
CD: Oh, God, yes, it is. I mean, there's some stuff I've done and I -- I can remember being on a set and listening to the director, who was an extremely well-educated man, articulate, intelligent, has done some good work in his time, and some of the comments that were being made about the work that was being done on the set, I thought, "What happens when these people go home at night? Do they shut the door, breathe a huge sigh relief, say to their wife, lover or whoever, 'My God, what a pile of crap this is!' and they sit down, you know, and have a decent supper and read a good book or something, or do they keep it going for fear that maybe their house is bugged -----

MP: (Laughter)
CD: ----- you know, an off-guard remark might tread on the goose that's laying the golden egg?"...and I suspect they keep it up.

MP: Yeah. All right, let's take a break. Van Morrison.

(Music/ad break)

MP: My special guest this morning is Charles Dance. We're talking about the new film that he's made about the life story of Jacqueline du Pre, "Hilary and Jackie". Let's talk a little bit about -- about the Hollywood days because, as you say, when you were this boy you wanted -- McQueen was your great hero and that, you know, Hollywood beckoned and -- and all that. When you got there and started working with -- with people, I mean, did you find that they were just like you really or were they -- I mean, you worked with -- for instance, I've got this guy, Warren Beatty, on the show on Thur -- on Friday.
CD: Yeah, yeah.

MP: On my telly show. Now, you worked with him, didn't you, or you met him in Hollywood?
CD: I sort of worked with him. Steven Spielberg, a couple of years before he made "Schindler's List", had a reading of his script, and I was in Los Angeles at the time and -- and he rang up various agents and asked if so-and-so was available could they go over to his office that afternoon and have tea and sit around and read the script. I said, "Yes, absolutely," because when 'Schindler's Ark' as it was called was first published I had tried to get the rights to it -- I know that Jeremy Irons did, numerous other people did, and Spielberg had snapped it up in manuscript form of course so -- and sat on it for years. Anyway, this script was finally surfacing, and I went around, and I think I read Amon Goeth that Ralph Fiennes played in the film, and Steven Berkoff was there reading assorted Nazis, Alan Arkin was reading them the part that Ben Kingsley played, and a whole host of really very good actors, and we're all sat around this table. Anyway, we assembled in this room and there was a sumptious buffet laid on and in comes little Steven, you know, and he's talking to everybody, "Hi, how're you doing?" and Warren Beatty was reading Oscar Schindler, and in comes Warren and, you know, I -- he was a huge star when I was at school -----

MP: Sure.
CD: ----- and I felt I have to go and schmooze this man -----

MP: (Laughter)
CD: ----- 'cause that's what you do in those situations, you know. And -- (laughter) -- and -- but before I could get across the room, he made his way through all these people, everybody was there, he focused on me, came right across the room, shook my hand and said, "Hi, Charles. Love your work."

MP: (Laughter)
CD: I thought, "I've just been seduced by Warren Beatty." But there's a little more to this. He sat down beside me at this reading, and there's a scene in the film where Liam Neeson as Oscar Schindler draws up for the first time at the gates of Amon Goeth’s camp, and winds down the window and he says to the guard (with a German accent): "Good afternoon, my name is Oscar Schindler. I've come to see Commandant Goeth." Well, in this version, Warren Beatty's Oscar Schindler draws up at the gate, winds down the window and says, "Hi, how're you doing? I'm Oscar Schindler." (Laughter)

MP: (Laughter)
CD: But you -- you know, in American terms it sort of worked, you know, but -----

MP: (Laughter) He's as unlikely as Oscar Schindler as -----
CD: Well, but he's such a charmer.

MP: Oh, yeah.
CD: Such a charmer.

MP: Yeah, he is that.
CD: But I mean, I guess he's -- he's as unlikely as Oscar Schindler for our perception of -- of that piece as Robert Redford would be as Denys Finch-Hatton in "Out of Africa".

MP: Yeah.
CD: But the American audience perception -----

MP: Mm.
CD: ----- of Redford is this guy who lives on a mountain in Utah and that's where he goes, he doesn't hang around Hollywood, and he's a great environmentalist and people don't know very much about his private life, and perfect casting -----

MP: Mm.
CD: ----- for Denys Finch-Hatton.

MP: Mm.
CD: He's about as like as Denys Finch-Hatton as, you know, I don't know -----

MP: And you -- you -----
CD: ----- I am to Barbara Windsor, say.

MP: Or Shirley MacLaine.
CD: Or Shirley MacLaine, indeed.

MP: I mean, Warren Beatty's sister again you worked with as well, didn't you?
CD: Yes, I did, yeah.

MP: (Inaudible).
CD: Yeah.

MP: She gets increasingly -- I love her, but she gets increasingly eccentric.
CD: Yes, she is. Wildly eccentric, but I -- I fell in love with Shirley MacLaine when I saw "The Apartment".

MP: Mm, mm.
CD: Wonderful movie, but again I -- I was a kid at school and she was a huge star -----

MP: Yeah.
CD: ----- before I even thought about coming into this business.

MP: Yes.
CD: And to work with somebody like that, you know, I mean, I never cease to be dazzled by that sort of stardom.

MP: No?
CD: And I hope never will be.

MP: Still have a sense of wonder?
CD: Oh, yes.

MP: All right, well, the -- the film, as I said, "Hilary and Jackie", that's doing the rounds at present and -----
CD: Mm.

MP: ----- and you've got another one. You've got Bill Kenwright's first -- or the first movie he's produced -----
CD: Yes, indeed.

MP: ----- coming out soon?
CD: Yes, the rise and rise of Bill Kenwright.

MP: (Laughter)
CD: I -- I can't tell you much about it, I mean, other than -- it -- it's a romantic comedy which I've yet to see so I don't know whether it's worked or not, I'm sure it has, that opens I think February the 4th.

MP: I think that's right, we've got Bill on about that time -----
CD: Right.

MP: ----- actually, he'll be -----
CD: At the Odeon Leicester Square.

MP: Mm.
CD: And I did -- I did two films back-to-back in London, which is something I haven't done for a long time, both comedies. One was a film called "What Rats Won't Do", directed by a friend of mine called Allistair Reid, and -- and then I did Bill Kenwright's film, the -- whose working title was "Us Begins With You" and now I think it's called "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".

MP: That's right.
CD: And both enormous fun to do, both for -- eventually for Polygram. Now, Polygram a few months ago decided to dispose of their film arm, and the producers of "What Rats Won't Do" I think didn't have the inclination or the energy to get behind this film so "What Rats Won't Do" was sold off to Sky, and had its airing on Sky Television, and that was it and will never be seen on -- on the big screen. Kenwright, of course -- and I don't think anybody else could do this -- this is Bill Kenwright's first film, he manages to get the Odeon Leicester Square, the most prestigious venue for a premiere, the after-screen party at Claridge's, it's opening in 200 screens across the land, you know? He's incredible, Kenwright, he really is.

MP: He's wonderful, yeah, yeah. That's a Liverpool boy for you, 'cause he -----
CD: I -- yes, I -----

MP: ----- (Inaudible) (Laughter) -----
CD: ----- yes, I guess so. I guess so.

MP: Now, he's remarkable -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: ----- (Inaudible) I mean, you know, he's kept the greater part of the London theatre open too for the past 10 years.
CD: He has, indeed. Oh, yes.

MP: It's a very remarkable -----
CD: Yeah.

MP: ----- achievement. Charles Dance, thank you very much indeed. I've -- I've much enjoyed -----
CD: Michael, it's been a pleasure.

MP: ----- much enjoyed talking to you. This is -- have you ever heard of the singer called Eva Cassidy?
CD: No.

MP: Well, I do recommend her to you. She's a -- a young American singer who sadly died when she was in her early thirties, and they've revived some tapes that she made -----
CD: Right.

MP: ----- and I think she's got a wonderful voice. This is a new album that she's released on the back of the -- the first release which includes that wonderful version of "Over the Rainbow" which we played on the show. This from the second album is called "Cheek to Cheek".

(Music break and end)

(Thanks, Gaddy, for clearing up those inaudibles! M.)

© 1999 BBC Radio 2

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