English actor talks fame, adoration and his love of frocks
Congratulations on winning Variety magazine’s ‘International Star of the Year’ award, as just presented by fellow Brit Carey Mulligan. Thank you. When I say I’ve been calling my friends to let them know, I mean I have been calling them endlessly to boast about it. There was a moment when I seriously contemplated being modest about it.
What are you initial thoughts on Dubai and the festival? Two days ago I got on a plane in the UK, clutching my hand luggage with frostbitten fingers. Six hours later I was inhaling the sultry air in this magnificent city that I’ve now been to for the first time. If that’s not testament to the power of film to transport one both mentally and geographically, then I don’t know what is. There’s something so strong about this festival – I think about 45 nationalities are involved.
You star in The King’s Speech, based on the story of how King George VI overcame his stutter. Did you do a lot or research, or have the chance to consult the royal family? We had a very strange mixture of limited and vast information that could be helpful, but could just be gossip. We didn’t get an opportunity to hang around with the royals. If I was playing a cab driver I could be one for a day, but you can’t really rule the country temporarily.
Your grandparents were missionaries and your parents were lecturers. When did you tell them you wanted to become an actor? One day when I was 14. I disliked school and loved prancing about in frocks as child. If I hadn’t succeeded as an actor, I’d probably be some burlesque queen – I just had to have a life where I could put make-up on.
You had success very early on with a West End play at the age of 23, as well as your first feature film. I was lucky enough to be cast in the right role in the right play at the right age. It was called Another Country, about English public school boys, and had already won numerous awards – it was practically a cult. People used to flock to see it wearing the costumes. It was the play that discovered Rupert Everett, Kenneth Branagh and Daniel Day-Lewis. It was quite a factory for a generation of English male actors. They just happened to be making a film for it that year. Rupert was cast in the lead already, so I got the other part.
You’ve already had an acting career of 25 years – have you been surprised by the direction it has taken? Well, things don’t happen when you expect them to.
How do you cope with all the female adoration and attention? I seem to be coping. The King’s Speech is out in UAE cinemas in late February.