17th September, 2005. Exclusive Interview with Richard.
is seven thirty and I am waiting in the lobby of the Hilton Park
Lane hotel. Richard Wilson promptly arrives clutching a Nike
cap and white cashmere scarf, a trademark disguise that seems more
comforting than effective. He is snappily dressed with a
wonderful multicolour handkerchief adorning his blazer pocket.
It is very difficult to feel uncomfortable in his presence and any
pre-interview jitters quickly fade as he warmly greets me with a
firm but welcoming handshake. He comments that I am the only
one in the lobby, inferring that the call I had made moments before
confirming where I was wasn't absolutely necessary. He is right of
course, but I don't admit I made the call out of anxiety just in
case he'd forgotten all about me.
Richard has just come back from New York where his play 'Primo' recently closed leaving a trail of rave reviews in its quake. He is not normally a fan of one man shows but Tony Sher's adaptation of Primo Levi's poignant 'If This Is A Man' won him over. He tells me that 'Primo' was initially staged at the Cottesloe theatre that seated only 90 people so when he and Tony Sher sought a suitable home for it in New York they took to the streets. When they eventually found the Music Box Theatre the 900 seat capacity was "quite daunting" compared to the intimacy of the Cottesloe. He needn't have worried, the play ran its course and the seats were reassuringly full throughout. The play was so well received that Tony agreed a short extension of the run, which is quite a feat in itself considering the difficulty of acting in a one man show. Richard was back in Scotland directing 'East Coast Chicken Supper' but took time out to fly back to New York for Tony's final performance. It was at that time (6.15am to be exact) when he got a call in his hotel room with news that East Coast had won a fringe first. Quite an impressive accolade for the first time writer Martin J. Taylor but you get the impression that Richard's influence on the play had helped it on towards that path.
Because of his initial feelings towards one man plays it is quite surprising that Richard awkwardly admits one of his favourite episodes of 'One Foot in the Grave' was a one man affair. He is quick to counter that the series would have been awful if it had ended up just being him. Another of his favourite episodes, 'the Beast in the Cage', was recently treated to a DVD commentary by Richard and its writer, David Renwick. "It is very difficult because you have to have the volume turned right down and also because it was filmed such a long time ago". The commentary was a first time experience for Richard who admits he didn't know what to say. I tell him it was a pleasure to listen to and he gives me the news that more commentaries are to accompany the next DVD release. "It was a very difficult episode to film" he says. The window screen of the car had been removed for the duration of the filming and being winter Richard kept a hot water bottle between his legs to keep warm. I am reminded of the episode and how easily persuaded I was that the time was midst summer. "Getting the continuity right was the most difficult part" he notes. "It was the oncoming traffic on the other side that caused most of the problems".
I ask Richard if he minds me taking a couple of photos to go with the interview. He doesn't mind one bit and tells me to take a few more just in case. I snap away quite happily and am surprised how adept he is at being photographed, managing to pop a convincing smile with the deftness and speed of a gunslinger each time the flash goes off whilst continuing unabated on the topic of discussion.
We are talking about his recent role in two episodes of 'Doctor who', playing 'Doctor Constantine' in 'the Empty Child' and 'the Doctor Dances'. I comment that I unfortunately missed most of the series and he quipped "I hope you watched mine!" to which I reply "of course". At the time he received an impossible amount of fan mail relating to the program. He was even asked to give a speech about 'Doctor Who' at a conference but he had to turn it down. "I was never a fan of 'Doctor Who' before so I wouldn't know what to say". He tells me that David Renwick is the true fan of the Doctor and has all of the videos that go with such fandom. I spotted a repeat of 'the Empty Child' the previous evening and he tells me about the royalty fees he gets for the repeats even from programs he hardly recalls, one such repeat gave him 80 pence from Dubai. Another recent program, 'Star Portraits', saw Richard sitting for three well known artists. Initially apprehensive about the whole affair, Richard eventually agreed to the program after watching another episode of the same series. He chose the piece by his namesake, Richard Brazier, believing it to be the most truthful reflection of his personality although he was very taken with the quality of the other artists work. He even confirms that he has managed to find the perfect place for the painting though he still feels a little awkward about having his own portrait at home. However, he doesn't give me any clues as to where this hanging place might be.
Along with his approaching role of Baron Hardup in New Wimbledon Theatre's 'Cinderella'(1) is another piece he is working on. He asks if I know what body dysmorphic disorder is. I admit I haven't the faintest idea, so he tells me. It is a psychiatric disorder where the victim desperately needs a seemingly healthy limb amputated. I am reminded of another of Richard's productions called 'Changing Step', a moving story about war amputee's. Most of the cast were amputees in real life because of past/present illness and injury and most were not trained actors. His insistence on such realism as well as the risk in using untrained actors is another reason why his work is often profoundly moving and this is testament to his skills as a director. I tell him I have heard of the disorder but hadn't given it much consideration, my ignorance being reflective of society today and the perfect reason for such a plays existence. His play is set to analyse the whole process and his ideas on how this can be done on stage are very interesting although technically frightening.
Whilst we talk a lady at a nearby table puffs on a cigarette. I ask Richard if he ever feels the urge but as a reformed smoker of almost thirty years Richard is definite on his views on this topic. He jokes "Make them stand outside so people can look at them for a change". On a more serious note he comments "They can chose to smoke in a restaurant like this, but I can't choose not to breath their smoke". He adds "I hate the smell of smoke" and I note to myself that the smoker at the nearby table probably hates the smell too, since she is holding her cigarette as far away from her table as possible encroaching into our personal space.
I wonder what Richard makes of the latest trend of drama on our screens. He definitely thinks there is a downwards trend towards the cheaper alternative to good drama, that of the reality television show. His thoughts on 'Big Brother' aren't complimentary although he does like the 'X Factor' series though he admits he shouldn't. He even feels for the contestants who believe they have nothing else in life to give. What about a cameo role in 'Coronation Street'? If the part was right and the script well written who knows!
We move on to the topic of the Royal Court Theatre where Richard is currently associate director. I mention that I haven't watched any of its plays nor visited it for a quick peep, to which he responds "You must!" with feigned distress followed by a cheeky smile and a twinkle in his eye. I think to myself that I really must make plans to do just that. Speaking of his career that has led up to this point he remarks that he has an extraordinary sense of luck in life to which, I argue, isn't true in his case and that some people are just good at what they do. He doesn't respond but I can see in his eyes the lingering doubt that has plagued him since he was a child. Asked what his worst memory of childhood was he tells me he desperately wanted to be fatter. "I was a very skinny adenoidal boy". I ask him what about his childhood hometown of Greenock and he recalls his fondest memory being its green hills and the surrounding countryside. He keeps trying to persuade himself to get a place in the country, but the fear of being isolated and at risk from burglary keeps his plans at bay. I notice that he seems remarkably grounded for someone who has achieved so much recognition for his work.
And unfortunately the evening draws to an end as Richard tells me he is "pooped" and so books a taxi telling me if he were to venture outside to hail a taxi he would be lynched. As we leave the restaurant he don's his disguise just as a photographer pounces. The shutter winks away at the speed of light before I know what is happening. But out of the corner of my eye I am sure I see Richard beat the camera with his lighting quick gunslinger smile.
(1). Cinderella is showing at the New Wimbledon Theatre from the 9th Dec 2005 - 15 Jan 2006. Click here for more information.