My childhood was a strange dichotomy. I grew up with two parents who hated each other, should never have got married and who spent my childhood and some of my adult life at war each other. All this could and possibly should have crushed my spirit, but it didn’t. I think the main reason was that although my parents disliked each other, they adored me and seemed to spend almost every waking hour nurturing and encouraging me. On top of which they were both highly individual, very talented and intelligent people. So I grew up a mixture of supreme confidence, mixed with the inevitable people pleasing anxiety, but with strong empathy and imagination…..the battleground never crushed my spirit and I developed a ruthless determination to survive and succeed. I dreamed my way through much of the turmoil of growing up.
I recognised, some of these traits in many of the outstanding actors I worked with. The main ones being an unconquerable spirit, the ability to dream, the will to keep going and not too much egotism. All this brings me to the great Peter O’Toole. I believe Peter had a very happy childhood and he was devoted to his sister and the memory of his departed parents. His spirit and belief and passion for what he was doing….acting…was very, very powerful. He simply loved it. The Lion in Winter came to him by accident. He was slated to do a film with Producer Joseph E. Levine after his successes with Lawrence of Arabia and Becket and the project fell through (poor script) and he had to fill the time slot. Levine agreed to do The Lion in Winter if Peter could persuade Katharine Hepburn to do the film….he did ….flying to LA to do so….he hated flying…..described every landing as an organised crash!
Katharine agreed if he personally oversaw the casting of the five other main actors, me and the four young men. Peter personally tested with every actor considered for the role, must have been at least 30-50 film tests….such was his determination and passion for the project. His stamina and spirit were unquenchable. He also faced prejudice and jealousy from many in and out of the business. We all know his drinking was legendary and there were pub fights with strangers who wanted to pick a fight with him, just so that some could say they “decked” O’Toole. He lost the tip of his finger filming Lion in Winter…it somehow got broken off during the scene when Katharine arrives on the barge, Peter laughed and picked up the tip of the finger, took it and got it stitched back on.. He also suffered from from very bad back pain….. a lot of his physical issues came from filming Lawrence of Arabia where he damaged his eyes, looking into the sun and his back riding the camels, but he never complained, he just got on with the job and was an amazing example to all of us in terms of of perseverance and determination. I learned so much from this man…..to keep my eyes still and how to control nerves on camera, among other things. The main thing was how to be completely believable on screen and about how to maintain the ongoing inner energy that gives life to what you’re doing and makes it exciting for the audience to watch. I could write a lot more about the incomparable O’Toole, but enough for now, except he was the most inspiring, generous and extraordinary actor, I ever had the privilege to work with.
I will write more about Katharine Hepburn and a little about Anthony Hopkins, although Tony and I never really had any proper scenes together, but I learned from him too from watching his extraordinary and powerful work. (Energy again!)