Hard times - Gladder to be Gay?
This article is from 2008.
Simon Callow is heading our way with both Stonewall and Dickens on his mind. Anna Millar chats to one of theatre’s hardest working men about his love of acting and support for gay rights
Mere minutes out of London rehearsals for The Magic Flute and Simon Callow is merrily rolling off his to-do list. After curtain up on this show (which he’s directing), he’s off to Canada to recite 80 of Shakespeare’s sonnets, before journeying to Edinburgh to perform some Charles Dickens at the Fringe and ponder gay rights at the Festival of Politics. Lest we forget, there’s another book to work on and an upcoming role as Captain Hook to prepare for, all this hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed turn in Peter Shaffer’s Equus, earlier in the year. If the ubiquitous 59-year old actor/director/writer is tired of the pace, there’s little sign of it.
‘It’s not sensible to do so much of course,’ conceded Callow with a throaty chuckle. ‘The workload is just down to greed, of course, and my dreadful inability to say no.’ Perhaps best known for his part as the ebullient Gareth in mammoth screen hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, Callow’s supporting role effortlessly usurped Hugh Grant’s formidable fop, and helped create one of the most joyous gay characters seen in recent mainstream cinema.
A CBE in 1999 confirmed him as one of Britain’s national treasures. But while film fans still associate him with all things Gareth, theatre buffs and politicos will be well aware that his repertoire boasts so much more. Light on pomp, Callow’s easy-going nature belies a man who has bagged both the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award and the Patricia Rothermel Award for theatre, and enjoyed big screen success in Amadeus and Room with a View.
A champion for causes close to his heart, he famously appeared in a television commercial for prostate cancer and is perhaps most vocal about his work as a spokesman for gay rights. Indeed, while he modestly deems it a ‘massive collective effort’, Callow is widely credited with putting gay rights organisation Stonewall on the map. His Festival of Politics appearance will, he says, focus on his work with them and what he reflectively refers to as the ‘situation of gays’.
‘I find it all quite strange because I’m not militant by nature, but these are the times we live in. Celebrity has a sort of power and I’m happy if I can raise awareness for the things I care about. The single most radical thing a gay person can do is come out; there is a huge statement and value to that, which is why I’m never sorry when people associate me with the part of Gareth because it was this delightful, sympathetic and joyful celebration of a gay man and his relationship. I think that Stonewall is probably responsible for getting some sort of equality and I’m very proud of that.’
Callow is equally passionate about his work in writing, directing and acting, the latter of which he will showcase at this year’s Fringe, when he takes to the stage at the Assembly Rooms to perform two of Charles Dickens’ works, Dr Marigold and Mr Chops, The Dwarf. It is, he concedes with a suitably large smile, something of a homecoming for a man whose repertoire is littered with Dickens, having played the author opposite Christopher Eccleston’s Time Lord in Doctor Who and having performed Dickens’ work several times in the course of his 35-year career.
He admits he has, in recent years, ‘fallen back in love’ with acting. ‘I really had an itch to do these Dickens’ pieces. I’d done them on television and very badly wanted to do them on stage, so I was delighted when the offer was put to me.’ No stranger to the Fringe, Callow started his drama career at the Traverse Theatre in the 70s. It was, he says, a hellion time. ‘In many ways I feel my career started in Edinburgh; it was a wondrous time, so I’m charmed to be coming back and revisiting some of the old haunts. I feel very much at home there, so I think August will be really rather lovely.’
Gladder to be Gay?, Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Road, 0131 473 2000, 20 Aug, 6pm, £6 (£3.50)
Simon Callow: A Festival Dickens, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0131 623 3030, 8-25 Aug (not 11, 18), 2pm, £17.50-£20 (£15-£18). Preview 7 Aug, £10.