BWW Interview: Julian Glover Talks THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA
Julian Glover is an Olivier Award-winning actor who has, perhaps uniquely, appeared in cult classic film franchises Star Wars, Doctor Who, James Bond, Indiana Jones and, more recently, as Grand Maester Pycelle in Game of Thrones. He has also appeared in many stage roles during his long and distinguished career.
What is it that keeps you motivated to go out there and do it all again?
It sounds a little po-faced, but it's something I have to do. You'll find that a lot of actors will say the same thing. It's not an easy life - but it is a wonderful one.
I decided that I wanted to be an actor when I was 15 or 16. I was hit with the need to do this work - and it's kept me going ever since. It's what I am - I am that thing. I shall go on until I can't do it any more. There's no question about stopping - financially, anyway! As long as I can remember the words and stand up, if the work comes in, I have to do it.
Many actors have crossed over into directing - have you tried that?
I've had two or three gos at directing, and I think I was averagely successful - but it was never the thing I wanted to do. Unlike my son, Jamie Glover, who is an actor and director. He prefers the latter - I've never felt that preference.
The one great advantage of being a director (as opposed to an actor) is that you can voice your ideas about what other actors should be doing!
Do you ever pause to think that somewhere in the world, at any given moment of any day, someone will be watching you on a screen?
You don't know what's going to happen when you start out. It's never occurred to me that, at this moment, someone may be watching me on Spanish television or in Sri Lanka or somewhere!
At the beginning, I just wanted to do it, and I went into the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (now the RSC) playing absolutely nothing at all, just standing there covering the lights. I just wanted to be up there and doing it.
I never thought about being a star - and I haven't been. But I've been a successful actor, who has done his job as well as he can. I've been appreciated enough to keep on working - which is how you can tell.
I'm not pestered in the street. When I go to a restaurant, I'm left alone. But I do love it when the odd person comes up and asks if I was in so and so. It means that you're current, you're still going. It's not praise - though that's nice too.
As you get older and older, you work less and less, you're less and less up there, so it's nice when you get recognised and asked for an autograph. You're flattered and think that your life hasn't been worthless after all!
Has your role in Game of Thrones brought you recognition from a new audience?
Quite often, I'm recognised from Game of Thrones - and I always say I'm a bit upset to be recognised from that, with the great long beard and stoop.
It's hard to tell if one's profile has gone up as a result - but I was in Game of Thrones and though my role wasn't a large one, it was quite noticeable. I got away with six series before I was killed! After each one was completed, we'd ask each other, "Do I last through the next one?" It was an extraordinary experience.
I've been terribly lucky to be in so many enormous franchises and they've all been good films of their kind - I'm proud to have been in them and to combine that with the sort of work I'm doing now.
I was asked to do a musical at the same time as The Night of the Iguana and I thought about it for a day or so. Then I realised that it was a no-brainer - what sort of an actor am I supposed to be! So I'm doing what I'm doing.
Looking back, what would you say is the most interesting work that you've done?
Most of the Shakespeare - I've been in all but three of the plays.
I have to say King Lear, don't I? Because it's one of the great mountains that every actor hopes to have a go at and I've had two - one at the Globe, an amazing experience.
I did a play quite late in life, Maurice's Jubilee by Nicola McAuliffe, that went all over the place and is one of the great successes of her career and a joy for me to play.
Most of my seasons with the RSC (I've done 12) have been rewarding. I'm a Shakespeare freak - I can hardly get him out of my mind. I keep on finding things that he did (even in plays like Iguana) - but Shakespeare did everything.
In films, Indiana Jones was a wonderful experience, with superb actors and one of the greatest directors in the film world [Stephen Spielberg]. That was a tremendously exciting and fulfilling and enjoyable job.
Quite a lot of jobs are not at all enjoyable - you do them to the best of your ability, but you don't enjoy them. People say, "Did you have a lot of fun doing that?". But fun is the wrong word usually.
Is it fun being windswept and rain-beaten as Lear?
And getting up at four o'clock every morning, make-up chair at five, having a beard stuck on you!
Tell us about The Night of the Iguana and your role in it.
Tennessee Williams is scintillating. Iguana was his last big success. It's a play about redemption and resilience. You don't know which way people are going to go.
The three main characters are wonderfully drawn - you know who they are immediately they come on to the stage. And you go inside their heads because of Williams's brilliant word craft - like Shakespeare. You don't want to vary from the text - even a couple of misplaced words makes the speech sound wrong. It's so precise; as with all the great writers, you have to get the words exactly right.
A few weeks ago, I was at a party and someone asked about my role and I said, "I'm playing the old man... why am I telling you that?". [Glover is 84]
I play a grandfather, described as a top-ranking minor poet, who is 92 years of age. He and his daughter go around hotels reciting poetry for the guests, which was a fashionable thing to do in the 1930s and 1940s. She draws people, sketching on the spot. They adore each other.
My character is based on Williams's grandfather, whom he adored - something you can see in the writing of my part. It's a very good supporting role and I'm thrilled to be in it. And I'm working until the end of September!
An outsider might look at Williams, a 20th-century American writer, and wonder what keeps him relevant in 21st-century London.
He's not the same, but he's an equivalent of William Shakespeare. His ability with words is the thing that made him a master. His words demonstrate the human condition in so many ways.
His great plays (particularly Iguana) concern a desperate human condition, but you can identify with it. The character of Shannon is at the end of his tether, at the end of his rope - a metaphor used throughout the play. It's not just a matter of redemption, it's about resilience and coming back really.
That's what makes it understandable for so many people - the feeling that life is worthless and that nobody likes you, even the people who are supposed to. That self-destructive thing, which is inside all of us, is so recognisable on the stage - but Williams also manages to be funny with it. He finds a funny phrase in the middle of something very serious - which is another Shakespeare trick, of course!
That's what keeps Williams relevant, because people are interested in the characters on the stage. Who is this man Shannon? Who is this old dodderer walking on now and what's he here for?
There's always a resolution, and the resolution in this play is rather brighter than those in most of his plays - though you can make of it what you will. It's not all doom and gloom, as it can often be with 20th-century American Playwrights.
The set is brilliant - I couldn't believe how right it is. You're immediately pulled into this world, just looking at the stage.
You have an association with RADA, so what advice would you give to any young actor or actress reading this?
One thing you need is punctuality - so important - and another is resilience. You have to be able to come back, because an actor is their own advertisement. I'm the only thing I've got, so it's me personally that gets knocked.
It's why some actors get upset with bad notices that are personal - they even go to court about them. It's not the play, not the director, it's the actor standing up there metaphorically taking their clothes off. If it's in your bones, you've got to do it - and so you have to put it behind you and get on to the next one.
Your whole life as an actor is spent with your tummy in a knot about the next job and whether it's going to come. And when you do get a job, you often have to ask for time off because you have so many appointments to be rearranged!
What are you going to to do next?
The Lord Almighty knows - my stomach turned the moment you asked the question. I don't know what I'll be doing in October.
There are conventions all over the world, and my film work mentioned earlier allows me to attend those and that keeps me going. I'm very confident of getting something after Iguana because I can still remember the words and stand up straight - well, straight enough...
Photo Credit: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg