I whip myself into action a lot. I can write very lazily and talk very lazily so, because I have a certain facility in those areas, I have to really make sure that I am focussed and actually doing everthing to the best of my ability.
When I was growing up, I didn’t think I’d be an actor. Not in the least. Although it probably did occur to some other people as I was such a little show off and extrovert.
There were no drama classes in my school. I really hadn’t acted in any serious way until I got to Queens. I only got the courage to do so there because between school and university I’d worked at The National Theatre.
That came about because of my having written three foolscap pages of a fan letter to Laurence Olivier. I received a response suggesting that, if I liked his theatre so much, I might consider working at the box office there. That’s where I met other actors, like Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi and Tony Hopkins, for the first time. I talked to them and realised they were humans, just like the rest of us.
I thought I was the worst actor in the world. I wanted to find out how to do it properly so I decided to leave university and to go to drama school. By then my father was in Africa and out of contact with me but my mother was appalled. She thought it was a terrible idea — just a ghastly idea. I said I’d regret it if I didn’t give it a try. She said don’t expect another penny from me if you do. She kept her word.
My first memory of theatre is going to see Peter Pan in London. I was very young and it was a bitter cold December night. As we queued up I wept and stamped my feet but once we got inside the auditorium, all red and gold, I was utterly enchanted.
I’m not disciplined by nature but anyone who has to work to a deadline has to find a way of becoming so. I’m having great difficulty with my latest book. It is a very detailed work — my third book on Orson Welles — and I’m finding it hard to find the time. It’s due by May. My dream is to take six months off to write it.
At the moment I work too much. My work and personal life does tend to blend into one. My partner Sebastian is a management consultant. He is also working difficult and unsocial hours. We have to fight to get time together, we have to be fervent about it.
This tour is absolutely the longest and most arduous I’ve done because it consists mainly of one night stands. The travel is the thing that exhausts you. It took me seven hours and four trains to get from Wales to Dundee. I arrived there at 5.30pm leaving just enough time to see the osteopath before I staggered on stage. Not ideal.
The trait I most admire in others is constancy. I have friends from every single period of my life. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter. Emails are terrible enough. Whenever I open my computer I always have 30 or 40 to respond to, they seem to spread like some sort of Japanese ivy. I get the feeling I have lost many friends due to unanswered emails.
My biggest challenge in life so far has been dealing with deaths. I had a partner who killed himself. I don’t believe in an afterlife, not at all. I don’t believe in anything of that sort.
I don’t have any particular pre-performance ritual. Although when I’m in London I do like to read the Evening Standard from cover to cover.
So far life has taught me to simply be real with yourself — get wise to yourself.
I would like to make music lessons compulsory in school. Giving people the power to create pleasure for themselves, through music, is such an important thing. I don’t play any instrument. My mother forbade me to have piano lessons. She said that if I had had any real talent it would have presented itself. I must be the only child in the world who begged a parent for music lessons.
If I could be someone else for a day I’d be Charles Dickens, to experience his incredible life force, his passion for social justice. Yes, either Dickens, or Fred Astaire.
Simon Callow performs ‘The Man Jesus’ at The Pavilion Theatre, DunLaoghaire on Thursday, October 30. Booking on 01-2312929 or email@example.com
Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick on Saturday, November 1. Booking on 061-774774 or www.limetreetheatre.ie
Everyman Theatre, Cork on Sunday, November 2. Booking on 021-4501673 or www.everymancork.com