Home Entertainment ‘I was in front of an audience but all I could think was, I could be dying’: Robert Lindsay on acting, ageing – and surviving cancer

‘I was in front of an audience but all I could think was, I could be dying’: Robert Lindsay on acting, ageing – and surviving cancer

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Robert Lindsay was sitting on the set of The Fever Syndrome at London’s Hampstead theatre, having his picture taken. Immediately recognisable all over the place since his stupidly good-looking days – enjoying the eponymous Marxist within the BBC’s sitcom Citizen Smith from 1977 to 1980 – his face nonetheless, at 72, has an surprising high quality. It’s craggier than you bear in mind, and far more relaxed than you’d count on. Content material, even.

The Fever Syndrome is a household drama set in New York, the place the grownup youngsters of an eminent IVF scientist are congregating in his creaky brownstone to have numerous issues out. It’s a robust, transferring work – “within the viewers, each evening, we’ve had individuals sobbing” – of which he’s passionately proud and a bit defensive. “I haven’t learn the critiques, however I do know from what pals have been saying that the actors have come out of it actually, rather well, however critics have had a go at the play. I feel they’re improper. It’s outstanding what [Alexis Zegerman] has written.” This can be a behavior, and an endearing one – point out his stunningly malevolent and charismatic efficiency in GBH in 1991, and it’s, “Oh, that was all Alan Bleasdale”. He’s equally beneficiant about his co-stars: I now know far more about how nice Emma Thompson was, in Me and My Woman (a West Finish hit in 1985, which transferred to Broadway, and made Lindsay’s identify there), or what Zoë Wanamaker was like within the long-running BBC sitcom My Household, than about any plaudits or career-defining moments they delivered for Lindsay.

Lindsay in Citizen Smith.
Lindsay in Citizen Smith. {Photograph}: Moviestore Assortment Ltd/Alamy

“I like this occupation,” he says, “I like what I do. I’m obsessed with it.” He sounds a bit as if he’s sitting in entrance of a parole board – his crime, not being luvvie-enough. “However I do really feel fairly cavalier about my profession. I don’t get nervous. As a result of it doesn’t matter. Nevertheless it does. Nevertheless it doesn’t.” He loves a line AA Gill wrote about him within the early 00s, when reviewing an eerie detective present referred to as Jericho. “He mentioned, ‘he’s very versatile, he wears his profession like a used overcoat’.”

Lindsay was born in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, in 1949, his father a carpenter, his mom a cleaner, and went to a tough faculty the place “the uniform was a leather-based jacket and a bicycle chain”. When he mentioned he wished to be an actor – impressed by a theatre group with a free-thinking trainer – the careers adviser mentioned, “‘What, you need to put on tights? Have you ever thought-about a profession in hairdressing?’ I wished to punch him so badly,” he remembers. “That’s no disrespect to hairdressers. Simply how the theatre was regarded, so effeminate.” However he acquired in to Rada – “I used to be euphoric. My mom was beside herself. I imply, operating across the neighbours, knocking on all of the doorways. It was simply beautiful. I do not forget that day vividly. My mum and pa, so proud.”

Rada is the place he discovered acquired pronunciation, learn how to sound so much much less Derbyshire, in order that when he went house his pals checked out him as if he was from outer house. “However I simply wished to behave. My voice coach mentioned, ‘Robert, we’re not attempting to take you away from your self. We’re simply attempting to you offer you one other depth. As a result of there aren’t many DH Lawrence performs. I do know, deep down, you may have the ability to be something. You’ve all of the attributes of an important actor. And it’s a must to keep true to that.’ So she made me very happy with the very fact I used to be altering.”

Nonetheless, he at all times felt conflicted about shedding his genuine voice, ambivalent about the place the road was between coaching oneself to tackle many guises and being left with no self to disguise. He distils all that into an anecdote: a gathering between John Lennon and Laurence Olivier sounds a bit name-droppy, however isn’t, as a result of Lindsay wasn’t there. “These had been my two heroes – my working-class hero and my theatrical hero. They met on the Savoy, and Lennon hated Olivier. He mentioned, ‘This fucking man doesn’t know who he’s.’ And once I labored with Laurence [in Granada’s King Lear, in 1983, with Olivier as Lear and Lindsay as Edmund], I bear in mind he was like an amoeba. He’d change with you and with the second. That apprehensive me later in life. I began to reevaluate, and I feel that’s why I’ve acquired fairly political, and began to narrate to the place I come from.”

Robert Lindsay (left) in Jericho.
‘He wears his profession like a used overcoat’ … AA Gill on Robert Lindsay (left) in Jericho. {Photograph}: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Straight out of drama faculty, what gave his profession its moorings was this sense that if versatility was his prize for giving up his roots, he had rattling properly higher use it. This philosophy has given the world an array of extremely totally different performances. There’s essentially the most healthful musical theatre – Me and My Woman, as Fagin in Oliver in 1997, for which he gained an Olivier award, this 12 months’s Something Goes, for which he was nominated for an Olivier. Then a good quantity of Shakespeare on stage and display screen (“creaky floorboard Shakespeares, we used to name it,” he says of the BBC season within the early 80s). But additionally the a lot darker performances, in (Channel 4) dramas together with GBH and Jake’s Progress, each written by Bleasdale. And at last the basic sitcoms comparable to My Household and Citizen Smith, the latter giving him his first style of fame as a household-name, which he completely hated.

Lindsay (centre) in Anything Goes at the Barbican, London.
Lindsay (centre) in Something Goes on the Barbican, London. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Nearly the one factor lacking on his CV is a chronic stretch in Hollywood, although he did play the title function within the area of interest musical, Bert Rigby, You’re a Idiot, and fell out with Harvey Weinstein throughout the making of Strike It Wealthy. However, what actually did for him in LA was that he hated it there. It got here to a head within the early 90s, when he was driving round in his Starsky & Hutch automotive. He was on his option to see Helen Mirren, with whom he’d labored in 1982, on Cymbeline: “We had that fantastic bed room scene, when Iachimo has to search out her mole. I referred to as my dogIachimo, funnily sufficient. What a silly factor to name a canine.” Elgar’s Nimrod got here on the radio, and he realised how homesick he was; how little he wished to do the challenge he was about to start out. Mirren tried to influence him that everybody does a foul movie generally, however he says: “The story I like greater than something is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Jack’s on this actually, actually terrible movie. They usually’re on the screening at Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, sitting there watching it. Walter, sitting behind him says, ‘Jack, are you able to get out of this now?’”

It’s uncommon you could fairly ask the query of Lindsay: “How a lot does this character mirror your individual life?” However The Fever Syndrome is an exception. This play is filled with peculiar coincidences and resonances: one of many different actors has a toddler with sudden fevers, as does the grandchild within the play – which provides the play its identify, and “I’ve a son with horrible OCD, which he’s coping with. All of us have our personal specific issues with our youngsters, everybody does. Because the play says, ‘There’s no good little one’.”

Lindsay with Emma Thompson in Me and My Girl at the Adelphi theatre, London.
Lindsay with Emma Thompson in Me and My Woman on the Adelphi theatre, London. {Photograph}: Donald Cooper/Alamy

Additionally, the actor enjoying Lindsay’s daughter bears a resemblance to his precise daughter, and his household composition – a daughter from his relationship with actor Diana Weston, two sons from his second marriage – is identical as his character’s. As he delves into the place actuality and fiction diverge, it’s like following him on a deep sea dive, moments of obscurity, reflection, readability, sudden vibrant tangents, all delivered in a voice so wealthy and compelling that each element sounds important. So, this irascible patriarch he’s enjoying “was at all times too self-obsessed to deliver his children up the way in which he ought to have, and I feel my self-obsession stopped once I had children. Earlier than I had youngsters, I used to be going to the highest, wherever which means. I used to be pushed.” Within the early days, the eye turned his head – he was getting these unbelievable critiques, he was the brand new Laurence Olivier, the brand new Gene Kelly, the brand new Fred Astaire. “I’d began believing all that garbage. That single-mindedness broke up my first marriage [which was to actor Cheryl Hall; they divorced in 1980]. I haven’t had remedy, so I generally sound a bit bit confused.” So he has by no means as soon as set foot in a therapist’s workplace? Wait, bookmark that for a minute.

Lindsay with Zoë Wanamaker (centre) in Our Family.
Lindsay with Zoë Wanamaker (centre) in My Household. {Photograph}: Neil Genowner/DLT

There was no acrimony in his blended household – Weston is godmother to one in all his sons together with his second spouse, the actor and dancer Rosemarie Ford, and all his children get on very properly – “They’re brothers and sister, there is no such thing as a ‘step’” – however, as he describes this harmonious, un-stagey life, the reminiscence of that separation, within the mid-90s, intrudes. “I did go to see a therapist as soon as. Once I broke up with my ex-partner, I used to be so destroyed. The place I come from, how I used to be introduced up, you simply didn’t break up when you may have youngsters. I used to be in a stunning state. I used to be filming Alan Bleasdale’s Jake’s Progress and the press had been horrendous. They had been following my daughter to high school. The Each day Mail bribed a stunning man who used to wash my automotive for me … It was simply dreadful. After which I discovered my telephone was hacked.” He by no means adopted that up, nevertheless it made sense of why photographers can be on his doorstep when he tried to patch issues up with Weston, or on the practice station when he went to satisfy Ford. “Because the years go by, I want in some ways I had performed one thing. However I had my very own issues to cope with, and I feel we handled them brilliantly. My ex, my spouse, my children, we’ve all dealt with it brilliantly.”

As we discuss his character’s emotional tempo and his prime observe of grumpiness, Lindsay slides, once more, from self-deprecating home remark into one thing far more looking out. “I’ve acquired extra irascible as I’ve acquired older, as my sons and my daughter will all level out. Once they noticed the play, all of them mentioned, ‘It’s not a lot of a stretch for you dad’. Parkinson’s illness is making this character very offended, and I do know what that’s, as a result of I used to be recognized with prostate most cancers 11 years in the past. I used to be monitored, and it got here to the purpose the place it was getting a bit close to to the periphery, they usually can’t enable you after that. So my spouse and I needed to decide and I had it eliminated.” He dates every level of the illness from what he was filming or starring in when he acquired unhealthy information. “Comedy’s the worst factor while you’re having emotional issues.”

He was sitting in make-up with Zoe Wanamaker, his display screen spouse on My Household, when he was first recognized. “She mentioned, ‘Proper, OK, let’s go on and be humorous, after which we are able to discuss it.’ I can’t bear in mind the recording in any respect. It was in entrance of a studio viewers – 500, 600 individuals, cameras, strains, bang, bang, bang. All I might suppose was, I might be dying.” He was doing a charity efficiency for the Queen with Emma Thompson, the evening earlier than he had his prostatectomy, and he diverts on to what an important good friend she is, earlier than concluding: “What I’m attempting to say is, I feel my irascibility got here when that was taken away. I’ve had a really wholesome and sexual life. I’m very, very pleased. And that complete interval when it’s eliminated is terrible.”

Lindsay in The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre, London.
Lindsay in The Fever Syndrome at Hampstead Theatre, London. {Photograph}: Ellie Kurttz

This was all simply earlier than Covid, which he caught final month, and “I panicked,” he says, “as a result of my brother practically died on the very begin; he was actually sick”. His brother is a carpenter, like their dad, they usually have a heat relationship, with a little bit of straight-talking and aspect, as they did with their dad. He remembers his mother and father coming to the press evening of Me and My Woman, on the Adelphi in 1985. “As I went ahead for the curtain name, the entire theatre stood up. And I believed, ‘Wow, that is it!’ And I seemed down and the one particular person sitting down was my dad. Afterwards, I mentioned, ‘Dad, I acquired a standing ovation. You had been simply sitting there!’ He mentioned, ‘I paid for the seat, I’m sitting in it.’ However he didn’t pay for it, truly!”

Not too long ago, in life in addition to on Twitter, Lindsay has grow to be far more open about his politics – he has at all times described himself as a socialist, however has lately put extra flesh on these bones: he’s an environmentalist, a fierce decrier of dishonesty in authorities, and passionately anti-Brexit. “Individuals have mentioned to me, ‘Why don’t you go into politics?’ However I feel I in all probability care an excessive amount of.” He and his brother had such a foul argument over Brexit that, “my son filmed it,” he mentioned, “as a result of we had been virtually attending to blows.” It’s exhausting to see how filming it might have helped. “Perhaps he simply wished to place it on YouTube.”

“I’ve determined now,” he concludes, “I’m going to get pleasure from my age on this occupation. I’m gonna have a good time my age and never get fucked up by it. How girls deal with it, I’ll by no means know.” He switches again into character to cite a wry, elegant line from The Fever Syndrome, peculiarly becoming to his temper of rueful contentment: “I made errors. Yeah. Life is filled with errors. Life itself is a mistake. One genetic mutation after one other.”

The Fever Syndrome is at Hampstead theatre, London, until30 April. Tickets out there through hampsteadtheatre.com

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