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TV Times interview: 8 February 1973

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Feb. 8th, 1973 | 12:00 am

THE EX-BEATNIK WHO PLAYS KAI

MICHAEL GOTHARD was among the first of the "underground" heroes to emerge into the mainstream of the acting profession.

In Arthur of the Britons (Wednesday) he plays the Saxon, Kai, brought up in the Celtic community. Generally, he is associated with more sinister, misfit roles, for example his part as a killer in Scream and Scream Again, and the psychopathic priest-inquisitor in another film, Ken Russell's The Devils.

Gothard, single and in his early 30's, has a broad, massively square face and a deep, hard voice which seems un-English, though he comes from North London. Contrasting with his appearance are his small, rectangular metal-rimmed glasses, perched low on his nose in the style of the docile shoemaker in Pinocchio cartoons.

For most of his teens he was in fact an outsider. He was a "beatnik", one of those lost-looking souls who wandered around in the early Sixties - before the Beatles and Rolling Stones brought long hair to the middle-classes.

"I left school when I was 17 or 18 with little idea of what I wanted to do. I think this would be true of most people if left to their own devices. Most of us are channeled into various functions, for better or for worse.

This is how things are constructed, but you always get the odd one who slips through, who doesn't fit too well. I mean, people either find something they like doing or they end up gangsters or just plain bums. It comes down to that, doesn't it?”

Gothard tramped around Europe. "I drifted from country to country, washing a lot of dishes, but I ended up spending a lot of time in Paris where everybody goes to find their way.

When I was there, the beat thing was quite new. I lived in an hotel in the Latin Quarter which was full of the beat celebrities of the day: Ginsberg, Burroughs. They were held in considerable awe, but I don't think I ever said more than ‘bonjour’ to them."

Back in England, Gothard became involved in making shoestring movies and eventually took the leading part in an "underground" film called Herostratus, which still shows on campuses in America, although, eight years later, it has never been generally released.

He played a young man who decided to commit suicide, and arranged with an advertising firm that they could captitalise on his death in any way they wished, provided it was one which got a lot of publicity.

The film brought Gothard approval from the critics, but no actual work. For 18 months - "a period too depressing to think about" - he did odd jobs and went intermittently on the dole. It was this taste of unemployment that determined his practical attitude to his profession.

"I was involved in helping to get the very first lunchtime theatre off the ground. It was a great experience but there was absolutely no money in it." Lunchtime theatres now proliferate in pubs and cellars in London and frequently attract distinguished casts.

"Generally, it is scaring to think about how overcrowded acting is now, how low the average earnings are. I take the work that comes my way. I play mostly "physical" roles. Fortunately I lot have come my way recently."

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