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1962 - 66: Getting into acting; lunchtime theatre

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Jan. 1st, 1970 | 06:00 am

From Petticoat interview 6 October 1973:

Eventually, he returned to London [from France] and got a job shifting scenery at the New Arts Theatre. A friend of his was making an amateur movie and was auditioning actors. Mike felt that he could do better. “As a joke I read to him, and much to my surprise landed a leading role. The picture was a triangle love story, typical of the home movies being made at the time.”

That part brought him encouragement from people in the profession. He decided to go to an actor’s workshop run by an American actor, Robert O’Neal. But he could only attend evenings and weekends – he had to support himself with a full-time day job.

He became involved in making ‘shoestring’ movies.

He says he didn’t finally make up his mind to become an actor until he was twenty-one. [that would have been in 1960].

“I became an actor because I was better at that than anything. In the early days I was full of energy and into trying a number of jobs. But I soon discovered that I couldn’t escape show-biz, even if my instinct didn’t like its superficiality.”

From 'X'-Films Interview, 1973

“I was living in Paris for about a year, just bumming around if you like, just drifting about … I came back to England and went to acting school, but before that I originally became involved because a friend was making an amateur movie,1 auditioning a lot of professional out-of-work actors and actresses. He couldn’t find exactly what he wanted and I happened to be at the audition, so … I auditioned with them and got the part. It was a typical ham movie – boy and girl walking in the park, etc. … I just did it for a laugh – as I was doing many things for a laugh. I think the new wave was very popular at that time – about ten years ago. [1962]

I went to a place called the Actors Workshop, which in those days was at Baker Street, being run by an American. It was quite a good scene. The first unprofessional part I played was the movie I told you about, which, like most weekend movies, didn’t get finished. Nevertheless, I got some encouragement from these people while I was working with them, so I thought perhaps I should take acting a bit more seriously. At first I thought it was just an interesting thing to do. It only became serious when people started paying me money to do it. After all, I’d been broke for a long, long time.

When I was out of work 2 we started a lunchtime theatre group in St Martin’s Lane, in the West End. There was no money in that – we just hoped these weren’t too many in the audience, so there’d be some sandwiches left! Nevertheless, I had to stick at it, because two years out of work devastates you – you’ve go to keep your hand in. It doesn’t matter really what you do, the important thing is to work. That’s why I did a few horror films. I didn’t consider it a bum part, any more than any other part of the entertainment industry.”

Researcher Aileen McClintock spoke to actress Sarah Guthrie on the phone.

Along with Michael, Sarah was involved in a small fringe theatre group in the early 1960s – setting up lunchtime theatres in pubs. For just 5 shillings, you got lunch and a play!

She recalled a couple of the plays they had put on – mainly French ones – ‘The Rehearsal’ [presumably the one by Jean Anouilh] and something by Jean Genet.

A.S., the daughter of one of Michael's close friends, found a copy of Jean Anouilh’s ‘Becket’, printed in 1961, among his effects. Unusually for one of Michael’s books, there is very little in the way of annotations in it, but the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lines are underlined. It seems likely that this was another play in which he performed as part of the lunchtime theatre.

There is an interview with Sarah Guthrie here, but she doesn't mention Michael by name.

She remembered that he attended drama school in the evenings, but couldn’t recall which one.

She said that Michael did not have a voice for theatre, and that, in any case, he always wanted to work in film or television.

The Runewriter says:

He told me that he in the beginning of his career had been offered a job at RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I asked why he hadn't tried this, and I must say I never really understood his answer; it was something about not repeating yourself. But I thought film actors had to repeat the scenes all the time ...

Before Michael Gothard chose to work with his language as an actor, he had also volunteered as journalist at local papers. He was a witty and funny letter writer.

According to Sean McCormick’s Uncle Dan, who evidently lost touch with Michael for a time, after sharing a place in Paris, “two blokes: Tony Chappa [Greek] (guitar) or Bob White [Anglo-Indian] (photographer) in London ... were Brit pals from Paris days who led me to M. a year or two later, when he was studying theatre but had not yet landed a film ... He was living in an obscure garret/loft somewhere in the city.”

1 NB. Some of the words Michael is said to have used, such as “movie” are not – according to A.S., who knew him well – in his idiom; he always said "film" or "picture." He would not have said "unprofessional part", but would have used the correct term of "non-professional part."

2 Between making ‘Herostratus’ in 1964, and “The Machine Stops” in 1966.

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