Full article from from edition 6
Edward Fox: Listen to the Wind
Wareham is a lovely river-bound town, not grown too much beyond its Saxon Walls, retaining an old world charm. It’s a township of bay-windowed shop fronts and thatched-roofed pubs, where bakeries still bake and art galleries mingle with butchers and cafes; a hub of rural and industrial enterprise. It is not, however, the first place you’d expect to see one the film-world’s most recognisable faces.
The unmistakable Edward Fox sits somehow anonymously sipping coffee at his favourite table at the Salt Pig. The Times lays two thirds open. His olive-green oilskin looks oddly at home over a red cravat and sky-blue shirt – silver cufflinks peeking out. He appears and sounds precisely as expected, the quintessential English gentleman, yet though the café is bustling, nobody seems to notice him. I cherish it. Not anonymity, like ‘don’t talk to me’ or anything like that, I don’t feel that way at all, but to be able to… listen to the wind, really – rather than the babble of humanity, which most people have to do all the time.
Listening to the wind. That’s one of the reasons he finds Purbeck so special. Clearly, he genuinely cares about The Way Things Are Going, and has plenty to say on the subject. Recently, a local council meeting heard his views; I told them – people come to Wareham to get away from supermarkets and all the ugliness of modernity. They come to get away from it. They go out westwards where they can see the great flood plains for themselves – take that away from people and you’re taking life away.
This is an important point. He describes an all too familiar pattern of coagulating conurbations. I grew up in Sussex, fifteen miles north of Brighton. This was during the war. So my upbringing was in the country. After the war, quite quickly, Crawley, which was a market-town, became a suburban town… There is now a thread of terrible buildings for people to live in, built on green-field sites all over the county. Sussex is where I would think of as being one’s heart’s-home, I suppose, but it has completely changed. I only like the country, and the wilder and unadulterated and untouched in the wrong way by man, the more I like it… The predations on nature since the end of the war are catastrophic. So I’m all for the wild.
I think it’s terribly bad, the influence of modernity on children – family breakdown, social disruption, emotional disturbances – it’s happening. The only cure for that, when you’re young, is to be able to experience the truth of nature – within which they live.
It was his connection with the land, rather than the studio, that bought him to settle Purbeck. We used to come and stay, Joanna and I and our daughter (Emilia), at the white house in Kimmeridge, which was then owned by an actress friend who let it to friends for a week or two in the summer. And I thought, this is again the country I remember – different to Sussex, but it is the country I remember.
Not surprisingly, Edward plays an active role in his community. He is a leading light in the campaign for the establishment of a national park across East Dorset and Devon and a long standing supporter of the Purbeck film festival. I think it’s really wonderful, what they’re doing. It’s terrific. Pressed on his role, he laughs. I’ve no idea! I don’t know whether I’m a patron or what. All I know is I’m a supporter, a whole-heated supporter. That’s the only useful thing you can be, really. He imparts sage advice. I wouldn’t make it too big. It I’d keep it within the limits it’s supposed to be – joyful and interesting.
‘Joyful and interesting’ are good words to describe both Edward and his career. His professionalism was shown not to be wanting as recently as 2013 when called upon at the last minute to cover for Robert Hardy, playing Churchill in the West End premier of The Audience. I’d like to retire in a way, but if you’re an actor, and you can still learn the lines, and people still want you to get up there – and you’ve got to earn a living sometime… A typical week? If I’m not filming, if I’m not in the theatre: Well, for example, this Monday I’m attending a fabulous dinner at which I’m a guest of the Queens Bodyguard of the Yeoman of The Guard – well, those sort of things only happen to you because you’re an actor and that’s sort of part of your life. I’ll perhaps meet the director of my play that I’ll probably do later in the year – there’ll be four or five things during the week that have to be done and they can only be done in London.
London is work, he states, then ponders for a moment. You know, in London, I think people have become, sort of, slightly mad. Because of the way society has been developed. I think they’ve gone slightly off their heads – in vast numbers, actually – and it’s all because they have no time to know about being alone within the vastness of nature. They have no chance to know that, and without it… The balance is within the human soul itself, which requires a controlling element by the reasoning human, who has that ability. It’s very easy for the human mind to go off course, but ‘Our fates, dear Brutus, lie not within our stars, it is within ourselves that we are underlings’. (Cassius, Julius Caesar)
Now we approach ‘the craft’. As an actor you get to learn whole swathes of Shakespeare which for some curious reason stick in your brains. It’s the equivalent of a violinist having a violin which they pick up all the time and practice with; it‘s your practice instrument. When did he pick up acting as a vocation? The monkey on your back? Oh, at about twenty-four; quite late in life, really. If you’re in front of an audience that isn’t particularly interested in the play or you or anything else about it but you know you’ve got them held by whatever it is you’re doing or saying – or conveying, that is the monkey. It’s not like a drug or anything, you just think, well I perhaps begin to know how to do this stuff. I suppose I always used to think that it was, in a funny way and especially with the theatre, a form of dual education – for the audience and also for the player, because it’s a communication. If the theatre is striving to be an art, that is a valuable function.
I believe in expression, he says with feeling. Without communicative expression – you’re stitched. And the more it is developed in the human the happier he becomes, because relating to ideas and other human beings becomes so much easier. I’d teach English to children big-time if I were in charge of schools, teach their own language to them, not the new-fangled rubbish of advertisements and that sort of rot.
Communication and empathy underpin what he sees as the true value of the performing arts. Within two hours, a good playwright will take you through the lives of perhaps five or six people, just by the skill of playwriting, and you’ll come away feeling you know a lot about the truth of people’s lives. That’s the point of the theatre, to take the audience away from its own thoughts and kind of redirect it back again.
There’s a lovely story that Fred Zinnermann told me, Fred was the director of Day of The Jackal – a marvellous director – and he gave Marlon Brando his first job in a film called The Men (1950) as a soldier who became paraplegic. At the end (of filming) the real paraplegics, who were also in the film, seeing Brando act, said to Fred – ‘How did you find a paraplegic who could act so well?’ Now that, to me, is acting
If you think of the really fine films, say Great Expectations, the actors are in that for a start, but Lean manages to make them jump out of the screen at you. That’s a combination of the director and the actors… So, who are his favourite directors? Fred, definitely (Fed Zinnermann, Day of the Jackal), and Jo Losey (Joseph Losey, A Doll’s House), and I‘ve worked with other wonderful directors like Guy Hamilton (Battle of Britain, Force 10 From Naverone).
What of The Battle of Britain? A lot of good people in it. Precisely the laconic reply you’d expect from Pilot Officer Archie. It was a big number. Technologically ahead of its time. They made early use of what is now called the blue-screen technique. There weren’t that many Spitfires or Messerschmitt’s flying around so they had to be multiplied for the film. This was a brilliant invention, done in British film studio laboratories, to create the effect of multiple aeroplanes… He speaks affectionately of the WWII pilots who coached the cast, especially his advisor, a dear fellow called Ginger Lacey (Squadron Leader James Harry ‘Ginger’ Lacey DFM & Bar), a very brave air ace… he was with the squadron that I was in. Yet it never occurred he was a part of film history.
It was a time when films like that were being made over here. It didn’t change my life at all. It was very nice that it seemed to come on for the watching public – it sounds a bit trite but it’s true, it’s the audience that matters. People still come up to me today and say they really liked Day of The Jackal (1973), and that was a long time ago. When people say that, I think, well…
It was marvellous to be able to do it.