D.H. Lawrence builds the poem dramatically about how he found a snake sipping out of his water trough and clumsily throws this lump of wood. Then he says, “I think it did not hit him.” Toward the end, there’s that wonderful line, “And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords of life.” I read the poem at Dickie Attenborough’s 80th birthday. As you know, he became Lord Attenborough. And I concluded my reading by saying, “And thank heavens I did not miss my chance.”
World War I History on the Page
Many of us who live in peacetime must find the First World War utterly incomprehensible, as do we find other parts of 20th-century history. Sometimes they have to be translated musically, graphically, poetically, dramatically. I’ve read A.J.P. Taylor’s history of the First World War. I have a monumental book at home in Oxfordshire, photographs of the First World War published in 1933, just when Hitler came into power. I’m even thinking about a film of the First World War.
World War I History in Music
Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” made that whole horrible period of history, to me, tangible. I somehow — and I can’t put it any other way — I felt it. That, I think, is what the artist does: allows us to feel that which we cannot comprehend. And that is the artist’s great gift, to share that feeling with the tribe.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
I saw him live at the Royal Albert Hall years ago, shortly before his tragic death. It was Pavarotti of all people who said the greatest voice in the world is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s. And it is the most extraordinary voice, the range. Devotional music — that which transcends, that which sings to and about the higher power — it’s performed with energy and magnificence, but it comes from a humble center.
‘Waiting for Godot’
I performed it with the late, great Alan Howard and was directed by the late, great Sir Peter Hall, who directed the first appearance of “Godot” ever. So it was a full circle for him. To be in a rehearsal room with that power — Beckett, Hall and Howard — was extraordinary. It was at the Old Vic, and I didn’t want the run to end. There were times onstage where I didn’t know whether I was performing or in a great act of prayer.
I went to a very good English school and by some wonderful stroke of fate, the head of the film society decided to show some Eisenstein films. I was utterly enthralled by the scale of them. I remember [in “Ivan the Terrible”] this endless column of human beings. Now they would say to the actor playing Ivan, “Don’t worry about that, we’ll CGI it.” Which leaves the actor without his counterpart. It’s acting in a vacuum. But some directors think they can capture the same body-chemistry change in the actor as when he’s being pursued by 100,000 people. Look at the Salt March in “Gandhi.” How do you think I felt at the front of it? Extraordinary. I don’t think my sandals touched the ground.