Talking to Brian Blessed
We catch up with living legend, actor, and Cosmonaut Brian Blessed to talk about living locally in Surrey and more…
Having experienced a career on the stage and screen laden with trademark catchphrases. Blessed’s intonation, delivery and expression are as individual and characteristic as ever. Having trained as a Cosmonaut and conquered Mount Everest, Brian Blessed now finds himself in the throngs of a nationwide tour, revealing the most remarkable anecdotes from a life brimming with incident.
Gordon’s Alive! Is that Brian Blessed? How are you? How has your summer been?
Marvellous. I think I’ve become the king of the voice-overs as I’ve been doing a lot of that. I’ve just done Friar Tuck, who wasn’t fat, he’s a mystical blind man in the latest Robin Hood film which is coming out this autumn. All in all, I’ve been very, very busy. I’m dying to get away on an expedition because you know, 50% of my life is exploring and 50% is acting. I need to get off and climb some mountains and get to the bottom of the sea, stuff like that.
You’re currently on tour – what’s on the agenda for the show?
I must say I’m enjoying it enormously. I’m getting huge audiences and they go crazy. I talk about my love of life, my belief in mankind. I talk about space because I’ve done all the space training in Moscow and with NASA and things like that. I was the oldest man to be trained in Moscow at the space centre. I talk a lot about space, my biggest love. I’m frequently on the Infinite Monkey Cage (BBC Radio 4) with Professor Brian Cox.
In my show, I, of course, talk about theatrical and film stories because I’ve done an awful lot now being 81,82 years of age. I train every day, I do a tremendous amount of bench pressing and run 5 – 7 miles a day. I talk a lot about age. I say things like, “there’s no one like you and that nature doesn’t cheat” which I believe passionately. We’ve all got something that nobody else has got and we’ve got to be allowed to bring it out and not let the b*******s grind you down.
I do a bit of Shakespeare, I describe the early days with Patrick Stewart and people like that in Yorkshire…I was the son of a coal miner and him, the son of a milkman. I talk of my early days doing National Service etc. and then going to drama school which was unbelievable for a son of a coal miner. I talk of my time at the National Theatre and of course Z Cars and all my television work – I’m very much a BBC boy.
I describe all my adventures which they love; Mongolia and South America. I’m the oldest man to reach the North Pole – my battle cry everywhere I go is “Gordon’s Alive!”. I mean f*****g hell, I get within 20 miles of the magnetic North Pole and up comes a Russian submarine through the ice, and out comes the Captain who sees me and say’s “it’s him, please say Gordon’s Alive”, so of course I said, “GORDON’S ALIVE!”. The extraordinary thing is that I was at the O2 arena a while ago, thousands of people saying “Gordon’s Alive”, but I got as much applause when it was announced that I was Grumpy Rabbit in Peppa Pig.
My life has been varied. I do an awful lot of different things. Richard Briers, before he died said, “oh love, you know, we never hear you say marvellous things about acting, you’re not against it are you?” and I said, “no Richard”. But I say to audiences because they ask me, why is it that you do so much adventure? I’ve always done it since I was a child in Yorkshire. As Hamlet says, “acting is holding the mirror up to nature, holding the mirror up to life”. Well, of course, climbing Mount Everest is life. Acting is a great art and I believe that acting is one of the most difficult of the arts, one of the toughest.
Actors are very boring when they talk about acting; good, bad or indifferent you must do it. But it is the most difficult of the arts. I was trained operatically and if you’re an opera singer and you don’t sing so well, you’re allowed a bit of a cold, bit of a sore throat. Ballet dancer? I’ve just pulled one of my ligaments slightly. But in acting your body, your heart, your mind, your brain, your imagination, your eyes, voice…
I mean your heart and soul is judged and 90% of the time you’re shot down and you’ve got to have the courage just to get on with it. So, therefore, I can be quite objective about acting. But of course, in the final analysis, you are pretending. When I hear of actors taking the part home with them, it haunts me all the time and I say, “Oh b******s”. It’s a job and you’re playing the part. When I leave the studio for the day I drop it and get out with the dogs.
Art is everything and I passionately believe in it, but my biggest love is space. When I was a child, six or seven years of age and our teacher said, “you know there are other planets and worlds outside of Yorkshire.”
You live locally in Windlesham and are of course honorary patron of Guildford Shakespeare Company – Do you you have a favourite spot local to visit for your leisure time?
I’m in between Windlesham, Bagshot, and Lightwater on some unmade road. I‘ve been here for about 40 years and live in a big sized cabin. All my adventures are in here, I’ve got models of Elephants and all my astronomical stuff and a big portrait of Buzz Aldrin who gets on the phone now and again. My room is full of my object d’art and it’s where I do my writing. And I have Kenneth Branagh sitting in the corner once a week discussing his latest film. I love Chobham Common!
You of course featured in Guildford Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear. Naturally everybody was concerned when you fell ill during the performance – do you have any plans to return to the stage with the company in some capacity in the future?
I went straight to my doctors and my space people and they said your hearts terrific, your constitutions amazing, you just need some fibrillation. The doctor who I think was Prince Philips doctor, Doctor Clarkson of Guildford, a terrific man, he said to me, “well what do you want then Brian?” and I said, “I want be Terminator 4 and live until 150”, and they said well we can make it that way. They put it all together in 15 minutes and if I want to climb Everest or go to the bottom of the sea then they just give it a tweak before I go.
I’d like to do some more with the Guildford Shakespeare Company yes, very much so. I’d like to something like Camino Real by Tennessee Williams which is an amazing play. They are wonderfully gifted people at GSC. A gifted organisation with wonderful actors and directors.
Camino Real would require a cast of 80 – 100 actors and it is the most amazing thing. It’s not like his other American plays – it’s got Lord Byron in it, it’s got Casanova, it’s got a gigantic spaceship and it’s done in blocks, not acts. It’s full of music and drama, with street cleaners who are robots. It’s f*****g amazing stuff. It’s avoided by directors because they can’t f*****g direct it. But I can do it in Guildford because they’re so f*****g talented.
Much like being asked to identify your favouite offspring or dog, is there a part that you’ve played in your career that you think of more fondly than others?
Oh, Long John Silver. It was called Return to Treasure Island. terrific cast. It was a Walt Disney production, but the problem with Treasure Island is that it’s a bit of a thin story. it’s alright, but Return to Treasure Island was based on a blueprint by Stevenson and Goldsmith got hold of it and wrote 20 episodes. It was a huge success and made Disney millions of pounds. I loved playing Long John Silver. At the end of the last episode, Jim unlocks the cell that Long John is in and puts him in a boat to escape. There was the last shot of my face…I then slowly start to smile and slowly started to undo my crutch and I just pulled out all these f*****g diamonds and I had them with me the whole time. The last line was “Flint! Flint! I got ‘em all” and my mother said, “oh you f*****g bastard, I was crying my eyes out and you had them all along. I adored it.
ENJOY AN EVENING WITH BRIAN BLESSED AT G LIVE IN GUILDFORD, SEPTEMBER 26.
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TICKETS VISIT WWW.GLIVE.CO.UK