I raise the question, not only because of the tabloid fashion for snapping celebrities stumbling out of nightclubs, but also because of another story I heard about a drama school student – it goes something like this:
It was early evening and jubilations were fizzing in the air. It was just a few small hours after the last performance of a graduating show, which meant only a few more hours until the Christmas holidays would begin. At this moment, an audience were filling into an auditorium; in amongst whom were the celebratory cast of the afternoon show. Finishing on a matinee, as happens when two shows are in rep, can be an anti-climax, so the company had decided to skip to the pub for a few drinks before returning to support their peers in the evening performance.
Spurred on by a mixture of relief, elation, and loss, one member of the company had consumed a little more than was sensible. And then a little more still. He blundered into the theatre and took his seat, directly behind an agent who had come to watch him in his afternoon performance.
Given how much he had drunk, and the nature of the play he was watching, you’d be right for assuming that his laughter was somewhat heartier than most, and his whispering somewhat more vocal. The agent sat in front of him, previously a fan of his work but now disappointed by his frivolity, removed a pen from her bag and drew a question mark beside the otherwise glowing tick she’d placed next to his name.
You’ll be pleased to hear that he was still called in for a meeting with the agent, but it the agent did mention it and asked for an explanation! The fact that he was being judged not on his ability but his conduct in his personal life does beg the question of whether or not it’s right or fair to do so. Surely a personal life should be just that, personal!
I’m sure he’s not alone in living as freely as he plays on stage. It’s reputed that many an RSC actor, bored with Stratford living, has stumbled into bed at 6 in the morning after an evening out, only to rise at 10 to get ready for a matinee. And, if you’re strong enough to do that, why should you be penalised for it?
Perhaps agents are taking on people rather than just actors - and with competition the way it is, you have to be a person that can be relied on.
At the risk of getting topical, I suppose it’s a smaller version of the big question linked to the News Of The World scandal – should we stop casting Hugh Grant because he was lewd with a prostitute?
Though Grant might have beaten all the odds, including age, to carry on playing similar roles in differently titled films, others haven’t been so lucky. Chris Langham, for example, despite being a BAFTA award-winning actor, said in a recent interview for the Guardian that people wouldn’t employ him anymore because of a jail sentence for downloading indecent images of children. WOS chief critic Michael Coveney argued that Langham deserves a break, and he probably does. Morality is relative, but it doesn’t stop him being an award-winning actor – my only qualm here is that it has, in a sense, stopped him being an anonymous figure, which might make it more difficult to suspend reality when watching him. Having said that, I went to see him in Black Pond and he was as good as ever. Remarkably, in spite of his completely-unrelated-to-acting conviction, he is still a great actor.
Celebrities aside, the question still remains of when a personal life is just that, and when it should become the business of your employer – I think only when it starts affecting your performance. What do you think?