During an extensive career, actor Julian Glover has worked regularly across both stage and screen.
Having started his career with walk-on parts at Stratford-upon-Avon – even before the Royal Shakespeare Company was officially founded there in 1961 – Glover went on to perform a top regional theatres as well as at the National, the Almeida and in the West End. He has also continued his association with the RSC. In 1993, he won a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Olivier for his performance in an RSC staging of Henry IV.
His other recent stage credits have included Galileo’s Daughter, Taking Sides, Macbeth (with Sean Bean), King Lear (playing the title role at Shakespeare’s Globe), Penny for a Song, Phedre, Britannicus, The Tempest, Waiting for Godot and An Inspector Calls.
Glover’s myriad screen credits include Tom Jones, Wuthering Heights, The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Cry Freedom, Treasure Island, Waking the Dead, Troy and James Bond’s For Your Eyes Only.
Glover has returned to the stage as ageing actor-manager ‘Sir’, struggling to keep a grip on his sanity and complete his 227th performance of King Lear in Peter Hall’s new production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser, which also stars Nicholas Lyndhurst as Sir’s devoted dresser Norman. The production, which has been touring since November 2004, transfers to the West End later this month.
Date & place of birth
Born 27 March 1935 in St John’s Wood, north London.
Lives now in…
Barnes, south London. I always said I would never live south of the river, but I have been here now for 38 years. I live with my wife, the actress Isla Blair. We have a son, Jamie, who is also an actor.
RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) - although I actually only did half the course. I was there at a time when actors did half their training and then went off to join the services, before coming back to complete their training. I didn’t get a RADA grant and I couldn’t afford to complete the course, so my training ended there. I still have a lot to do with RADA, though. I do quite a lot of teaching there, as well as at other drama schools.
First big break
I would say that was when I first went to Stratford, before it was even called the Royal Shakespeare Company, and did three seasons there as a walk-on. It doesn’t sound very grand, and many people would probably not think that was a break at all, but from being a walk-on, I worked my way up and got some really good small parts. I was also working with some of the most talented and exciting actors of the time.
Career highlights to date
Working for Prospect Theatre Company was wonderful. That was when I met my wife, Isla, and it was an absolute joy. Henry IV was also a real highlight, doing that in Stratford. Apart from that, I would say being in Otherwise Engaged by Simon Gray was great because I was starring alongside Alan Bates and Nigel Hawthorne. Taking Sides, which I did more recently was wonderful. And, of course, The Dresser!
What do awards mean to you?
I take them very seriously. Things like the Oliviers and the Evening Standard Awards are very well run, and they command a lot of respect. People don’t always agree with the choices. I mean, everyone has a different reaction to a particular production or actor. I was absolutely delighted when I won the Olivier for Henry IV, I am very proud of that. I think awards are a good way to measure how productions are doing.
Nicholas Lyndhurst is absolutely wonderful to work with, he is truly marvellous. Working with Roger Moore was a joy when I was in the Bond film with him - he was 007, of course, and I was playing the baddie. And Sean Connery, who I worked with in Indiana Jones. Vanessa Redgrave is also a favourite. I played Antony to her Cleopatra. I have always been good friends with the Redgraves.
Favourite theatres to work in
Stratford is wonderful. I have never actually worked professionally in the Swan Theatre at Stratford, so I would really like to do something there. In London, I think the Albery is my favourite. I have never worked at the Duke of York’s before, so I am really looking forward to that when The Dresser goes there.
Peter Hall is brilliant. I have worked with him a number of times, and his direction for The Dresser is spot-on. Jonathan Kent is also very good, and Stephen Daldry is marvellous. I worked with him on An Inspector Calls.
You’ve done some directing yourself. Is this something you'd like to do more of?
Yes, definitely. I am primarily an actor though. Often, when I might be about to say yes to some directing work, another acting job comes along which I do instead. I think as I get older and the acting work dries up, it will be wonderful to direct some more. It’s very important to pass experience on, and directing is a good way to do that.
I have so many favourite books it would be very difficult to pick anything out. We are a literary family and read all the time. At the moment, I’m reading the biography of Margot Fonteyn (by Meredith Daneman), and I’m really enjoying that.
Favourite after-show haunts
The pub nearest the stage door! No, I don’t go out that often. I think The Ivy is wonderful. And Sheekey’s, which is run by the same people.
Favourite holiday destinations
I don’t go on holiday really, but I suppose the place I like to go most is to Derek Jacobi’s house in the south of France. It’s modest and lovely. Isla and I have been there several times.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Take it seriously. I know people always talk about money all the time and it gets very boring, but it is a case of pouring money into the areas that need it. The arts are so important. During the war, all the top actors, such as Laurence Olivier, were sent off to fight and the government closed the theatres for six months. But the actors were all brought back again and the theatres re-opened because they realised how important theatre is to people. Not just in terms of entertainment. It’s also a form of therapy.
What roles would you most like to play still?
There are two that got away from me, and now I am too old to play them. I would have loved to have played Mountbatten in the 1986 film Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy. I thought I would have been pretty well-suited to that. And Coriolanus would have been a marvellous role for me. He’s such a mean and nasty character. I think I would have been good at that.
Why did you want to accept the role of ‘Sir’ in The Dresser?
I saw the play for the first time about 24 years ago, and said then “this is a part I want to play.” I have been longing to play it for all that time. The Dresser is a wonderful play. The set is just fantastic. It is so complicated, but it works brilliantly.
What’s it like working with Sir Peter Hall again?
It is pure paradise. I’m enjoying everything about this production so much. I honestly can’t wait to get on stage and perform each night. It’s so much fun, and all the cast, set and direction are wonderful.
Your character in The Dresser is performing the role of King Lear. Do you draw on your experience of playing that role?
People keep asking me this as I have played Lear a few times, most recently at the Globe in 2001. I thought I wouldn’t use my experience with the play at all because we’re not actually playing Lear in The Dresser - it’s just about the preparations. But, actually, I’ve found it has been quite useful. My character is on his 227th performance as King Lear, and he wants to do his very best. If I was any good in my portrayal of Lear, I hope that comes though in my performance in The Dresser.
What have you enjoyed most about the production so far?
Everything. I do not enjoy touring in itself, because it can be very wearing. But I love the play and we have been getting good houses - no doubt helped by the talents of Nicholas, who always gets in the crowds. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the performances and coming to London.
- Julian Glover was talking to Caroline Ansdell
The Dresser completes its regional tour in Cardiff (14 to 19 February 2005) before it transfers to the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre, where it opens on 28 February 2005 (previews from 22 February).