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Posts Tagged ‘robin ellis’

AT LAST!

Yesterday the audio version of Making Poldark became available for download via Audible, Amazon or iTunes.

http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_mn_mt_ano_tseft__galileo?advsearchKeywords=Making+Poldark&x=0&y=0

 

Below, I’m re-posting my account of recording it way back in January.

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Just back from UK where I recorded my memoir of Poldark as an audio book–with an extra chapter about taking part in the new BBC/Mammoth version–40 years after doing the original!

 

Two days in a small, soundproof booth in a basement recording studio in Hove in Sussex, while the wind and the rain raged above ground.

I was fortunate to have three helpmates in the studio running the show–and keeping my nose to the microphone.

Chris Daniels, sound engineer, owns the studio and is a member of that fraternity of calm console operators who are never flustered.

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They have seen it all before–and behave as though they read the first verse of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, IF, before sitting down to work:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And you’ll be make a Sound Engineer, my son!
(With apologies to Mr. Kipling.)
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My old friend, Constantine de Goguel Toulouse-Lautrec–his grandmother was in St. Petersburg in the October Revolution of 1917 and survived–sat in the producer’s seat and guided a rusty performer through the sessions with grace and years of experience.
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He’s a fine actor and an experienced dialogue coach for movies.
He also runs Spoken Ink–subtitled “The Home of Short Audio“–well worth checking out.
Meredith made up the triumvirate as back-up producer keeping a beady eye on the script and an ear out for things that could be better (like the American pronunciation of “Potomac”!).
Her occasional ripple of involuntary laughter was a morale boost for The Man in the Sound Proof Booth!
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The project is in post production now. When complete, we’ll announce it here.

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from Minnesotta, North Carolina (via Rome), Rhode Island, California, Virginia, North Yorkshire, Tipperary (Ireland), New Zealand, Brixton (S London)–for the two cooking workshops.

Not quite back-to-back! We’ll be trying that out in September and October. This time we took a few days to fly to Florence to celebrate Brother Jack’s 60th birthday (he’s performing in a show there at Teatro del Sale).

Here’s a short photo diary of the good times we had.

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late May Bravehearts with host Dominique on the right.

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Mid- June Braveheatrs–looking enthused

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Eager aprons waiting to be claimed

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Minnesotans–togged up and ready to break eggs

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Tossing the salad the Italian way–36 times!

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What do we think? A touch more vinegar?

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Friday morning coffee break and “food” chat

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Friday morning starter–the unexpected curried apple soup

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Friday supper (work-free delight)–Chez Valérie

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Simone–the essential ingredient, without whom…

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“Showtime” Sunday lunch–with Cecile and Polly–first time around

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“Showtime” Sunday lunch–second go-around (where’s the hat?!)

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300px-The_Good_Soldier_First_Edition,_Ford_Madox_Ford   It is the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ford Madox Ford’s pre-First World War novel, The Good Soldier, a seminal book of the 20th centuryIt opens with this sentence: “This is the saddest story I ever heard,”–spoken by the narrator, John Dowell—my part, in the Granada TV adaptation filmed in 1980. It was poignant for me to retrace my steps, 30 years later, from the fountain in Bad Nauheim, where I had once been greeted by Roger Hammond as the Grand Duke: “Good morning, Mr. Dowell!”.

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Revisiting Bad Nauheim, 30 years after the filming.

I am the sole surviving actor of Ford Madox Ford’s doomed quartet —who made the film of The Good Soldier 35 years ago. Jeremy Brett, Vickery Turner (r) and Susan Fleetwood (l)–all died too young. Susan was only 51! All had so much more to give. Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 10.09.02 AM Meredith and I were in Germany to pursue another project, but passing so close to Bad Nauheim, on our way to Frankfurt, we couldn’t resist the short detour from the motor-way.

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Bad Nauheim has an association with Elvis Presley, who lived there while stationed nearby during his military service with the U.S. Army.

Meredith admired the film and knew Susan. I had spent three intense weeks there in the autumn of 1980, much of the time as elegant set-dressing (so it seemed to us!), for this extraordinary Edwardian spa town. We walked and walked, in line of four, dressed in pre-war finery without–it seemed–a care in the world. Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 10.20.43 AM     Bad Nauheim is still a spa town, but the beautiful Sprudelhof bath buildings (built between 1905 and 1911 in what the Germans call the Jugendstil style) are open only for special guided tours–and sadly none were available over the days we were there.

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Despite its proximity to Frankfurt and Hitler’s command complex, Bad Nauheim was spared from Allied bombing allegedly because President Roosevelt had fond memories of his visit there.

However we managed to slip into one of the bath houses, opened by maintenance workers for cleaning, and it looked exactly as it had 30 years ago–indeed probably as it had 100 years ago. Elegant bath cubicles line the corridor (where Florence took her cure). Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 3.56.39 PM

Pretty interior courtyards and reception rooms are decorated with shells, mosaics, stained glass and wrought iron–every fitting finely-crafted in the art nouveau style.

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Until director Kevin Billington sent me the script, I was unfamiliar with The Good Soldier.  I later regretted that my first contact with the story was via the screenplay, rather than the novel itself—thereby missing out on the mystery angle of the story—the gradual way Ford peels his onion, slowly revealing what lay beneath the facade of the four elegant walkers, “all good people”.

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Ford Madox Ford changed his name after WW I, reportedly because he thought Hueffer sounded too German.

The adaptation–loyal to the novel–was written by the English screenwriter and playwright, Julian Mitchell. Filming took three months, on location in England and Germany (extended by a labour dispute at Granada TV involving the shooting of Jewel In The Crown–which delayed our schedule too). I had recently played another diffident American, Robert Acton, in Merchant Ivory’s production of the Henry James novel, The Europeans. Perhaps Kevin saw it. Though there are comic possibilities in playing innocence–three months is a long time to spend with John Dowell— someone so blindly and determinedly, out of touch with the truth.

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Almost by definition we could not film the book in sequence and Kevin helped us all hang on to the arc of each of our character’s complicated and intersecting narratives. He had a firm grip on the ‘unpeeling onion’ and we were grateful to him for that. Yet while admiring his exigence and his quest for perfection, we found the endless “clothes-horse” aspect of the filming difficult.

The scene where the two couples meet for the first time, in the dining room of the hotel, for instance, was filmed FIFTY-SEVEN times from every conceivable angle! The local German extras, initially excited to be in a film, decided by lunchtime that they never wanted to be in another one–not even for ready money!

The film does look sensational though–brilliantly shot by Tony Pierce Roberts. The pace and style evoke so well the pre-war era–soon to be killed off and changed for ever by the coming carnage, launched on August the 4th– Florence’s birthday, wedding day and the day on which she commits suicide. No coincidence!

Filming back in England hopped from one “Great House” to another. Some retained the faded charm of the period—of a class feeling the pinch, if not exactly on its uppers. In one, there was a strong reminder of the devastation the First World War wreaked in social and human terms. The large brick-walled kitchen garden was still visible, as were the magnificent greenhouses—but dilapidated and neglected since the twenties–the men who had made them flourish, all slaughtered in France.

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Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)

Writing in 1915—one hundred years ago—Ford Madox Ford foresaw that this was the end of an era. Edward Ashburham’s world–complacent and arrogant—was doomed. Strange that John Dowell, the unconvincing Quaker and “casual Yankee”, was so much in awe of it—and indeed joined it.

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Jeremy Brett, later famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, played Edward Ashburnham, the “Good Soldier”.

The strain of the long shoot, began to take its toll towards the end. It was the day of Nancy’s (Elizabeth Garvie) departure and we were filming the buggy ride to the station. “Pony’s going well!”

A little too well I thought–given that Edward/Jeremy was driving it and not the horsemaster!

The director wanted a shot of us driving over the hump-backed railway bridge, on our way to the forecourt. It would certainly have had a poignancy to it, but I could only picture the frisky pony taking off down the steep descent, and Jeremy not being able to control it.

Memories came to mind of a near-fatal accident, while filming the BBC series Poldark in Cornwall. The coach I was in, turned over on a rock on Bodmin Moor and the cameraman, who was tied to the side of it, was lucky to escape with a broken leg. I was in shock and couldn’t speak for three hours afterwards without bursting into tears.

Kevin insisted that it was perfectly safe. I found myself getting out of the buggy and demanding loudly whether he’d allow his young children do the shot. “Yes– of course,” he replied. I stomped down to the platform and into the waiting room; where I stripped off my costume, and that was the end of the buggy ride.

Perhaps after months of being unassuming John Dowell, something of Robin Ellis had to be let loose again! You can watch the entire film of The Good Soldier on YouTube now!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=10&v=zA0PjehNE9Q 

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Surfing the net for a bit of Poldark news this morning (I’ve become a groupie!) I chanced on a series of wonderful photos, many of which I had never seen before.

They were taken during the filming of the original series by a gifted young photographer, Ian Barnes, who was just starting out in his career.

Here’s his story and the photo slide show, published today by the Western Morning News: http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Unique-record-set-original-BBC-cast-Poldark/story-26324743-detail/story.htmlEbony the Horse

The slide show reminded me that  I had written the story of two of the photos depicted in my memoir Making Poldark. [Also available on Amazon.com]

 My steed for the second series, Ebony, was supplied by the wonderful horsemaster, Ben Ford  (the back of his head is visible in the photo below).

I had more riding to do in the second series, so Ebony and I saw a lot of each other. She never threw me like Dennis (my mount in the first series, an ex-Steeple chaser), but I’m sure she knew she had a novice on board.

Our most difficult day was the first shot of the second series—Ross Poldark‘s return from Holland.

In real life, I had been in London the previous day to see my then girlfriend play Cordelia at the opening night of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear, which had transferred from Stratford to the Aldwych Theatre. After the performance I caught the overnight train to Cornwall.

So I was there, fresh as a wilted daisy, at 8am on the beach at Caerhays ready to film. It was pouring with rain.

Ebony and I waited until 3:30 in the afternoon before we could even get on the beach. Neither of us was in very good shape by then. The wind was blowing the sea into a frenzy,  and I had great difficulty in keeping my over-large hat on my head. Screenshot 2015-04-17 14.33.12 Ebony, quite sensibly, was none too keen on the conditions. She could see the waves out of the corner of her eye and thought they were coming for her.

With difficulty, trying to control my hat, my flowing cloak and the reins, I managed to get her facing the right way. The camera was mounted on the roof of a Land Rover and we were supposed to follow it at full gallop across the beach. Screenshot 2015-04-17 14.37.37 It should have been an invigorating experience. Instead it was a nightmare.

Ebony HATED the sound of the Land Rover and decided the SAFEST place was her horsebox—so that’s where we headed.

We passed the Land Rover with ease and I managed to stop her only a few feet from the end of the beach. Exhausted I fell off into a puddle!

I remounted. (Well, I was the hero!)

Ben, experienced in such things, placed a sister equine on the seaward side of the Land Rover track, hoping Ebony would run towards her. We tried again and Ebony rejoined her friend rather more quickly than the cameraman anticipated.

By this time, I was losing confidence and my fingers were losing their grip.

We tried once more. Ebony did an impromptu gavotte, crisscrossing the Land Rover, and then another mad gallop.

I decided she’d won the day and walked back to the coach.

Two days later we had a perfect sunny day and managed the shot in one take.

I think Ebony had worked in television before.

Poldark filming seems to attract characterful beasts. Aidan Turner’s steed Seamus (Darkie in the series and Irish, like Aidan) is enjoying his new found fame!

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My memoir of MAKING POLDARK–with a chapter on how I got involved in the 2015 adaptation of Winston Graham’s romantic saga, and behind-the-scenes photos taken during the shooting of the new series–is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER on Amazon.

(The book is currently available only on Amazon USA.)

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Ask any actor who has done time in repertory theatre what is the most frequently asked question by keen theatre-goers and I’d wager the answer would be:

“How do you learn the lines?”

I might have answered “with difficulty“, after drying on my first line (saying “Grace”) as the Vicar in Murder at the Vicarage on opening night at Salisbury Playhouse in the mid-60s .

It’s the nuts and bolts of the job–but never gets any easier.

Telly Savalas as Kojak had his lines taped all over the set and even–hard to believe–to the other actors’ foreheads!

Even if I’d been able to read them without my glasses, I couldn’t be shamed into that!

Samuel West‘s contribution to this article in The Guardian recently–actors’ advice to fellow actors–reminded me of the run-up to filming my two short scenes in the new adaptation of POLDARK*.

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To anyone learning lines for a day’s filming where there is NO rehearsal, he says:

Learn your lines with a friend the night before filming. Say them looking into your friend’s eyes. Your friend will be distracting you. You will think you know the scene because you can do it looking at the floor, but human contact is distracting – and you want there to be human contact when you film the scene.

Learning the night before? I’ve always needed time for lines to settle and stick (slow study it’s called in the trade)–but I know what he means.

Meredith volunteered  to hear my lines weeks before my first day’s shoot for POLDARK and eventually I took up her offer.

I’d been pounding them into my reluctant brain on my daily walk for weeks.

She suggested, like Samuel West, that I aimed them directly at her.

But for a while I was unwilling to engage with her spirited rendition of Captain Poldark–and continued doing exactly what Samuel West warns against–saying the lines, very convincingly, to nowhere in particular–sometimes to the floor.

In the end, I did engage. It was, as Sam says, usefully distracting–good preparation for when I had to project them across the chasm of the crowded, noisy courtroom.

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Meredith watched the shooting of the trial of Jim Carter [Me-lud presiding!] on a monitor in a freezing anti-room of the medieval hall where we were filming.

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In a pause while they were re-setting the lights she popped outside for a coffee to warm herself up.

There was Aidan Turner (aka Ross Poldark)…

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…pacing up and down, going through his lines.

They hadn’t formally met at this point.

So as not distract him, she discreetly tucked herself into a corner with her coffee.

Suddenly, becoming aware that there was just the two of them, he confided:

“This scene is important and I want to get it right!”

“I know it well,”  she said.  “I rehearsed the lines over and over with Robin–playing YOU!”

Aidan roared with laughter.

Meredith sensibly didn’t offer to hear his lines….

 

*The new adaptation of Winston Graham’s  POLDARK saga is being produced by Mammoth Screen for the BBC and PBS’ Masterpiece in the USA, to be broadcast next year.

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and Ross Poldark remounts…

Today the BBC announced the name of the actor who is to play the lead in the re-working of the series  first screened in 1975.

Irish actor Aidan Turner has bagged it.

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Just needs to add the scar and he’s away!

Congratulations to him–I hope he has as much fun as we did filming this wild and wonderful saga written in 12 books over a sixty year period by Winston Graham.

Forty years ago this November I went for the first of three auditions for the part, knowing little about Winston Graham and less of the books.

A brief glance at the first book of the saga, Ross Poldark, was enough–I seriously wanted him to be me or vice versa.

I had to go through two more nail-biting sessions in front of producer and directors before finding myself in the position Aidan is in today….

…Cast to play Ross Poldark.

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Now–two generations on–this great piece of storytelling will be enjoyed again by millions on TV and in book form.

The time is right. The wheel of fashion turns and Poldark, an unashamedly romantic tale, can be told again with a straight face.

The new series has the advantage of being adapted from original books written by an exceptionally gifted storyteller–Winston Graham.

The characters develop at their own pace and seem responsible for their own destiny.

No visible puppeteer, no obvious manipulation–just the telling of stories through the characters involved.

Aidan and I share a common debt to Winston, for giving us the chance to play a difficult, contrary, complex man often out of his time.

It’s a roller coaster of a ride!

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