Sunday, 25 April 2010


Richard Talbot, who died last week, was the first person I met when I joined the Arena agency in 2004. He interviewed me in the manner of Frankie Howerd, and of course, won me over instantly.
He was a brilliant conversationalist with a mine of stories about celebs which you were never quite sure were really his - until he'd send you a photo of himself with Judi Dench, that is. He was criminally underused as an actor, but one who got great notices for his stage work and who had a superb radio voice. A mentor to many young actors, he was always entertaining, flirtatious, wise, loved cooking and also found it impossible to be serious in agency meetings. He'll be sadly missed.

Saturday, 17 April 2010


So that's it - the ad is in the can. All told it's been a pretty civilised shoot, and it was very entertaining having penguins knocking about all day today - they've been greenscreening them into the set and having stuffed ones making eye contact with us and what not(I've no idea what the live penguins make of their upholstered friends - they don't give anything away). I've never seen animals being used on set before - it's a sort of organised chaos.

It turns out that Steve Hudson, the director, is responsible for some of my very favourite ads - including the NHS one where a girl talks about her father's lung cancer. It's so compelling and ghastly and touching; looking down his CV he also directed the Boursin ad with the "du tracteur" ending. What an instinct for real comedy and tragedy - and in a medium which often seems to prefer you to sail the middle passage.

Friday, 16 April 2010

I think Nicola, my make-up artist, is in love with the footballer...

Shoot Days (still)

Because of the nature of this ad - "Amazing HD" - extraordinary things have to happen to us on the set. I mean, it's not just us sitting around talking about soap powder or whatever - if a footballer does a scissor kick in the front room, they actually get him to do it in front of us for reference (even though they get the shot itself on green screen). We've had them all - WWII soldiers under fire; ballroom dancers; vampires fighting.
It's the SWAT team crashing through the living room windows which causes the biggest stir. There's nothing like the arrival of some stuntmen dressed all in black, and intent on detonating some explosives to cure a jaded shooting palate...

Shoot Days (cont'd)

One of the games we play on set (Mel, Michael and I) is trying to work out who's who - not the crew, that's obvious, but the agency and client people, of whom there are an awful lot.
It's a little disconcerting, especially when quiet words are had with the director and new notes emerge, or you're asked to do something completely differently as a result of a huddle. Fair enough, though - it's their money and their concept, and they know what they want.
We find ourselves opposite a groovy-looking agency guy at lunch and subtly try to get some info - he's the writer, it turns out, and has been monitoring things very closely. He saw our audition tapes and knows us rather well, and he's very positive about our contribution. Good to hear. It's also good to hear that the amount of money that's been poured into this pretty much guarantees it'll be broadcast....
As we finish our lunch, the vampires arrive.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Shoot Days

Lily Allen is apparently shooting a pop promo in the stage next to ours - the thundering bass gives it away. Luckily there's no dialogue on our shoot being recorded today, or I imagine Howie, our sound man, would not be quite so good-natured.

She's sighted at lunchtime though, in the big canteen which stages 1 and 2 share, and I, like everyone else, do a wee double-take whilst in the (enormous) queue. It's enormous because there are lots and lots of background artists, most of whom are exceptionally pretty and chiselled, and I sit opposite two of them whilst they both demolish a substantial lunch. They're playing mannequins or something, and they negotiate the tomato sauce on the chicken expertly without damaging their very detailed make-up. They have been here since 7am and haven't been used yet.

When they get up to leave, I see they are only wearing pants. Michael's eyes nearly pop out of his head - he's 12 and plays my son. I bet he can't wait to get to school on Monday.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Ad Nauseam

As the below suggests, it's a while since I've done an ad and I've kind of forgotten how they work. The last one was for Ford Focus (see posts passim) and when it was released I was all but invisible in the final cut. No, rewind that -I was invisible - not even I could identify myself in it. This didn't stop them buying me out to show it in Dubai, the Far East and all sorts of other territories, though, and we ended up with Ford Focus carpets, a Ford Focus dishwasher, etc etc. Good Times.

This ad, however, features a family watching Virgin Amazing HD on telly, and since I'm playing the Dad it may be tricky to totally excise me from the final version, no matter how much they want to. During wardrobe call my on-screen wife, Mel, tells me that she bought a holiday and all sorts of other goodies on the strength of a buyout not so long ago, and they just dumped the commercial completely. So for the moment, the sat nav, the garden shredder and the i-phone will have to remain lonely and unloved between the laminated pages of the Argos catalogue.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Same, but Different.

Ads are so different from the normal run of things that they seem almost alien. Take wardrobe for example. I mean, I've been lucky enough to do some great theatre work with great costume designers, but at no stage do they help you into your clothes during your fitting, like the wardrobe assistant will do for a commercial.

Similarly details like transportation. I'm on the phone to Tod about Thursday, when we're due to start shooting. I'm discussing my journey to Black Island Studios from my brother-in-law's gaff in Dulwich when he asks "Wouldn't it be more convenient to be picked up from home, or would that disrupt the family?"

Home? Oh, God, yes. Of course. They send a car. I knew that. I did actually know that. Yeah.

Pull yourself together, man.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Advertising Fairy...

...will occasionally, if you have been very good, pat you on the bum and say "well done Stevie". Although when this happens don't tell anyone, because she is just as likely to put her cheque book back in her little fairy pocket and decide the concept was all wrong/you are now all wrong/the timing is all wrong and not make the ad with you, if at all. So you'll get your BSF and nowt else. You see, it's a good idea to keep a sense of perspective.
So last Friday, when Andy called me to say that I'd been pencilled for an ad, I found it relatively easy to be phlegmatic and balanced about it. I just celebrated the pencil for what it is - mild approbation. By 5pm I was resigned, because by then they are working their way down the list of "also-rans" after having secured the services of their first choice. And when I saw his number calling at close of business I'd prepared an upbeat response just to show what a darned pro I am about all this.
So I was a bit shocked to get it.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Impossibility of Unemployment in the Mind of an Working Actor

Has anyone had this Damien Hirst-ish thought before? It's a funny old thing, 'ain't it, and I'm not sure I'm any better at dealing with it at 43 than I was at 23. It seems to be a kind of cushion, being in work, which smothers your facility to anticipate being out-of-work.
I've never been famous (leaving aside my brief experience in Musselburgh, of course) but I understand you can similarly anaesthetise yourself against being unknown again quite successfully. My friend Matt played a regular character on "Brookside" for six months, whereupon they suddenly wrote him out. Just like that. No sooner had he started dealing with girls buzzing around him in clubs , than he had to get used to them buzzing around someone else instead.
Another friend of mine used to play with Rugby Club band-of-choice "The Macc Lads" (he was by far the most polite member of the band), and the end of this period in his working life was, apparently, very abrupt. No opportunity to prepare for it. One day famous, then not. I asked him how he dealt with it, and he said he didn't. He never recovered properly at all. Then I made the mistake of asking whether he missed it at all, and his look instantly told me I'd asked possibly the daftest question of my life. "Every day" he replied.
I've forgotten why I brought this up...oh yes - because I've been looking at some comically ancient photos of myself growing older on stage over the years, and I had a bit of a memento mori. Enjoy it, whatever it is. It doesn't last long.