Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Quote • LAURENCE OLIVIER CENTENARY • 2007

Olivier as Lear on the cover of Theatre World © Sarah Vernon

Olivier as Lear on the cover of Theatre World © Sarah Vernon

“I found him technically extraordinary. It was an awesome experience to be on the same stage with him, and sometimes I found it frightening.” Billie Whitelaw

“That was amazing, to be directed by himself. Sir. We used to call him Sir. He was wonderful. He was like the father figure for the whole company and it was – I don’t know if it is today quite the same – but it was very much a family. Everyone knew each other and the experienced always helped the inexperienced ones. It was tremendous, and a wonderful, wonderful different variety of people in it.” Caroline John

“Just as Peter Hall holds the most profound directorial influence over me, Olivier, as an actor, exerts the most authority. On the face of it my acting style seems far removed from Olivier’s. He now seems dated to me, but there’s still a reverence and an affinity which I never felt for Gielgud or Anthony Quayle or Richardson. With Olivier, I think it must have something to do with the unknowability of the man. He expressed himself more or less completely through his work, so that his character or personality or whatever was obscured by theatrical flourishes and subterfuge. He would have made a good spy, where fabrication has to be second nature and cock and bull is your profession.” Ian Holm

“I love his sort of acting. He really went for effect. When he did his curtain call in Othello, he’d walk down to the centre of the stage, and he would put his hand on his heart. The house would be screaming and he would put his other arm up like that and drop it. An actor in the wings said to him: ‘What’s all that shit you’re doing, Larry?’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you one thing. You’ll never do it.’ Which was cutting, but true. He knew he was a great actor. He had all the attributes. He was compact. When you looked at him on stage, there was nothing out of proportion. He always had his shoulders built out a bit, and he had very narrow hips. He was like an acting machine. He was built for acting.” Michael Gambon

“To me the greatest actor was [Ralph] Richardson. Larry was a great performer. In a way you always knew it was performing. But he was such an extraordinary conjurer that he literally took the audience’s breath away. I don’t quite think that’s acting but, by God, it’s performing.” Peter Hall

Director of the National Theatre from 1963 to 1973, Laurence Olivier was to be celebrated by the NT in the Olivier Theatre in September of 2007. The story of his working life was told through film and stage extracts, letters, reminiscence and readings. Taking part , depending on availability, were Eileen Atkins, Claire Bloom, Anna Carteret, Derek Jacobi, Charles Kay, Clive Merrison, Edward Petherbridge, Joan Plowright, Ronald Pickup and Billie Whitelaw. Prior to the evening celebration, a new statue of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet, created by the sculptor Angela Conner and funded by private subscription, was unveiled on the South Bank, next to the National’s Theatre Square.

Originally published on R&V 22-05-07

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