Charles Dance ﬂings open the door and poses dramatically against the light. his long black cape lightly powdered from the snowstorm raging outside. Harsh shadows fall across the severely angular face as his alluring eyes narrow with evil intent. We follow his gaze. He is looking at the diminutive figure of the Golden Child. . . A few hours and several reels of film later.and the audience ofexpectant journalists is awaiting a second. real life. entrance from Mr Dance. The screen on which Sardo Numspa had effortlessly turned himselfinto a rat or a demon at will. is now covered by a black curtain. in front ofwhich is a ‘Mastermind’ black chair and a low glass table heavy with reporters‘ tape recorders. Like the Cheshire Cat. Dance appears little by little — first a glass of Perrier. then an ashtray. then. signifying the arrival ofthe man himself. his brown leather Filofax. The suspencc is growing for the hacks with a burning question in common — ‘Why did he do it‘?‘ ‘Why'.’ because it was enormous fun. ifnot a great intellectual excercise‘. says Dance. finally seated and looking as suave as ever in black jacket and scarf. ‘Do you enjoy playing the villain perhaps‘?‘. I volunteered. ‘I enjoy acting‘. he replied pointedly. ‘but this was just a romp. high—camp villainy — all that black leather and looking mean.‘ For all that. nobody can quite believe that the gentlemanly star ofJewel in the Crown and Plenty should be acting a comic—book character in a film with. of all people. Eddie Murphy. The Golden Child has been number one film in the States and in Australia. despite receiving a critical slamming. Dance himselfcontinues to offer disarmineg simple explanations ofwhat he was up to. ‘I had done nothing with special effects before. it was like being let loose in a toy factory.‘ Hard as it is still to imagine Dance rushing around the set in childish glee. it‘s clear that the actor has an appetite for fun which has not yet been given full vent in many ofthe stiff—upper lip parts he has played to date. Throughout the film it is Charles Dance‘s job to look tall and menacing (he wore a few inches of stacks in his shoes) and to glower a lot. Sadly only Eddie Murphy seems to have been allowed to improvise. ‘It wasn‘t by any means completely scripted and Eddie ad-libbed a lot. So did I actually. but most ofmy improvised lines ended up on the cutting room ﬂoor.‘ Such as? ‘Well. there was the bit where I gouged Eddie Murphy‘s arm and he asked for some Dettol or something in case it gets infected. I ad-libbed back. “infection is the least of your worries“ — well. I suppose he had to have the last line.‘ While the cutting process seemed to bring Sardo down to monosyllables. the production team decided after a few trial screenings that the film needed a few more ‘Murphyisms‘ to ‘make the product more acceptable to the market place‘. as Dance puts it. ‘I think it‘s a pity in a way because there is a lot more to Eddie Murphy
The elegant Charles Dance is finding a new image. Stephanie Billen found him trying to explain.
than what we‘ve been used to seeing.
Dance found himselfsuprised to get on so well with him as an actor. ‘I‘d seen Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places and I had also got hold of a tape ofhis one man show which I found quite alarming. There was this arrogant. cocksure guy who struts his way across the stage. and I thought “ten weeks with him — I‘m not sure this will be much fun.“ But in fact he‘s very quiet. more than a little defensive and quite shy. And it was a pleasure to work with him.‘ Potentially however. Murphy had a great deal of power ‘He certainly wasn‘t a meglomaniac on the set. but one was under no illusions that the film was being made because he was in it. and ifhe had wanted it changed. you could be sure it would be‘. Not necessarily a bad situation according to Dance. ‘Somebody has to have power somewhere and mainly it is in the hands of the studio executive. which is why you get a lot ofgarbage coming out of Hollywood. 1 had rather it was in the hands of actors. . . It‘s commerce in America not an art form.‘
Meanwhile Dance is excited about his recent filming of Good Morning Babylon by the Taviani brothers in which he plays the film director D W Griffiths. ‘It was a joy. I had wanted to work with the Tavianis for a long time. You are welcomed in to a huge family- with their wives. and even their dog. Pisa. in all the films. We worked French hours. which means no breaks and grabbing food when you can‘. Being part of a family. he says. made a nice change from working with ‘a lot ofanonymous characters round the set playing with their pocket calculators‘.
He learnt about Griffiths through a
memoir by Lilian Gish and acres of footage at the British Film Institute. including some ofGriffiths‘ acting. ‘He was a bloody awful actor but it was fascinating stuff to see. He was the father of Hollywood and seemed to have had the gift ofinspiring affection.‘ He also listened to voice tapes. ‘I think I ended up sounding like a cross between I F K and Franklin D Roosevelt.‘
In a past year that has seen him in more film and television roles than ever. Dance has also taken the part of‘Jerry‘. the unidentified Member of Parliament who is the romantic interest in Out on a Limb Shirley MacLaine’s autobiographical TV
movieforABC. ‘Who 's the MP? Eric
Heffer. Or was it Norman Skinner. No, Shirley didn 'tsay and I didn't ask. It would ha ve served no purpose.‘
Off to Africa next month to film White Mischiefstarring Greta Scacchi, Dance would appear to be in demand. but he sums up his situation as ‘being able to say no. but not yet being in a position to say “This is what I want to do. now give me the money“ ‘. The ‘break‘ that got him this far. was ofcourse the phlegmatic Guy Peron in The/ewe] in the Crown. ‘It‘s what all actors need, and I‘d been at it for fifteen years. AfterJewel people started being prepared to put money on me because someone else had taken the risk.‘
The part also launched him into the living room ofcountless females looking for a new idol. A Swedish journalist asked ifhe gets fan mail from Sweden. ‘Yes’. says Charles with his characteristically unswerving gaze daring her to ask more. ‘Give us some juicy quotes please‘. she says. The Englishman
laughs enough to gain her forgiveness before modestly declaring he couldn‘t possibly. ‘1 get warm and flattering letters from all over the world . . . There was a woman in Wales. . .‘TheTardis reporter looks up excitedly. ‘She sent me a photograph in response to my sending a photograph of me. telling me when her husband was away. and if I couldn‘t phone her then. there was her friend‘s phone number. It got a bit out of hand.‘ Somebody else asks him to ‘expand on the leading ladies he‘s worked with.‘ ‘I‘m sorry. I don‘t understand the question. what do you mean “expand“‘." ‘Well. you‘ve worked with Meryl Streep. Shirley MacLaine. now Charlotte Lewis. . ‘ ‘So. are you jealous‘.". counters Dance. ‘Yes.‘ Amused into some sort of response. Dance declares Meryl. ‘cerebral‘. as opposed to Shirley who ‘works from the gut.‘ Charlotte Lewis he confesses to having had ‘very little to do with. other than meeting her in make-up occasionally.‘
. Although Dance seems singularly
untaken with the glamour of his work today. he can wax lyrical about the horrors of his early career. After a repertoire tour of Two Foot Six Inches From the Ground — a play alluding to the average position of men‘s genitalia. which ‘came to an abrupt end in Scunthorpe‘. he answered an ad to work at the Theatre Royal in Colwyn Bay in Wales.‘It was a case ofeight actors working their tits off for sixteen weeks for next to nothing‘. The work he says was a question of ‘learning the lines and avoiding the furniture‘ in Noel Coward‘s words. Unfortunately Dance was. by his own admission. not even faultless at that. ‘We were doing Charlie‘s Aunt and I was forever drying stonedead. You became expert at asides to the audience like “Well I‘m speechless!“ ‘On one occasion. he recalls. the butler came in with a page of the script on his tray for him. Dance worked his way up to numerous parts with the Royal Shakespeare Company. notably as Henry V and Coriolanus. Now he says he would like to take on more Shakespeare and theatre acting. 'I‘d also like to play Van Gogh in something. I think there‘s a fascinating character there.‘ Time is not plentiful in Dance‘s busy life and our questions become increasingly random — ‘How many children?‘. ‘Two. one boy. one girl‘. ‘What about acupuncture?‘ Yes. each week Charles Dance allows himselfto be ‘turned into a porcupine or sometimes just given a needle in a particular position‘. all in the interests of his ‘general well-being‘. With ‘quickies‘ like ‘How have you got to be so sophisticated‘.". leaving him modestly lost for words. Dance looks relieved when we are told there‘s only time for one more question. It‘s another burning issue. ‘How tall are you?‘ ‘Six foot three‘, smiles the Gary Cooper ofthe 19805. The Golden Child opens in Central Scotland cinemas over the next fortnight. See Film listings.
6The List 23 Jan —5 Feb