FEA'I‘U RE LIST
Although a generations apart in terms ofage. Leslie Phillips and Nigel I‘Iavers could be blood brothers when it comes to the strikingly similar images they have projected over the years. Both have won popularity as suave. urbane upper-crust smoothies. professional Englishmen for hire in domestic farce or international fare. Neither would particularly welcome the corset ofsuch a bluntly defined label but it has guaranteed consistent gainful employment in a profession renowned for its precariousness. It has also been responsible for winning them roles in Steven Spielberg's Empire oft/1e Sun. chosen as this year‘s Royal Film Performance.
Based on .l.(i. Ballard’s Booker shortlisted bestseller. the film is a sentimental epic covering the traumatic wartime experiences of a young boy living through the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. separation from his parents and years in an internment camp. Nigel I Iavers plays the dedicated camp doctor Rawlings and Phillips is Maxton. a member of the privileged British set in Shanghai. Both actors were understandably eager to participate in a major international production. filming in Spain. China and Britain. The lure of working with the celluloid phenomenon known as Steven Spielberg was also irresistible. ‘I Ie was exactly as I‘d imagined him to be - an extremely good director and an extremely nice man.‘ llavers says af'fably. ‘I Ie works very. very quickly; some days he got through something like forty different set-ups. which is very rapid. I personally like to work as quickly as possible so that was wonderful.’ Phillips adds. ‘I Ie is always full of different ideas and sometimes makes his mind up at the very last minute when he will suddenly change something. I didn't find it disconcerting. it was inspiring. IIe's marvellous. A multi-million dollar picture with thousands of people milling around and he was never fazed by anything.‘
()ne of the criticisms levelled at the film and Spielberg's work in general is the lack of depth in the characterisations. It is a valid point that Phillips is willing to address.
‘When you make a film you‘ve got to decide the kind of film you want and this is Steven‘s film. He did what he wanted and in the past he's proved that he knows what he‘s doing. The whole thing changed constantly from the book to the script and even during the shooting. I lost a lovely little scene. but there‘s always something ends up on the cutting room floor. I had a nice scene with Christian Bale where they were using techniques that I had never used before. They had long range cameras and you could be playing a scene and not even know you were being filmed because they were so far away. After this scene was over
Allan IIunter talks to Nigel llavers and Leslie Phillips. both Spielberg‘s new film. Empire oft/1e Sun.
and the set was struck and there was
no question of doing it again. Kathy. the producer. came up and said. “( )h (iod. you won't believe what happened”. We were all supposed to be starving; I was looking drawn and haggard. (‘hristian was looking pretty awful. but in the crowd surrounding us someone who was about eighteen stone with a great gut on him had got onto the film as an extra. So. everywhere we went in this scene there was this bloody great fat man and they couldn't use any of the material.‘
Phillips was last seen on the big screen opposite Meryl Streep in ()m of/lfrica whilst I Iavers has enjoyed his share of film success in xi Passage to India. ('ltariots ofl'ire and the recently completed Farewell to the King made in Borneo with Nick Nolte. Neither man feels that typecasting has hindered their career. although Phillips might now wish that he hadn‘t dropped his trousers quite as often in the service of the ('arry ()n and [)()('l()l' series. ‘You cannot avoid. in this business. if you have a success. getting a tag of some sort.‘ Phillips explains. ‘It means you‘ve become known. it means people have an image of you and the most difficult thing is to get rid ofit. In away that‘s what I've been doing over the past six years. You have to turn your back on a lot of things and take a lot ofchances. I‘ve been more selective but the rewards are lovely. I‘ve done some
super plays ~ Simon ( iray. Peter Nichols. I've worked with Meryl Streep. a mini-series with .Ioan ('ollins and a film with Stephen Spielberg. 'I‘ltat's not bad. is it'.’ I don't care how big the part is. I just want to do interesting work. There aren‘t that many Iinglish actors that can spam as long as I spam that haven't got one foot in the grave.‘
llavers too feels that his elegant. aristocratic image is nothing more than a convenient label of the media that neither reflects his true. off-screen personality nor the range of work he has tackled. "I‘be last two roles I've played weren‘t upper-class aristocrats. In Farewell to the King I play an Iinglish paratrooper who is dropped into the jungle in Borneo in 19-15. you wouldn‘t know where I came from. In limpire oft/1e Sun I'm just an Iinglish doctor. I think it‘s a myth that I‘ve been playing all these roles.~
A recent success as television‘s ('ltarmer and soon to be seen in a fourth series of the sit-com [)on "I Wait (.'p. llavers argues that British actors are fortunate in the way they can work in all media without regard to their star status. 'I think the great thing about working in Britain is that one moment you can do a film with Nick Nolte and John Milius directing or Steve directing and the next moment you can do a comedy series
for television. In America if you do that you'd be buried I should think. Nick said to me he couldn’t do what I do because he's not allowed to. he’s only going to make movies. [English actors are expected to do all sorts of things.‘
Immediately proving the point. Leslie Phillips is on tour in a production of Pride and Prejudice that has already taken him to
Northern Ireland and is currently continuing in Iingland only. llavers will shortly play David Niven in a TV film of his autobiography The Moon 's .'I Balloon but he definitely won’t be resurrecting 'l'lte ( 'liarmer. ‘At one stage London Weekend ’I’elevision wanted to do (‘harmer 2 but it was kind of difficult as I was dead although that doesn‘t need to stop any television company these days. There is a book that Patrick
I Iamilton wrote. pre the series. about the early life in which the character learned his trade. but I couldn‘t do that; even although the series won Best Lighting I don't think they could make me pass for eighteen.‘
Empire oft/1e Sun continues at the
( 'annon .S'ata'hieliall Street. Glasgow and the ( 'annon. lfdinhtirglt. See Film Listings for details.
A Passage to India will be shown on BB(‘I on 3 April.
'l‘he List l» 14 April 19885