Always look on the bright side

The Scottish public has embraced Victor Meldrew. the classic grouchy Kelvinsider in One Foot In The Grave. Andrew Meehan meets Richard Wilson. the man behind that self-righteous scowl.

nside Richard Wilson‘s head you will find Richard Wilson‘s brain which holds captive Richard Wilson's psyche squirming. dark and exquisite. This is no place for trespassers. It is a protected place. where the brave and the bold know not to tread. liven Wilson keeps his distance. llis happiest moments are when he is not himself. Most days he yearns to be someone else. and on many days he actually is. And for the seventeen million viewers who regularly ttmc in to ()m' Foot In The Grave. he’s Victor Meldrew. the man who goes not at all gently into old age.

But today Richard Wilson runs the store. As part of a BBC acting masterclass he is concentrating on the latter half of his actor- director hyphenate. Holed up in Glasgow‘s Queen Margaret Drive studios. Wilson looks at once dignified and goofy. about ready to cut loose. A man-a-jangle. he is also warm and funny.

()n the subject of the theatre he barrels forth. an unstoppable force who presumes to waste the time of no one. He won‘t surrender his life to you. as some actors will. His quietness is defensive he tastes the questions asked of him and spits some of them back.

Wilson can't be cut down to the usual tag- lines. He‘s supposed to be gruff. laconic. smooth as a woman‘s back: a Greenock-born. RADA-trained comic light-heavyweight. And intolerant. intellectual. and a star. What Richard Wilson really is. is a face.

Anyone who can look as normal as Victor .‘vleldt'ew. and yet in an instant twist the whole package lips. nose. eyes. brow into something resembling a human hiccup. has an unclassifiable talent. ()n this subject. Wilson is like mercury. quick to slip away. ‘1 try to do less. because Victor is a minimal character.‘ he says. ‘Thc face only comes through the thought. and the scripts [by David Renwick] give you plenty to think about. The trouble with Victor is that he has to have ()4 different ways of being angry. Exciting acting means tiny interrelation. Good acting is about interplay rather than stars.‘

Above all else. Wilson cherishes the opportunity to work with new writers and actors. The masterclass itself. though invaluable for the participants. makes uncomfortable viewing. The six young actors should be congratulated on having the guts. and perhaps the foolhardiness. to take part. and Wilson should be given credit for allowing cameras into

‘The trouble with Victor is that he has to have 64 different ways of

being angry.’

moments of

what is a private. improvised space. but what we have here is abstract and inaccessible.

Despite a career that included seven feature films. until five years ago Wilson was relatively unknown. He did some wonderful work. most notably as the mettlesotne Eddie Clockerty in Tutti Fruni. but in the wrong places. in the kind of TV that proves ephemeral. That changed with One Foot In The Grave.

Wilson is nearing 60. which seems inconceivable. especially to him. Though still preternaturally thin. there are signs that he has begun to concede the battle. He describes a recent hernia operation as ‘fortunate‘ since it afforded him a decent break.

‘lf you get too tired. you realise that you‘re not providing anything special. that you’re just going through the motions.‘ he says. ‘lt gets harder because the expectation gets higher. When you have a very large audience. not only are people out to see how different you can be. I think they’re quite happy if you‘re not up to

Richard Wilson as Victor Meldrew scratch: “There he goes. he shouldn‘t be doing that.“‘

Pushing himself harder than and winning handily. Wilson seems at ease with his three Baftas and his 0813. Still. you get the impression that part of him dwells but a heartbeat away from failure and ruin.

‘When I start directing. my lifestyle is such that I spend much much more than I bring in.~ he says. ‘As an actor. you‘re not used to that. and I worry about it. It‘s a worry about expectation. about producing the goods. A feeling of "When am I going to be found out'.’ Someone‘s going to say that I'm a one-part man.“ And when you become so popular. to some people it doesn‘t matter how good you actually are anymore.‘

Wilson is not a nostalgic man. this is clear. He's too much in love with the next job for that. But the world into which Victor .‘N'leldrew has led him is a disconcerting and a widening world. and Richard Wilson. in his own words. is “trying to learn how to say no“.

Ric/turd Wilson 3' acting master class is on Monday 1 April at 1/. l5pm ()1! [NSF].


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