New Zealand is a long way to go for anybody. It’s at the arse-end of nowhere. This is fine when our small island wants to stay out international affairs, or keep nuclear ships out of our waters, but it also puts off celebrities and artists from making the trip. Who wants to spend longer than a couple of hours on an airplane?
This year we’ve had tour cancellations from Ozzy Osbourne (due to a genuine injury), and Kiss (due to some half-hearted bullshit, conveniently allowing them to make more money playing Australia and Japan). Two big-name cancellations might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that we might only get half a dozen similarly sized acts per year, it can be a big blow to music fans.
So you have to make the most of what you can get. Occasionally, very occasionally, we might get a big-name actor, writer or director coming over on a promotional jaunt. I’ve been lucky in the past meeting Roger Moore, Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle. That’s three of my heroes right there, and I feel incredibly lucky to have met them. But that’s the sum total of my being in the country for twelve years. Living in LA, New York or London, one might be able to meet three big names in the course of twelve weeks.
And so when my wife told me that one of Britain’s greatest character actors, Timothy Spall, would be coming not only to New Zealand, but to the local art-house cinema in my small village outside of Auckland, I was immediately suspicious. I’ll believe it when I see it, I said. The announcement was just a few days before the event, and why the hell would Tim Spall want to come to New Zealand anyway?
Yet, the doubting Thomas in me was silenced.
On Friday night, I had the pleasure of watching his latest film, a bleak biopic of the North West’s greatest painter L.S. Lowry, before a Q&A with Spall himself. Mrs. Lowry & Son, directed by Adrian Noble, is far from the best film Spall’s been in. The sometimes-hammy script, limited narrative, even more limited filming locations and a greater focus on Lowry’s mother, instead of Lowry himself, makes it a seriously flawed film. Of course Spall’s subtle performance is the highlight of the film, as is Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of the painter’s overbearing matriarch, but both actors deserve much better material.
After a bleak 90-minutes, the film ended on a bright note with the expected intertitles explaining Lowry’s subsequent achievements – that his unsupportive mother died before his first major exhibition, his paintings now sell for millions, and his work is displayed inside the purpose-built Lowry art gallery in Salford. The credits rolled, and into the cinema walked the man himself, resplendent in a blue suit and waistcoat.
Unfortunately, the limitations of the venue – Howick’s beautiful Monterey Cinema – meant that things didn’t go smoothly. This is a cinema that regularly forgets to the turn the lights down and shut the door to the theatre when a film starts. Another time, during a 3-D screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s
Gravity, my 3-D glasses just stopped working mid-film. I rushed out to the lobby, and was told that the 3-D headsets were battery-operated (!) and they handed me another pair, with no apology. It’s a nice little cinema, but the incompetence of its staff lets it down.
So, after the applause died down, Timothy Spall walked to the front of the screen and started talking. The morons had forgotten to charge the wireless microphone. The cinema that advertised a ‘once in a lifetime event’ had failed to prepare the one thing that they needed for said event. It beggars belief.
Thankfully, Spall took the issue with good grace, forced into a corner of the room with the microphone wired into the power supply. His anecdotes and stories were as good as I had hoped. He covered his battle with leukaemia, explaining that when the rest of the cast of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies travelled to Cannes with the film, he went into hospital for chemotherapy instead. The silver lining, aside from beating the disease of course, was that when he left hospital he was inundated with film offers because Secrets & Lies had done so well.
In another great story, he mentioned that after his preparation and research for playing the other famous British painter JMW Turner, in 2014’s Mr. Turner, he became a painter himself and his work is now displayed in The Lowry, alongside Lowry’s work. Art imitating life becoming art itself.
I asked a question too:
Me: Hi Tim, I’m a big fan. And I’m a big fan of Rafe too.
Tim: I’m a big fan of Rafe’s too! [laughs] He’s talking about my son, ladies and gentlemen.
Me: We’ve just seen Rafe in BBC’s War Of The Worlds, which he was fantastic in. I wanted to ask whether there’s a bit of rivalry in the family now that you’re both such big-name actors?
Tim: Oh no [laughs], not at all. I’m a big fan of Rafe’s. In fact, I’m his biggest fan! No, I’m immensely proud of him, and he’s a great son. And he’s a great Dad himself, too.
After the Q&A, I rushed out to the lobby to ask him for a photo and for an autograph on my Quadrophenia soundtrack LP. His first film appearance, some forty years ago, Spall has a small role as the awkward projectionist at the advertising agency where Phil Daniel’s Jimmy works (when Jimmy bothers to turn up). I showed him the LP. ‘What’s that?” he peered. ‘Oh, Quadrophenia! Ha! Wow, is that the album?’
Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to asking Tim my other question. I had recently seen a clip of Rafe Spall mentioning that he had narrowly missed out on the role of Dr. Who. When the BBC producers told him not to tell anybody he was going through the audition process, he instead told everybody. Word got back to them, and he was dropped. I wanted to ask a hypothetical question: if Rafe got the part of another British screen hero, James Bond, would Tim be keen on playing M?
I’ll ask him next time.
Hit: Louie Louie – The Kingsmen
Hidden Gem: Zoot Suit – The High Numbers