Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Postcards from Portugal
The following was written by the actor and director Samuel West for Tatler magazine, in July 1998 and has been posted here with his and their permission.
To Sesimbra, just outside Lisbon, for a month to work on Hornblower. Ioan Gruffudd, a brilliant young Welsh actor, is playing our hero, I’m playing Major Edrington, an aristocratic soldier, and Portugal is playing France.
Also in the cast are Antony Sher and Estelle Skornik, who plays Nicole in the Renault ads. The latest one, ‘BOB!', has just started showing here – the consensus among the crew is that the blue eyeshadow was a mistake, but they wouldn’t chuck her out of bed for making crumbs.
I went online today and joined Ioan’s Internet fanclub; (15000 members and counting; such is the pull of five minutes screentime in the last reel of Titanic). I signed the guestbook of one of his three homepages while he sat next to me, very shocked by all this attention.
Wednesday 17th June 1998
On set, I am baking slowly in two layers of red moleskin and a large horse. I’ve had to learn to ride for this job on a beautiful chestnut with go-faster ears, christened ‘601’ after the brand on his neck.
It is extremely surprising that I didn’t fall off today.
It is extremely unsurprising that I fell off today. Really slowly, and in full view of eighty giggling extras. 601 was more amused than most; I got back on and he sighed slightly.
I’ve had a sweet e-mail back from the owner of Ioan’s page apologising for his English and sending greetings to Ioan and myself. He’s French-Canadian and his English is, predictably, perfect.
Estelle Skornik is arriving tomorrow; the crew is very male, very straight and very horny, and a lot of them are keeping themselves free lest they should be favoured in the bar tonight.
Estelle arrived and went straight to bed. She is as beautiful as the day, and she has a boyfriend called Mark. Everyone’s rather depressed.
The cast have an oddly successful evening out, conversing in a mixture of English, French and Welsh. Estelle is the only French actress I’ve ever met who doesn’t smoke. She also doesn’t drink, and eats only boiled fish, steamed vegetables and salad. Over herbal tea she tells me my smile has something of Christopher Lambert about it, and for a brief moment I am the happiest man on earth.
June 22nd - England v Romania
Ioan and Estelle have discussed their screen kiss: she says if you love the other person it’s okay to use tongues. So no tongues.
In a lonely moment I turn to Baywatch reruns on telly and discover Pamela Anderson’s charms are considerably reduced by Portuguese subtitles across her medium close-ups.
Estelle twisted her ankle jumping out of a window on set today. Apparently on landing in terrible pain her first word was ‘Maman!’, and a dozen love-sick swains ran forward shouting ‘NICOLE!’
We’re shooting this week on a stone bridge entirely constructed by the Art Department. It doesn’t go anywhere useful - if it did, we’d be stuck on one side when we blew it up, which we do next Tuesday. So instead it cuts across one end of a long thin lake, and shot from the side, you can’t tell that it isn’t a river. And there’s just enough of a current to play pooh sticks, which is a relief.
26th June – England v Columbia
I found Kevin the make-up artist painting a St George’s cross on one of the extra’s faces, and powdering him with as much care as if he were doing Ioan’s eyeliner. Bless.
Before the game the hotel gave what it called, with admirable frankness, a Beer Party; I bought the largest round of my life, 20 halves, for 2000 escudos (about 6 quid). I don’t remember much about the evening, but I think we won.
Coals to Newcastle: when the special effects boys - they’re always boys - do explosions, they fill big mortars with lumps of cork to make harmless rock. We’re in the centre of the biggest cork-producing region in the world, and we’ve brought our own. By lorry. Via Yalta.
Time between takes is spent under the cork trees with my tapestry. Everybody tries hard to make PC comments about a man doing needlepoint, then Tony Sher says ‘Well, I think it’s poofy’. Coming as it does from someone who dances at the other end of the ballroom, this makes him very popular.
Tuesday June 30th - England v Argentina
My last day, and in every way the most memorable. First, the bridge didn’t explode. This is normally a Good Thing, but in this case it meant a two hour reset and an early release for the actors, who were to be driven back to the hotel in plenty of time for tonight’s game. That, at least, was the plan.
We got lost in the one-way system on the way back, and had to cross the longest bridge in Europe (twice, 11 km in both directions) to get back to where we started. I reached the bar eight seconds before kick-off. Packing could wait.
And so, after a memorable 90 minutes, we went into the final period drama, singing ourselves hoarse because nobody’s got any lines tomorrow, and as Batty stepped up for the last penalty it looked like it would be the perfect ending to the perfect month.…