The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FEATURE -

hey’re act­ing leg­ends who are still lend­ing their tal­ents to both stage and screen to­day af­ter stel­lar ca­reers that have spanned decades. Now Michael Gam­bon, Diana Rigg, Ian McKellen and Claire Bloom are just some of the names who look back on their mem­o­ries — and tell rarely heard tales — in a re­veal­ing new DVD, Bri­tish Leg­ends Of Stage And Screen, which is in the shops now.

Lau­rence Olivier was a friend, men­tor and em­ployer to many of th­ese stars, not least Michael Gam­bon, whom he re­cruited for his new Na­tional The­atre Com­pany. Their first play, Ham­let, starred Peter O’Toole, and Gam­bon re­calls the first time he met him. ‘I was one of 10 broad guys,’ re­calls Michael, 72, ‘with a hel­met and breast plate. I got a mes­sage ask­ing me to go to Peter O’Toole’s dress­ing room. He was sit­ting in front of his mir­ror and he said, “Are you that id­iot who grabs me when I jump into the grave with Ophelia? Well, you’re hurt­ing my arm. If I was a dif­fer­ent sort of bloke, I’d smack you. Now, lie on the floor and pre­tend to be me and I’ll teach you how to lift me.”’

Diana Rigg, 74, re­calls how shoot­ing to fame with her star­ring role as se­cret agent Emma Peel in the cult 1960s TV se­ries The Avengers was over­whelm­ing. ‘I had no idea what I was get­ting my­self into. Sud­denly I was work­ing 12-14 hours a day, learn­ing and de­liv­er­ing lines very quickly. Pa­trick Mac­nee, who played Steed, was charm­ing and help­ful but it was in at the deep end. I had no way of pre­par­ing my­self for in­stant fame. The fan mail was huge and I felt too guilty to throw it away so I got my mother to deal with it. She was very busi­nesslike with all th­ese lovesick men. She’d write back say­ing, “My daugh­ter’s too old for you. What you need is a good run round the block.”’

Rigg tried her hand at mu­si­cals in the film of A Lit­tle Night Mu­sic in 1977 with Elizabeth Tay­lor. ‘Elizabeth was rav­ish­ing and very nice but she was in­ter­minably late. She’d ar­rive around 11am, clutch­ing a glass of or­ange juice that was not un­fa­mil­iar with the Smirnoff ef­fect. You just wanted to slap her. She was a nice woman but in­dulged in ev­ery re­spect and didn’t really think of any­body else but her­self.’

It wasn’t just in the 1950s and ’60s that emo­tions ran high on set. Ian McKellen, 73, re­veals that he was so over­come with lone­li­ness while play­ing the wizard Gan­dalf in The Hob­bit: An Un­ex­pected Jour­ney, he burst into tears. ‘I had to be filmed sep­a­rately so I could ap­pear taller than the hob­bits and dwarves and I don’t like do­ing that. I just started cry­ing be­cause that isn’t what I came into the busi­ness to do.’

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