It’s pa­tro­n­is­ing to as­sume SEX STOPS AT40

He first charmed us three decades ago with The Jewel in the Crown and now Game of Thrones has given him a new gen­er­a­tion of fans. Liz Hog­gard meets the man once called “the think­ing woman’s crum­pet” and talks about be­ing an older father, work­ing with wome

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - PROFILE -

Charles Dance is telling me about the mo­ment when he and Ja­son Isaacs fell for Scot­land’s first min­is­ter, Ni­cola Stur­geon. It was in July this year dur­ing the Franco-Bri­tish 100th an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Bat­tle of the Somme at Thiep­val in France. The ac­tors were back­stage in the green room after do­ing their po­etry read­ings for the cer­e­mony. “We met Ni­cola af­ter­wards and Ja­son and I both agreed that she is, to put it mildly, not unattrac­tive,” re­calls Charles drily.

In an in­stant, they be­came craven Stur­geon fans, he laughs. “We all of us – Ja­son, Joely [Richard­son] and I – said: ‘Can we come and live in Scot­land, please?’ And she said: ‘Aye, I’ll get you a pass­port, don’t worry about it.’ I think she’s a feisty, ter­rific woman. She seems to still have this in­tegrity which is a qual­ity that, from a naive observer’s point of view, very few politi­cians have.”

It’s a typ­i­cal Charles anec­dote: part po­lit­i­cal, part flir­ta­tious. Once he played the ro­man­tic lead­ing man; now it’s fa­thers and grand­fa­thers, he says with a slight sigh. But he still has an ef­fect on “women of a cer­tain age” (and knows it).

To­day the 1.9m ac­tor, im­pres­sively lean at 69, wears an ex­quis­ite An­der­son & Shep­pard suit. He swims in Hamp­stead’s out­door lido at 8am ev­ery day, fol­lowed by “a full car­diac-ar­rest break­fast” then cy­cles home.

“If, God for­bid, I do have to take my shirt off, I go and pump a bit of iron. I’m lucky that I have good genes. I’ve never been over­weight. Time takes its toll on all of us. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s un­kinder to women than it is to men, but nev­er­the­less I try to keep an eye on the rav­ages of grav­ity if I pos­si­bly can, be­cause as an ac­tor this is all we have. Painters have brushes and paints, but this

is it. So it’s in­cum­bent on us to look after our tool as much as we can.”

It’s a shock to re­alise that Charles has been on our screens for 32 years. His break­through role was as “the think­ing woman’s crum­pet” in the 1984 Bri­tish Raj drama The Jewel in the Crown. Younger fans will know him as Ty­win Lan­nis­ter in Game of Thrones, where he met a grisly death – shot with a cross­bow “on the khazi”.

He played icy Bri­tish com­man­der Alas­tair Den­nis­ton in the Os­car­win­ning The Imi­ta­tion Game, and he has a hi­lar­i­ous cameo as a “rather cyn­i­cal English dean” in the new Ghost­busters movie, along­side

Melissa McCarthy and Kris­ten Wiig.

He’s happy to be a straight man to “a bunch of very funny ladies”. When I men­tion the male fans who have re­acted badly to the all-fe­male re­boot, he sighs el­e­gantly. “They’re talk­ing about it as if some­body’s de­mol­ished Shake­speare or Dos­to­evsky. It isn’t.

It’s a piece of light en­ter­tain­ment and the girls might well be fun­nier than the men. Poor Caro­line Ah­erne, who died re­cently, was in­cred­i­bly clever and very, very funny. Lis­ten, be­ing funny is not the pre­rog­a­tive of men.”

Charles is witty and charm­ing, but those steely blue eyes flash if he senses a lazy ques­tion. “That’s old hat now, dar­ling, ac­tu­ally,” he re­proves.

He’s been la­belled Mr Posh, but the suave per­sona is a fake, he laughs. His mother, Nell, came from a poor East End fam­ily and went into ser­vice as an un­der house par­lour maid at the age of 14. Later she worked as a wait­ress. Home was a two-bed­room ter­race house near Ply­mouth, with an out­side lava­tory. He didn’t go to drama school or univer­sity; his ed­u­ca­tion came through act­ing and travel.

He’s still a no­mad – he’ll jump on a plane to film for six weeks in Beirut or the Ber­ing Sea. He re­calls that while mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary about Nanook of the North, he was stand­ing on the top deck of an ice­breaker at 3am, with his Walk­man play­ing Wag­ner, as the ship crunched through the ice. “It was me and 15 Inu­its. And that’s not some­thing you get to do un­less you’re do­ing this pe­cu­liar job. I have a brother who is a re­tired naval of­fi­cer but, if we both put flags in the map of the world as to where we’ve been, I’ve many more flags than he has.”

It can take its toll on re­la­tion­ships, of course. After his 33-year mar­riage to the sculp­tor Joanna Haythorn ended (they have a son, 42, and a daugh­ter, 36), he dated the ac­tress Sophia Myles, then in her 20s. In 2010 he be­came en­gaged to the artist Eleanor Boor­man, 26 years his ju­nior. They had a daugh­ter, Rose, in 2012 but sep­a­rated later that year.

Is it com­pli­cated to be away so much when you have such a young child? He shakes his head. “It’s com­pli­cated for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, none of which we will go into,” he says sternly. Then his face lights up. “But she is the most adorable, fan­tas­tic lit­tle girl. She’s ab­so­lutely bloody bril­liant, the ap­ple of my eye.”

Is fa­ther­hood dif­fer­ent sec­ond time around? “I don’t know that it’s dif­fer­ent but, prob­a­bly be­cause it’s a while ago now, I don’t re­mem­ber that pa­ter­nal pull. But then when my grown-up chil­dren were grow­ing up, I shared the re­spon­si­bil­ity with Jo, my ex-wife. We are all still very close – pos­si­bly too close – but I don’t re­mem­ber [ex­pe­ri­enc­ing] what I feel for this lit­tle per­son. It’s strange, I don’t know what that’s about.”

Re­cently he played Mr Ben­net in the movie mash-up Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies, where a bevy of young ac­tresses run about with dag­gers in their stock­ings. He loved sex­ing up Lizzie Ben­net’s father – “I thought some­body who sends his daugh­ters off to be trained as mar­tial arts ex­perts has got to have some­thing about him,” he hoots.

I’d as­sumed (per­haps un­fairly) that Charles was one of those men who don’t date women of his own age. He is, after all, sur­rounded by youth­ful flesh in his job. But he talks warmly about his favourite 60-plus ac­tresses. He’s re­cently been to see

Zoë Wana­maker (an old friend) and Bar­bara Flynn in the play El­egy.

This is the man, after all, who vir­tu­ally in­vented the grey pound when he di­rected Ladies in Laven­der (2004) with Judi Dench and Mag­gie Smith. It was a box of­fice suc­cess and “be­came the stock­ing filler for ev­ery maiden aunt and grand­mother and their neph­ews and nieces”.

He still gets in­dig­nant about how badly cin­ema au­di­ences aged over 50 are treated. So he has bought the film rights to Hi­lary Boyd’s best­selling book Thurs­days in the Park, about a 59-year-old woman who finds love with a man when they meet on

play­ground vis­its with their re­spec­tive grand­chil­dren. It is, he says, about the eter­nal dilemma of whether to stay with a dull but de­cent part­ner or “take a flyer” on pas­sion. “I know there are a lot of both men and women at that age in that po­si­tion, ac­tu­ally. And also the as­sump­tion that an ac­tive sex life stops at 40, it’s very pa­tro­n­is­ing.”

As a young man, Charles was sporty but not aca­demic and had a ter­ri­ble stam­mer. He left school with two O lev­els, went to art school, then worked as a graphic de­signer. Steve McQueen was his idol. “He was the king of cool. He trans­ported us up there.”

In his 20s, he met two re­tired gay ac­tors who men­tored him at their un­of­fi­cial drama academy in Devon. “We worked our way through Shaw and Shake­speare. They gave me ba­sic bal­let ex­er­cises, be­cause I tended to stoop, and a lot of voice work.”

He joined the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany, then The Jewel in the Crown put him on the map. There were roles in Alien 3 and Last Ac­tion Hero. Thanks to Game of Thrones he’s be­come cool for a new gen­er­a­tion. “It’s in­cred­i­bly well writ­ten. The writ­ers, Dan and David [D.B. Weiss and David Be­nioff], read English at Trin­ity,

Dublin. I don’t think in the four years I was as­so­ci­ated with it I found the word ‘got­ten’ once. As soon as I see that, the hairs go up on the back of my neck.”

We talk about his mother, who was a wait­ress (“a nippy”) in a Lyons Cor­ner House. “They were the place to go in the 1930s and 40s. They were places for ro­man­tic li­ai­son, for work­ing-class girls to get out of the ghetto, as it were. A girl from Streatham or Deptford might meet a hus­band. They were gay-friendly – ho­mo­sex­ual men could feel com­fort­able sit­ting there, wear­ing a chif­fon scarf. There were covert meet­ings between se­cu­rity peo­ple. There was al­ways an or­ches­tra and you could have a slap-up tea or a quiet din­ner without pay­ing through the nose. Now if you want that kind of thing, you’d have to join one of those many mem­bers’ clubs in Lon­don that cater for the elite.”

There’s a gleam in his eye. Is he plan­ning an­other script? “I think there are end­less sto­ries there. Es­pe­cially with the suc­cess of Call the Mid­wife, which has a sim­i­lar kind of time-scale.”

Oc­ca­sion­ally, he wea­ries of liv­ing out of a suit­case. He tells me he’s been en­joy­ing a sum­mer in Lon­don, tak­ing part in Po­etry Hour, launched at the Bri­tish Li­brary by nov­el­ist Josephine Hart to present great po­etry, read by great ac­tors, to new au­di­ences.

His friend­ship with Hart, who died of can­cer in 2011, and her hus­band, the ad­ver­tis­ing man Mau­rice Saatchi, goes back years. “Josephine would phone me and say: ‘Come and do some Larkin with us,’” he says, im­i­tat­ing her rich Ir­ish brogue. “I just jumped at it be­cause I wasn’t par­tic­u­larly well read, and I learnt a phe­nom­e­nal amount from her.”

To­day Saatchi runs the project in her mem­ory. I say it’s re­fresh­ing to have a man talk so openly about his grief. “Yes, it’s fan­tas­tic,” Charles agrees. I’m very fond of Mau­rice.

He’s a great guy and was bereft when Josephine died.”

Charles is aware of his own mor­tal­ity. He’s no party an­i­mal, pre­fer­ring to be in bed by 11pm. “My body clock doesn’t suit late nights.”

Be­sides, there’s the 8am swim. Some­times on a rainy day he’d “like to snug­gle down un­der the du­vet, but I think: ‘No, kick your­self up the arse, get on the bike and just do it.’” He talks en­vi­ously about an el­derly man at the Hamp­stead lido who swims even when he has to break the ice. “He said he only swims for about 15 min­utes and that the time to get out is when you start feel­ing eu­phoric, which is what hap­pens just be­fore hy­pother­mia sets in.”

Above his desk Charles has pinned: “I’ve wasted too much time but it was not mine to waste.”

So he’ll keep on fight­ing the rav­ages of age. “An ac­tor should never re­tire, any­way,” he in­sists.

“There’d be no­body to play old wrinkly peo­ple if we re­tired. We just have to keep go­ing.”

“An ac­tor should never re­tire. There’d be no­body to play old wrinkly peo­ple if we re­tired.”

TOP: Charles Dance and his ex-wife Joanna Haythorn in 1987. They were mar­ried for 33 years. ABOVE: The ac­tor at­tended this red carpet event in 2014 with for­mer fi­ancée Eleanor Boor­man. The cou­ple had a daugh­ter in 2012, but sep­a­rated soon after.

FROM LEFT: Charles and Geral­dine James in The Jewel in the Crown. With Dame Judi Dench on the set of Ladies in Laven­der. As Game of Thrones’ Ty­win Lan­nis­ter.

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