The acclaimed actor discusses Shakespeare’s love of the land, the delicate beauty of the British countryside and the vital importance of laughter
Shakespeare’s canon is full of references to nature.
Whoever wrote Shakespeare was a great lover of the countryside, because he uses it in the verse and the prose instinctively, as if it is part of him, part of his psyche. And he describes the land in very beautiful ways. He was clearly a lover of nature, had a great knowledge of how the country worked, how it survived and how it nurtured him. As, of course, it does all of us – we couldn’t exist without it. I’m a lover of towns but I couldn’t exist without what the countryside gives me, both materially and spiritually.
When filming on location in Britain,
you’re looked after, fed and watered. So you have no worries about life and can give your time to the work and leisure surrounding your work. When in the country, that means lovely walks, sights, breathing fresh air. My lungs enjoy the countryside more than London. You can actually feel the air’s goodness.
My proudest achievement
is probably that I’ve lived this long. I’m going to be 80 next year, so I’m pleased I’m active. I still feel teenage inside and I’m still able to do the things I love most. I wanted to be a successful actor and here I am, nearing 80, still acting.
In my youth, my parents took me to the countryside and seaside.
Particularly to Devon and Cornwall. I loved it – Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor – those areas are wonderful.
I’m very keen on laughter.
It’s so important. If you laugh a lot, you won’t get really ill. I don’t really believe that but I hope that is the case. Laughter undercuts pomposity – always a good thing. Laugh at it, laugh at it, send it up!
If I were a wild animal,
I’d be a deer. I have a house in France, and they sometimes come out of the forest to a wonderful hill in front of the house. They’re beautiful to look at, although they eat the roses. I don’t approve of that! I’m a war baby, and I was brought up on Bambi. So I would be a deer.
France’s countryside is beautiful but ours is beautiful on a more delicate palette.
And I love the fact that in this country we have weather, the seasons . It’s not always the sun – the sights and sounds of the land change constantly, which is lovely to be part of.
I suppose there must be a rural and urban divide,
because you get accustomed to the environment in which you live. As a city dweller, you know how to survive in a city. In the country, as a visitor – which I can only be, as I don’t work in a rural way – it is a place of peace, solitude, relief, relaxation, beauty, of looking at the world in a more introspective way. I don’t feel I’m having to survive in the country, because the country accepts me, whereas in town, I have to be on my guard. I suppose that’s what I like about the city – as an actor, you can’t be too relaxed, your nerve ends have to be raw, because that’s what you live on and give to the public. But it’s lovely to go to the country and feel different.
I think any person who slogs 15, 16 hours a day farming is a hero.
Waking up at 3am to pick or sow potatoes, providing me with lovely food – that’s pretty heroic.
What inspires me: energy, achievement, commitment.
I love watching athletics – it makes me cry to see people racing around the track and getting to that winning line. In a wider context, it’s striving after something. The commitment to it, the energy required and the courage that needs. All those things I admire and can get very emotional about.
When I’m walking in the country I look on the ground too much,
in case I trip over a stone, so I miss what’s going on around me. I prefer to sit and look, preferably with a glass of wine, to take in the glory of it. The sounds of the country are so different from those of town. As we speak, machines are digging up the road outside my house, laying new tarmac. I’d much prefer to listen to birdsong.
I can sum up why I was drawn to this recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express in two words: Kenneth Branagh.
I’ve known Ken since he was 18, when he interviewed me for a drama school magazine while I was playing Hamlet at the Old Vic . When he phoned to say “Do you want to be Johnny Depp’s manservant in the movie?” I said, “Yes I’ll do it for free.”
For me, it’s jam first and then cream on top of a scone.
When I used to go to Cornwall and Devon for my holidays, we always had cream teas and I was always told to put the jam on first. What should it be?
“The country to me is a place of peace, solitude, relief, relaxation and beauty”
Derek Jacobi stars as Edward Masterman in Murder on the Orient Express, released in cinemas nationwide on 3 November.