Henry Good­man tells Anne Joseph about his ca­reer on stage and screen


IFEEL READY now, in my late 60s, to be bet­ter and bet­ter at film,” says ac­tor Henry Good­man. “The the­atri­cal mus­cle, the the­atri­cal in­stinct will never go and I don’t want to let it — I want to keep work­ing in theatre, it’s deep in my DNA — but I am de­vel­op­ing a greater af­fec­tion for film than I’ve ever had.”

This year alone, Good­man has ap­peared twice on our cin­ema screens, in cameos in Their Finest and The Lime­house Golem. Other re­cent film roles in­clude Dr List in Avengers: Age of Ul­tron, Leon Trot­sky in The Cho­sen and El­liot Tiber’s fa­ther in Tak­ing Wood­stock. He’s an hon­orary pa­tron of UK Jewish Film and this year, and at this month’s UK In­ter­na­tional Jewish Film Fes­ti­val he is one of the judges for the Dorf­man best film award which recog­nises “pow­er­ful and out­stand­ing film­mak­ing” in both fic­tion and doc­u­men­tary films.

In his lat­est movie, Love is Thicker Than Wa­ter, screen­ing at the UK IJFF next week, Good­man plays another pa­ter­nal fig­ure. His char­ac­ter, Levi, is a mid­dle-class Jewish doc­tor and, ex­plains Good­man, a man, “who is ca­pa­ble of enor­mous warmth.”

“There’s some­thing rather touch­ing about play­ing some­one like that, he tells me over cof­fee in a Wim­ble­don shop­ping cen­tre café, not far from his Raynes Park home.

Di­rected by Ate de Jong and Emily Har­ris, Love is Thicker Than Wa­ter is a charm­ing, quirky and gen­tly comedic film. When Vida (Ly­dia Wil­son) and Arthur (Johnny Flynn) meet, they quickly fall in love but their dif­fer­ent back­grounds and re­spec­tive fa­mil­ial ex­pec­ta­tions are ob­sta­cles to their fu­ture to­gether. Vida is a Lon­doner from a priv­i­leged, Jewish fam­ily (Good­man stars as Vida’s fa­ther) and Arthur is a work­ing class, aspir­ing an­i­ma­tor from a Welsh min­ing town. The film ex­plores whether love can over­come cul­tural and com­mu­nal dif­fer­ence as well as so­ci­etal pres­sures.

When Good­man re­ceived the script he re­calls that he found him­self drawn to it. “My first in­stinct was that there’s a lot of lay­ers in this story,” he says. “What hap­pens in one fam­ily as the mem­bers of the younger gen­er­a­tion re­ject the older gen­er­a­tion and try to make their own life, de­spite in­evitably be­ing shaped by what they’ve in­her­ited? The trau­mas of the past will not go away and the more the next gen­er­a­tion try to run from it, some­times, the more con­fused and lost they get.”

Levi’s fam­ily also suf­fers from the legacy of the Holo­caust, he says, which af­fects his re­la­tion­ship with his wife, played by Juliet Steven­son. But he’s keen to em­pha­sise that the film is not all about trauma.

“It’s also sweet and cheeky. There’s a lot of joy and hu­mour,” par­tic­u­larly be­tween the two young pro­tag­o­nists.

The film’s ti­tle can be in­ter­preted in dif­fer­ent ways and Good­man ad­mits to not be­ing ab­so­lutely sure what it means.

“It’s an emo­tive phrase,” muses the af­fa­ble 67 year old, “We tend to think it means you stick with your own kind, you can never get away. But if it’s thicker, it can co­ag­u­late quicker, it can carry more. So it can be a rich, up­lift­ing and sup­port­ive thing but it can also be a heart at­tack.”

Al­though Good­man ap­pre­ci­ates that it is easy to see Levi as a clichéd role, “in the my-son-the­do­c­tor and all of that” kind of way, he dis­agrees with that in­ter­pre­ta­tion. “He’s good and solid but he’s deeply wounded. I think it’s quite clear that he might be em­pa­thetic with his pa­tients but he lives a very lonely life.”

Good­man’s im­pres­sive CV re­flects his con­sid­er­able ver­sa­til­ity. In­deed the JC’s theatre critic, John Nathan has de­scribed him as a per­former whose range is un­sur­passed. That range has in­cluded play­ing a large num­ber of Jewish char­ac­ters — an Olivier award win­ning Shy­lock in the Na­tional Theatre’s 1999 pro­duc­tion of The Mer­chant of Venice, Tevye in Fid­dler on the Roof and Sig­mund Freud in Terry John­son’s Hys­te­ria.

He has also brought Henry Kissinger, Grou­cho Marx and Primo Levi to life on screen and on stage. But, by tak­ing on so many Jewish roles, does he feel a bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards his Jewish au­di­ences?

There’s cer­tainly a feel­ing that, “he’s one of us,” Good­man

Taxi drivers tell me ‘You done awright!’

ac­knowl­edges. “Taxi drivers still stop me in the street and say, ‘You done awright!’ and so on a sub­tle, per­sonal level that cre­ates a won­der­ful sense of pride.

“I’m very pleased that all the peo­ple who sup­ported me as a young kid in very tough cir­cum­stances — the youngest of six kids with a men­tally ill fa­ther — get nachas from my suc­cess,” he adds. “I’m also deeply grate­ful to the Jewish and non-Jewish peo­ple that lib­er­ated my op­por­tu­ni­ties but I’ve learnt, as an in­di­vid­ual and artist, that I can’t serve up what they need,” he says. “You never lose re­spon­si­bil­ity but I can’t be an am­bas­sador.”

That re­spon­si­bil­ity does in­flu­ence the roles that he looks for. “I’m re­sis­tant to the per­cep­tion that far too many Jews au­to­mat­i­cally have to be bad char­ac­ters. There are not enough [roles] show­ing them as de­cent, kind hu­man be­ings, which many, many won­der­ful Jewish peo­ple are. I know be­cause I’ve ben­e­fited from them.”

He is equally con­scious of the char­ac­ters he is ap­proached to play and the po­ten­tial of Jewish stereo­typ­ing. “If you look at Billy Flynn in Chicago — an Ir­ish­man — why did they come to me? I’m not say­ing don’t, it was a won­der­ful role and I had a fan­tas­tic time, but he’s a cor­rupt lawyer. We have to be care­ful. What I want to re­sist is that’s the norm re­flected.”

Good­man’s East End child­hood cer­tainly had a pro­found im­pact on him. “I don’t think in the sense of hav­ing a chip on the shoul­der. More of a mak­ing the best out of it.”

It was a tough up­bring­ing but he does not want to give the im­pres­sion that it was, “all dark. It was a mix of joy and [dif­fi­culty].” His fa­ther was vi­o­lent, suf­fered from schizophrenia and was taken away when Good­man was 10. It was ob­vi­ously trau­matic but he also re­mem­bers, “huge, over­rid­ing, com­mu­nity sup­port.”

From a young age, Good­man loved to act. His abil­ity to mimic his teach­ers at the Cen­tral Foun­da­tion Boys’ School and get­ting the cane for it made him pop­u­lar among his peers as the class clown. Then came act­ing classes at Toyn­bee Hall and by the age of 10, he had got his first stage role. He quickly got hooked on the idea that he could be other peo­ple. Act­ing was a means of es­cape. “I loved my East End back­ground and more and more I re­ally cher­ish how lucky I was but I wanted to es­cape it. I wanted to be a very fine Bri­tish ac­tor.”

His back­ground may have also

I made the best of my MRÝû^U] early years

Henry Good­man on the red car­pet

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