Second Act (2007)
July 24, 2000. The day David Thewlis finished the first draft of his first novel is etched on his brain for more reasons than one. “It was the day I met Anna,” he beams proudly, referring to his long-term girlfriend, the actress Anna Friel.
“I went out to celebrate, a mutual friend invited her along, and we have been living together ever since.” At the time, Thewlis had just completed on his first home, a converted ballroom in Clerkenwell, and Friel had just completed on hers, a family home in Windsor with a view of the Castle. “Neither of us wanted to sell, so we decided to live between the two,” he shrugs.
We met in Windsor on a gloriously hot day. It’s all blue skies, spires and neatly clipped lawns. The 44-year-old Thewlis, as he lopes towards me dressed in black, clutching a packet of Marlboro Lights and wearing sunglasses, looks distinctly out of place. Having just finished reading his book, I am doubly disoriented. Set in the art world, “The Late Hector Kipling” is a contemporary novel, played out in a city landscape of low-lit private views and urban angst. And yet here is the man who created it, explaining how happy he is living amongst tourist. “It’s because I grew up in Blackpool,” he explains, waving a long arm in the direction of the twinkling river and a bridge heaving with Japanese visitors. “I find it comforting.”
It’s a struggle to link the man with the work: an exploration of love, death and the pursuit of fame. Hector Kipling – its smoking, swearing, self-seeking antihero – is a commercially successful artist. But his best friend, Lenny, is what he’s never managed to be – a critical success who has been nominated for the Turner Prize. Paranoid and resentful, Hector is the embodiment of a modern malaise. During the course of his page-turning story – through which real-life figures like Jay Jopling, Sam Taylor-Wood and Jake and Dinos Chapman wander – his life begins to unravel. Without giving too much away, Hector’s pursuit of recognition effectively destroys him.
On the surface, Hector and his creator have a certain amount in common. They are both Northerners, born in Blackpool, who have ended up living in London. They both smoke profusely, poke fun at the world, find poetry in the mundane and wonder what life’s all about. Just as Hector hides in a cupboard at his own exhibition opening, so Thewlis says he often finds himself at public events diving behind pillars to avoid conversation. But Thewlis is at pains to point out that the character is not autobiographical. “If I feel a kinship with any of my characters, it’s Lenny,” he explains. “When I started to get successful, winning awards and going off to Hollywood, I had friends who behaved badly towards me.”
David Thewlis loves a chat. During our two-hour lunch, he talks constantly and unguardedly about every aspect of his life, from his besotted love for his and Friel’s two-year-old daughter, Gracie, to his relief at doing press for something he cares deeply about. Arguably one of Britain’s finest actors, Thewlis – who has brought brilliance to roles such as Johnny in Mike Leigh’s “Naked” (for which he won the 1993 ‘Cannes Best Actor Award’) – is totally without airs and graces. He is blunt (“The industry I work in is full of wankers,”), self-depreciating (“I’m no more talented then anyone else; I just got lucky,”) and honest (“I’m shitting myself about how my book will be received.”).
It was his straight-up, no-holds-barred attitude to his acting life that brought Thewlis one step closer to writing a book. Professionally, he says, his lowest point came in 1996 when he spent the “most unhappy five months” making a very bad film called “The Island of Dr. Moreau” alongside Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. He wrote a cathartic short story about the experience. Interested publishers encouraged him to write more, but it was legally unfeasible. Convinced of his talent, however, they asked to see whatever else he wrote. The timing was fortuitous; at that point in his professional life, Thewlis was feeling disillusioned. After the success of “Naked”, he had been seduced by Hollywood, starring in such big-budget productions as “Total Eclipse”. By the late Nineties, he was wealthy but jaded. He had just come out of an unhappy relationship and returned to England. “My life was in a rut, so I decided to write.”
Back in 1985, when he graduated from ‘London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama’, Thewlis got work immeadiately. “My dreams of being a writer, painter, a director, a musician, all preceded acting,” explains Thewlis. “Acting is simply the one that took off.” A keen painter and collector, Thewlis has always been fascinated by the art world. He is on first-name terms with a number of its key players. Artist Stuart Pearson Wright is an old friend who, when Thewlis asked him to paint a picture for the cover; didn’t hesitate to say yes. The day before our interview, he had lunch with Jake and Dinos Chapman, who asked him to play a part in a film they are making of their life. In return, he asked them for a quote for the back of the book. When I ask him why he set his novel in the art world, Thewlis’s answer is characteristically blunt. “I could easily have set it in the film world and explored exactly the same themes,” he shrugs. “In both, you see the darkest recesses of yourself, can make money with little talent and become a celebrity. But I guess I didn’t want it to be about my life.”
Once he began writing his novel, Thewlis applied the same focus to it as he notoriously does with his acting. “I rented a flat in Soho and cut the plug off the television,” he explains. By day, he walked the streets and sat in cafes, watching and plotting. By night, he wrote. Within nine months, he had written his first draft. His publishers loved it, but said it needed some work. By then, Thewlis was in love with Friel and his life in general. “I used to write out of angst,” he explains. “When I met Anna, I lost that urge to vent spleen.” The next five years brought some big changes: starring roles in interesting films like “Gangster No 1″ and fatherhood. “She’s such a lovely little thing,” he says proudly of his ‘very tall, very funny, very well-behaved’ daughter.
It wasn’t until last year – six years after the first draft – that Thewlis got round to making the necessary changes to “The Late Hector Kipling”. At the time, his family was based in Prague, where Friel was making a film. “While Gracie was with her nanny, I was writing away in this ugly, big hotel.” Once he put his mind to it, perfecting the book didn’t take long. “It wasn’t that different to playing a character,” he says. “When my head was back into the role, I was off.”
Thewlis is touchingly – and understandably – proud of his book. He is getting some gratifying feedback from his friends. “Billy Connolly said he couldn’t sleep after he finished it,” he beams. Three days after we meet, he is flying to Budapest to star in the film of John Boyne’s novel “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, before returning to make the next installment of the Harry Potter series. While he is working, he says, he is going to start writing his second novel, although he isn’t yet sure what it will be about. Fortunately for him, it turns out that his two careers compliment each other perfectly – “writing beats out playing chess with myself in my trailer between takes.” And luckily, writing his book hasn’t turned him off acting. If anything, it’s made him appreciate it all the more. “Making a film is like one long party compared to shutting yourself away and pouring yourself out on to a blank page.”
· Published | September 2007
· Journalist | Unknown
· Source | © Vogue (UK)
· Credit | Submitted by Amanda (Scanned and Typed)