Simon Russell Beale is not only a great stage actor and an extremely pleasant chap to meet, he’s a brilliant subject to draw. Hence the frequency of my sketches of the man considered by many to be the best actor of his generation. This is in fact my second study of Simon as KING LEAR when he took to the vast Olivier stage at the National last Autumn in the exceptional Sam Mendes-directed production. This was the seventh Shakespearian collaboration for the actor-director combination. Jasper Kees commented in his article for The Telegraph that when classical actors play HAMLET , a clock starts ticking down to his LEAR with a decent hiatus in between. He lists such notables as Ian McKellen, with a 36 year gap, 32 for Jonathan Pryce and 31 for Derek Jacobi. For 52 year-old Simon it was 14 years and if it wasn’t for Sam’s commitment to SKYFALL and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY the gap would have been a lot less. however that hypothesis flies out the window when it was revealled that this is not Simon’s first LEAR. Oh no, he played the tragic monarch as a 17 year-old while still at Clifton College, so it’s a 35 year gap between LEARs for him, punctuated with a HAMLET.
That aside, I caught up with Simon to sign my sketch at the Donmar Warehouse after a Saturday evenings performance of TEMPLE in which he currently plays the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Steve Water’s new play inspired by the London Occupy Movement and the events surrounding the hallowed venue in October 2011. As usual he was very gracious and happily signed this version of LEAR, remembering the zillions of others he had also graphed.