Drawing: Richard E. Grant

Autographed drawing of actor Richard E Grant

Richard E. Grant was sitting with his daughter Olivia in a restaurant in Notting Hill Gate watching the live feed of this year’s Oscar nominations with earpieces in. They both burst into tears when his name was included in the Best Supporting Actor shortlist. After nearly four decades in the business, the 61-year-old British actor had finally won awards recognition with Academy, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations for his acclaimed performance as the ‘decaying dandy’ Jack Hock in CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?

Richard, a teetotaller, returns to the same sozzled theatrical brilliance of his debut, when he played the perpetually inebriated title character in the cult film WITHNAIL AND I. Jack Hock is a drunken, gay grifter who was the real life partner-in-crime of down and out celebrity biographer Lee Israel, (Melissa McCarthy) who turned to literary forgery to make ends meet. Variety magazine’s Peter Debruge wrote about Richard’s character, “Jack can hardly pass a fire hydrant without asking for its phone number.” The real Jack Hock died of AIDS at the age of 47 in 1994.

It would be quicker to list the critic and festival Supporting Actor awards that Richard hasn’t won this year. And he has been part of ensemble casts that have won awards in the past, most notably his role as George in GOSFORD PARK, which won the SAG award in 2001, among others. Richard will be seen in STAR WARS EPISODE IX but we don’t know his character as yet land he’s been sworn to secrecy.

Richard attended the Gala Screening of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square during last October’s BFI Film Festival. He managed to quickly sign for most of the large crowd that gathered with his iconic ‘reg’ initials graph, including one on my sketch.

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Drawing: Melissa McCarthy

Autographed drawing of actress Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of the late celebrity biographer and literary forger Leonore ‘Lee’ Israel in the dark-comedy drama biopic CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? has been recognised by all the major awards this year, including the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes, BAFTA and Academy Award Best Actress nominations. The film is based on Lee’s 2008 confessional autobiography with the same title.

In desperate need of money in the early 1990’s, with her career flatlining, writers block, rent in arrears, alcoholism and a sick twelve-year-old cat with large vet bills, she turns to forging the letters of deceased celebrated writers like Noel Coward and Ernest Hemingway to earn an income. ‘CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?’ is a line which Lee adds to one of her forged letters by celebrated satirist and critic Dorothy Parker after a monumental hangover. “I’m a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker,” she says in one of the film’s memorable lines.

This is Melissa’s second Oscar, BAFTA and SAG combo nominations, having earned a Best Supporting Actress nod for her performance as Megan in the 2011 comedy BRIDESMAIDS. She is no stranger to winning either, having collected two Emmys for MIKE & MOLLY and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, where her 2017 impersonation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was a highlight. Her role as the sad-sack anti-heroine Lee has also collected a clutch of critics awards from New York, Boston, San Francisco,Vancouver to name a few and the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Melissa attended the Gala Screening of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? at Cineworld’s Empire Cinema in Leicester Square for the BFI London Film Festival last October. She loved this sketch and was more than happy to sign it… with her real name, so it’s not a forgery!

Drawing: Barry Jenkins

Autographed drawing of writer and director Barry Jenkins

After his critically acclaimed debut feature MEDICINE FOR THE MELANCHOLY in 2008, American director and writer Barry Jenkins took an eight year hiatus from feature filmmaking, working as a carpenter and co-founding an advertising agency ‘Strike Anywhere’. The 39-year-old’s return to the feature film fold was meteoric with the LGBT coming-of-age triptych MOONLIGHT, described by Vanity Fair as “an aching drama of identity that captivated film lovers in 2016.” The script was written by Barry and Tarell Alvin McCraney, based on Tarell’s unpublished play.

Both won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and it eventually won Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards after a dramatic few minutes when LA LA LAND was initially announced. Barry was also nominated for Best Director and is only the second black person to direct a Best Picture winner, after Steve McQueen won for 12 YEARS A SLAVE three years earlier. MOONLIGHT also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – DRAMA.

Barry is once again in the awards spotlight as we head into the season’s final month. His latest film IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name is included in both the BAFTA and Oscar nom list with Barry once again being honoured for his writing. He has already collected the National Board of Review and Critics’ Choice awards and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

I was lucky enough to meet Barry after a Gala Screening of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK at the BFI London Film Festival’s Embankment Cinema last October. When I asked him to sign my drawing, he warned me that his handwriting was the worst in the world and didn’t want to ruin my artwork, so he used the space under the sketch. I think you’ll agree he was a tad modest. His hand and screen writing skills are just right.

Drawing: Alfonso Cuarón

Autographed drawing of director Alfonso Cuarón

London-based Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón stands on the brink of award-winning history. His Spanish language homage to his childhood, ROMA garnered 10 Academy Award nominations last week, having already collected seven BAFTA nods. It has been recognised as the year’s best by multiple critics groups and TIME magazine.

The semi-autobiographical take on Alfonso’s upbringing in Mexico City follows an emotional year in the life of a middle-class family’s live-in maid set against the domestic and political turmoil in 1970’s Mexico. The title refers to Colonia Roma a neighbourhood in the city. Alfonso’s personal haul of four Oscar nominations – Best Picture (Producer), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography is two short of Walt Disney who holds the record for individual nominations in the same year with six in 1954. Walt won four, but Alfonso could collect five, because the Best Foreign Language Award is given to the film’s director and their name is inscribed on the famous golden statue.

Six of ROMA’s seven BAFTA nods have gone to the Alfonso, a British Academy record. He is nominated in the same Oscar categories with the edition of editing. The film’s impressive black and white cinematography is the director’s lens work after his regular DP, old high school buddy and three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki was unavailable due to a scheduling clash. The last film they collaborated on was GRAVITY in 2013. Both won Academy Awards, Alfonso for Direction and Editing and Chivo for his photography.

Alfonso attended a Gala Screening of ROMA at the BFI London Film Festival last October at the pop-up Embankment Cinema. I was there hoping to get my sketch signed. After a delayed arrival, he did press and was rushed in for the film’s intro. As he quickly passed me, he saw the drawing and promised to sign it on the way out. True to his word, he came over especially, before leaving.

Drawing: Arabella Neale and Emily Plumtree in The Mousetrap

Autographed drawing of Arabella Neale in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West EndAutographed drawing of Emily Plumbtree in The Mousetrap at St Martin's Theatre on London's West End

Continuing my recent ritual of rendering the roles of Miss Casewell, the proprietor of Monkswell Manor and the strange, aloof Molly Ralston after each cast change in Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery THE MOUSETRAP at St Martin’s Theatre in London, I caught up with Arabella Neale and Emily Plumtree just before Christmas, who both kindly signed their respective sketches. Described as the ‘best-selling novelist of all time’, Dame Agatha initially wrote the play for radio in the late 1940’s, calling it THREE BLIND MICE. With the title changed, THE MOUSETRAP opened in the West End in 1952 and now, in its 67th year, is the longest initial run of any play in the history of modern theatre, passing 27,500 performances in September last year.

Amongst Arabella’s high profile stage roles, are Madame Thernardier in LES MISERABLES, Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and the Duchess in THE DUCHESS OF MALFI. She recently featured in the award-winning BBC television mini-series A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL opposite Hugh Grant.

ENDEAVOUR, HOLYOAKS and DOCTORS are among Emily’s list of small-screen credits. Her theatre work includes the part of Nerissa in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, which she reprised at the Almeida Theatre in London, both directed by Rupert Goold. She was nominated for an Off West End Theatre Award for her performance as Anita in MY GIRL 2.

Drawing: Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Niall McNamee, Shane O’Regan, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken in Chasing Bono

Autographed drawing of Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Naill McNamee, Shane O'Regan, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken in Chasing Bono at London's Soho Theatre

The pencil thin line between success and failure is vividly illustrated in the 90 minute play CHASING BONO, which has just completed its run at London’s Soho Theatre on Saturday.

In the 1970’s, Neil McCormack and Paul Henson, schoolmates at Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin shared the same ambition, to form bands and become global superstars. Paul changed his name to Bono and formed U2. Neil didn’t. The latter, the Telegraph’s esteemed chief pop and rock critic, is a successful author, radio pundit and television presenter, none of which remotely compensates for being a failed rock star. It was probably worse for his brother Ivan, who was offered a spot in Paul’s band ‘Feedback’, renamed ‘The Hype’ before becoming U2. But Neil persuaded him to stick with his group for a guaranteed shot at stardom.

CHASING BONO was written by ‘master mirth-makers’ Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (THE LIKELY LADS, PORRIDGE, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PET and THE COMMITMENTS) and is a stage adaption of their darker 2011 film KILLING BONO, which in turn was based on Neil’s 2003 memoirs, ‘I was Bono’s Doppelgänger’.

Critic Anne Cox writing in StageReview said it was a “charming piece, packed with cracking Irish humour and good performances… part rock-fable, part whimsy and part ridiculous screwball comedy.”

The cast is lead by Niall McNamee as Neil and Shane O’Regan as Bono, with Denis Conway, Ciaran Dowd, Farzana Dua Elahe, Donal Finn and Niamh Bracken, all of kindly signed my portrait montage for me at the Soho.

Drawing: Dawn French

Autographed drawing of Dawn French

Considered one of Britain’s national treasures; comedian, actress, writer and now pantomime Queen, Dawn French at the age of ‘oh-never-mind’ has finally become part of that other British phenomenon, the Christmas Pantomime, making her debut over the festive season in SNOW WHITE at the London Palladium. Dawn played the wicked Queen Dragonella, a hiss-boo baddie. All agreed, The VICAR OF DIBLEY star’s natural, impish comic persona lends itself perfectly to the madcap genre.

Writing about Dawn’s performance in his Telegraph review, Dominic Cavendish said, “She amazes with a fiendish tongue-twister, she bumps and grinds in an inappropriate cougar fashion, lip-synching to pop hits as she tries to hit on the young prince, and she delivers a wonderfully Dibley denouement.”

Dawn signed off after the final show last weekend on Twitter,”It’s been a blast. OH YES IT HAS!” She also signed my sketch at the stage door.

Drawing: Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham in Summer and Smoke

Autographed drawing of Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham in Summer and Smoke at theDuke of York's Theatre on London's West End

The West End transfer of the Rebecca Frecknall’s remarkable Almeida Theatre’s sell-out production of Tennessee Williams’ ‘most neglected work’, SUMMER AND SMOKE continues at the Duke of York’s until Saturday.

Set in a small Mississippi town one hundred years ago it centres on Alma Winemiller, a minister’s daughter and singing teacher who cares for her ailing mother, and her moth-like attraction to John Buchanan, an angry and resentful trainee doctor. It’s a devastating fable of half-requited love, missed moments and the ways we waste what little life we have, summarised in the byline, ‘Trapped between desire and a life of obligation, Alma meets John and her world turns upside-down.’

In his Variety review, Matt Trueman wrote, “It boasts two phenomenal performances at its heart: Patsy Ferran is a quiver of anxiety as Alma; Matthew Needham’s John, a river of despair. You will them together, knowing full well they’re bound to tear each other apart. It’s agonising to watch.”

Patsy and Matthew both signed my sketch late last year at the theatre.

Drawing: Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West

Auotographed drawing of Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn in True West at the Vaudeville Theatre on London's West End

Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn are currently playing warring brothers Austin and Lee until next month in the West End revival of Sam Shephard’s ‘ferociously funny’

TRUE WEST at London’s Vaudeville Theatre. Described as a classic study of sibling rivalry, the 1980 play was a finalist for the Drama Pulitzer Prize. Austin is a clean-cut family man and Hollywood writer who has retreated to his mother’s Southern California home to finish a screenplay. He is disrupted by Lee, his older, feral brother, a petty thief and drifter, who has been wandering the Mojave Dessert for past three months.

In his Guardian review, Michael Billington points out that, “putting it crudely, Austin and Lee are both sides of a single personality – the instinctual and the intellectual aspects of the American character,” and summarises the performances, “At their best, the two actors are very good. Harington is especially convincing in the later stages as Austin unleashes his inner fury, aiming wild, drunken swings at the empty air and threatening to strangle his brother with a whipcord. Flynn also captures Lee’s initial menace as he hovers in a bullying manner over his brother and turns a golf club swing into a virtual death threat.”

Both Kit and Johnny kindly signed my drawing at the stage door prior to Christmas, and not a golf club in sight.

Drawing: Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles in A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Autographed drawing of Johnetta Eula'Mae Ackles in A Very Very Very Dark Matter at London's Bridge Theatre

Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles is a very cool name and a very, very cool American actress, who made her professional stage debut late last year in Martin McDonagh’s A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER at London’s Bridge Theatre.

The minute Johnetta played a captive Congolese, one-legged pygmy, who is forced to live inside a 3 foot box in the creepy Copenhagen attic of the author Hans Christian Andersen, supplying him with all his stories. Her name is Mbute, but he calls her Marjory.

It’s a “wildly inventive dismantling of the great Danish storyteller,” wrote the Guardian’s Michael Billington in his four-star review. He highlighted two extraordinary performances in particular, one by Jim Broadbent as Andersen and the other by Johnetta, who he called “remarkable… she combines the pathos of the exploited with the wiliness of a time-travelling powerhouse driven by the urge to protect her people.”

I met Johnetta after a Saturday matinee prior to Christmas, where she signed this sketch. The production completed its run last weekend.