Drawing: Ben Elton

Autographed drawing of writer Ben Elton

British writer, actor, director and comedian extraordinaire Ben Elton is currently back on a live stand-up tour of the UK, his first since 2004. Ben’s style has been described as left-wing political satire. He was part of the ‘alternative comedy’ movement in the 1980’s, which made a conscious break with the mainstream comedic style that often incorporated racist and sexist material and avoided the reliance on a standardised structure of a sequence of jokes with punch lines.

Early in his career he became the writer for two successful TV series; THE YOUNG ONES and BLACKADDER, often appearing in them, while continuing stand-up on stage and screen. He has written 16 novels, most of which have appeared in the UK’s Top 10 best seller lists, including six No.1’s. He writes in the dystopian, comedy and crime genres, winning awards for POPCORN (1996) and HIGH SOCIETY (2002). POPCORN was adapted for the stage, winning an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

In 1985 he began a writing partnership with Richard Curtis, creating BLACKADDER II, BLACKADDER THE THIRD, and BLACKADDER GOES FOURTH with Rowan Atikinson in the title role. All became international hits, winning four BAFTA’s and an Emmy. He appeared in his own TV shows in the 1990’s, including BEN ELTON: THE MAN FROM AUNTIE (a take on the popular 1960’s MAN FROM UNCLE series and ‘Auntie’ is a nickname for the BBC) and THE BEN ELTON SHOW.

In 2016 he returned to television, writing the Shakespearean parody UPSTART CROW with David Mitchell as the Bard. He followed that with two more series and a stage version, which opens early next year at London’s Gielgud Theatre. Ben has also written two West End musicals; the Olivier Award-winning WE WILL ROCK YOU in 2002, featuring the music of Queen and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, LOVE NEVER DIES in 2010.

As part of his current UK tour he stopped off in London for a night, a couple of weeks ago at the Lyceum Theatre, where he also kindly signed and inscribed this quick portrait sketch for me.

Drawing: Willem Dafoe

Autographed drawing of actor Willem Dafoe

“It’s a pain in the ass, this name,” said Willem Dafoe in a 2007 interview for Esquire magazine, referring to his christian name. “People don’t know how to pronounce it, it’s embarrassing. I’ve thought of changing it back (William was the name given to him by his parents and on his passport) so many times. I hate the idea of an actor having a professional name, but then so many people already know me as Willem.” It was a college nickname – the Dutch version of William – that stuck. Dafoe on the other hand is French in origin.

Starting out in the acting profession he thought William was a bit bland so reinvented himself, starting with his moniker. Most people around him call him Willie or Will, which he likes better. But either way it’s a name that has attracted a lot of attention and accolades. After his first screen uncredited appearance in Michael Cimino’s epic western HEAVEN’S GATE IN 1979, as a cockfighter, that was reduced to a fleeting moment in the edit, Willem has assembled an impressive collection of memorable film appearances in such momentous movies as THE ENGLISH PATIENT and MISSISSIPPI BURNING.

He has received four Academy Award nominations, three in the Best Supporting Actor category starting with his role as Sergeant Elias Gordon in Oliver Stone’s PLATOON in 1986, followed by Max Schreck in SHADW OF THE VAMPIRE four years later and last year as motel manager Bobby Hicks in THE FLORIDA PROJECT, for which he also received a Golden Globe, SAG and a BAFTA nom.

This year he was nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal as Vincent Van Gogh in AT ETERNITY’S GATE, which screened at the Curzon Mayfair last Saturday. Willem did a Q&A afterwards, signing my portrait on the way out.

Drawing: Sonia Friedman

Autographed drawing of theatre producer Sonia Friedman

Sonia herself has received the Producer of the Year Award on four occasions, the first to win three consecutively from 2015-2017 and again this year. In 2014 SFP made Oliver Award history, with the most wins, including New Play (CHIMERICA), Best New Musical (THE BOOK OF MORMAN), Best Play Revival Revival (GHOSTS), and Best Musical Revival (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG). Three years later SFP and co-productions received an unprecedented 31 Olivier Award nominations, with 11 for the record-breaking HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, winning 9, the most ever for any production.

Last year Sonia was named Broadway Briefings Show Person of the Year and was featured in TIME magazine’s top 100 most influential people. She has also branched into television with the same success, winning two 2016 BAFTA Awards for the six-part mini-series adaption of Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL, which aired on BBC Two.

Sonia kindly signed my sketch for me at her London office.

Drawing: Bong Joon-ho

Autographed drawing of director Bong Joon-ho

South Korean director and screenwriter Bong Joon-ho is the filmmaking flavour of the year so far as the awards season builds momentum. The 50 year-old already has an impeccable track record, but stepped up his game with his latest release, the darkly comic thriller PARASITE, a brilliant, powerfully revealing social satire about greed and class discrimination. Co-written with Han Jin-won, the eerie tale of a street-wise family, steeped in poverty, who hustle their way into working for a wealthy, but naive household premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or.

It has gone on to collect a growing number of accolades, including Golden Globe Director, Screenplay and Foreign Language and the Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble nominations and winning a clutch of Critics’ Awards. It is also the official Korean entry for the Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film) at next year’s Academy Awards and was listed in TIME magazine’s 10 Best Movies of 2019.

Joon-ho signed my sketch at the Curzon Mayfair last week where he delivered a lecture in the BAFTA Screenwriters series, before introducing PARASITE.

Drawing: Claire Price as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew

Autographed drawing of Claire Price as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew

As per tradition and our annual November wedding anniversary ritual, my wife and attended a Shakespearean stage offering. This year the Royal Shakespeare Company have taken up residency at London’s Barbican Theatre over the festive season, with three plays: AS YOU LIKE IT, MEASURE FOR MEASURE and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, being performed in repertory. We chose the latter (because it was on the actual day of our anniversary).

Justin Audibert’s gender-flipped “landmark production” (Evening Standard) is a radical take on the Bards fierce and energetic comedy of gender, where 1590 Padua is reimagined as a matriarchal society with women in charge. Wealthy Bautista Minola is seeking to marry off her two sons, the sweet-tempered Bianco and the rebellious Katherine. Enter Claire Price as Petruchio. She’s after money and taming the headstrong Katherine (Joseph Arkley) is her spousal target. Yes, a women called Petruchio mistreating a man called Katherine. “Price is hugely watchable with a pleasingly dotty Queenie-from-Blackadder sort of vibe,” wrote Andrzej Lukowski in his TimeOut review.

Claire kindly signed this Petruchio sketch, which I left at the Barbican stage door.

Drawing: Dexter Fletcher

Autographed drawing of director Dexter Fletcher

British actor, director and writer Dexter Fletcher experienced the highs and lows of the entertainment business early in his career. A child star at the age of nine in films such as the 1978 musical gangster comedy BUGSY MALONE, where he played the down and out Baby Face, to actually being down and out, sleeping in cars in his twenties, according to a recent article in the Telegraph.

Now, at 53 he is collating an impressive CV. After featuring as small-time criminal Soap in Guy Richie’s iconic crime comedy LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, Dexter went on to lead roles in two successful TV series, as Staff Sergeant Johnny Martin in the Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg created war drama miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS in 2001 and head concierge Tony Casemore in HOTEL BABYLON from 2006-2009, before making his directorial debut in 2011 with the crime comedy drama WILD BILL, which he wrote with Danny King.

In 2017 Dexter replaced original director, Bryan Singer on the Oscar-winning Queen biopic BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY with two weeks scheduled principal photography remaining and the film two-thirds finished. However due to the Directors Guild rules he was credited as an executive producer. He followed that with ROCKETMAN, chronicling the life of Elton John, which premiered at this years Cannes Film Festival to a standing ovation, receiving the same reception from Oscar voters at the Academy screening.

Dexter is currently working on the third sequel to SHERLOCK HOLMES, due for release in 2021. He signed my sketch at his London agency earlier this year.

Drawing: David Mamet

Autographed drawing of writer David Mamet

Prominent American playwright David Mamet was in London earlier this year to direct his contentious dark comedy BITTER WHEAT at the Garrick Theatre. Based on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which sparked the MeToo movement, it run from June to September, featuring John Malkovich’s return to the West End after thirty years, as Hollywood studio boss Barney Fein and his fall from power. David attracts frequent debate and controversy, and was once quoted, “Being a writer in Hollywood is like going to Hitler’s Eagle Nest with a great idea for a bar mitzvah.” Often described as the prime chronicler of the macho males and power struggles, his distinctive writing style, involving cynical, street-wise dialogue has become known as ‘Mamet speak.’ David’s 1983 play about four disparate real estate agents, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, which premiered at the National Theatre in London, won the Pulitzer Prize and the subsequent Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Play. Four years later SPEED-THE-PLOW also won a nomination for Best Play.

David has written a number of major screenplays, including my favourite, THE VERDICT and WAG THE DOG, both Oscar and Golden Globe nominated. He also wrote the script for the 1992 film version of GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS.

David signed my portrait sketch as he arrived for the BITTER WHEAT press night at the GarrickTheatre.

Drawing: Aisling Franciosi

Autographed drawing of actor Aisling Franciosi

Irish-Italian actress Aisling Franciosi was in London this week at a Q&A event following the screening of Jennifer Kent’s period thriller THE NIGHTINGALE at the Curzon Soho cinema. The 26 year-old plays Clare, a young Irish convict at the British penal colony based in Tasmania, Australia in 1825, seeking revenge after a young British soldier raped her then murdered her husband and child.

It premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival last year, winning a Special Jury Prize. Aisling won the Gotham Independent Film Awards Breakthrough Actor gong and the Best Actress Award at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards where THE NIGHTINGALE also won Best Film, Direction and Script. For her supporting role as Katie Benedetto in the British-Irish TV crime drama series THE FALL, Aisling received an Irish Film and Television Award in 2015. GAME OF THRONES fans will know her as Lyanna Stark during seasons six and seven.

Aisling signed my drawing when she arrived at the Curzon Soho last Saturday with co-star Sam Claflin.

Drawing: Sam Claflin in Journey’s End

Autographed drawing of actor Sam Claflin in Journey's End

One of the best films I have seen recently is Saul Dibb’s war drama JOURNEY’S END, based on R.C.Sherriff’s 1928 play. Released in 2017, it is the stage plays fifth film adaption. It follows a group of British soldiers awaiting their fate in an Aisne dugout under the leadership of a young officer Captain Stanhope during the Spring Offensive, a series of German attacks along the Western Front near the end of WWI.

Sam Claflin plays the boozy, brooding, self-loathing, belligerent Stanhope. Peter Bradshaw, in his four-star Guardian review said it is “expertly cast and really well acted:forthwright,powerful and heartfelt.” Sam was nominated for the 2018 Evening Standard Best Actor Award Film for his performance. He came to International prominence as Philip Swift in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES in 2011, followed by his role as Finnick Odair in THE HUNGER GAME film series (2013-2015). This year he joined the cast of the TV series PEAKY BLINDERS as Oswald Mosley.

Sam signed my sketch at the screening of his latest film, THE NIGHTINGALE before his Q&A at the Curzon Mayfair in London last week.

Drawing: Pedro Almodovar

Autographed drawing of film maker Pedro Almodovar

Against his parents wishes Pedro Almodovar left the religious boarding school in the Spanish city of Caceres, where they hoped he would study to become a priest and moved to Madrid in 1967 to become a filmmaker. When dictator Francisco Franco closed the Madrid School Cinema, he became self-taught, influenced by fellow Spaniard Luis Bunuel.

Working at a number of jobs, he bought a super 8 camera with his first pay, making silent short films – it was too difficult to attach the thin magnetic soundtrack strip – which he would screen in bars, providing the music with a cassette and doing all the voiceovers live. He came to prominence during La Movida Madrilena, The Madrid Movement, a counterculture group and cultural renaissance that emerged following the death of Franco, becoming involved in experimental cinema and theatre, writing, acting, singing and contributing comic strips.

His first feature, PEPI, LUCI, BOM (1980), shot in 16mm, later blown up to 35mm was based on one of his comics. Pedro gained international recognition eight years later with his black and white feminist light comedy, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, his first critical and commercial success, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Since then he has became a major player in the filmmaking industry, winning two Oscars, five BAFTAS, two Golden Globes, nine GOYAS (Spain’s national cinema award), four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival among a host of other accolades. He was presented with the French Legion of Honour in 1997, the Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts from his country’s Culture Ministry and Honorary Doctorates from both Harvard and Oxford.

Pedro was presenting one of this years BAFTA Screenwriters Lectures at the Curzon Soho Cinema in London last Saturday, where he kindly stopped to sign and dedicate my drawing.