Drawing: Ralf Spall as Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

Autographed drawing of Rafe Spall as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre in London

The Oliviers, the UK’s most prestigious theatre awards, will be presented this Sunday at the Royal Albert Hall. Among the nominees for Best Actor is Ralf Spall for his portrayal of Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s new stage adaption of Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The production, which opened at the Gielgud Theatre at the end of  March last year, received five nominations, including Best New Play and Best Director for Bartlett Sher.

The part was initially given to Rhys Ifans for a May 2020 opening, but was postponed due to the Covid pandemic and subsequently Ralf took over the original West End lead role. The Broadway production, also directed by Bartlett, opened at the Shubert Theatre in December 2018 with Jeff Daniels as Atticus, earning nine Tony Award nominations.

“Ralf Spall is terrific as Atticus Finch… he radiates nimble wit and easy charisma,” wrote Clare Allfree in her Metro Review.

He is named after the protagonist in Francis Beaumont’s 1607 parody THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTE, a role his father, Timothy played in the Royal Shakespeare Company production and one that Ralf himself played at the Young Vic and Barbican Theatres in 2005. He got into acting at the age of 15, joining the National Youth Theatre. Since then he has created a comprehensive screen and stage career that includes such films as A GOOD YEAR (2006), ONE DAY (2011), with Anne Hathaway, LIFE OF PI (2012), THE BIG SHORT (2015) with Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling, THE BFG (2016) and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018).

He received an International Emmy nomination for his appearance in the British TV series BLACK MIRROR in 2015, and a SAG nom as a member of THE BIG SHORT cast in 2016. His stage credits feature roles in Nick Payne’s CONSTELLATIONS (2012) at the Royal Court,  Henrik Ibsen’s JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN (2007) at the Donmar Warehouse, DEATH OF ENGLAND (2020) at the National and Harold Pinter’s BETRAYAL (2013) at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway.

Ralf signed my sketch for me at the stage door during the final week of previews in March 2022.

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Drawing: Yuja Wang

Autographed drawing of classical pianist Yuja Wang

Critical superlatives and audience ovations have continuously followed superstar Yuja Wang’s dazzling career. The Beijing-born classical pianist, celebrated for her charismatic artistry and captivating stage presence, and her “combination of technical ease, colouristic range and sheer power has always been remarkable… but these days there is an ever-greater depth to her musicianship, drawing you into the world of each composer with compelling immediacy”, raved the Financial Times.

Born into a family of artists, Yuja began playing the piano at the age of six and was quickly recognised as an exceptional talent, attending the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at 15.

Her international breakthrough came in 2007 when she replaced Martha Argerich as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Two years later, she signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon and has since established her place among the world’s leading artists with a succession of critically acclaimed performances and recordings with an inquisitive approach to the repertoire which ranges from Mozart to Gershwin. In 2017 she was named Musical America’s Artist of the Year.

Last April, Yuja returned to London’s Royal Festival Hall, dedicating her recital to the memory of the great Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, who died three years earlier. In his Guardian review, Andrew Clements wrote that  it was a “flamboyant, brilliantly virtuosic performance, where everything was technically dazzling, every detail crisp and perfectly articulated, with chords exactly weighted and precisely placed… Wang’s play is irresistible.”

Yuja signed and dedicated my sketch after her Festival Hall concert.

Drawing: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘Plaza Suite’

Autographed drawing of Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite on Broadway

The mail at the moment is about as reliable as the weather with strikes and cyber attacks, but I did receive a very pleasant surprise in the post last week when a small line sketch I did and sent a year ago to Matthew Broderick and his wife Sarah Jessica Parker when they featured in the Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s PLAZA SUITE came back signed and dedicated.

The production, which was delayed by over a year due to the Covid Pandemic and temporaily paused while both leads has respective bouts of the bug, opened last February at the Hudson Theater and extended its run to replace the lost performances, finishing on 10 July. This was the first revival of a Neil Simon play following his passing at the age of 91 in 2018.

It originally opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater on Valentine’s Day 1968 with George C.Scott and Maureen Stapleton, running for 1097 performances, directed by Mike Nichol, who won the Tony Award for Best Direction.The play, in three acts, is set in Suite 719 of New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel in Midtown Manhatten. Matthew and Sarah play three wildly divergent couples across three vignettes-the first, Sam and Karen Nash revisiting their honeymoon suite to rekindle their love on their 23rd anniversary, only to end in a raging argument when Karen accuses Sam of having an affair with his secretary. The second set of couples, Jesse Kiplinger, a Hollywood movie producer catches up with his old flame, Murial Tate with only one thing in mind and the final act sees parents Ray and Norma Hubley on their daughter, Mimsey’s wedding day, who has locked herself in the bathroom in a state of nervousness, refusing to attend her wedding downstairs.

This was the first time Matthew and Sarah had worked together in 20 years, since both appearing in the final weeks of the 1996 revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Their performances were well received by both audiences and critics alike. In his Variety review, Daniel D’Addario writes, “Neil Simon’s look at three romantic couples facing down the passage of time is sharp and knowing… thank goodness for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, the real-life married couple bring a serious commitment to the spirit of the work, allowing their own personas to throw some meta-textual sparks without overtaking the spirit of Simon. As directed by John Benjamin Hickey, Parker and Broderick provoke, alienate and woo one another, and provide a strong argument for a playwright whose work seems next-to-impossible to subvert.”

Drawing: Tommy Emmanuel

Autographed drawing of guitarist Tommy Emmanuel

Australian-born guitar wizard, Tommy Emmanuel has never had any formal music training, but his natural ability, intrinsic sense of rhythm and charisma has led him to be regarded as the one of the greatest acoustic guitar players of all time. Eric Clapton said he is “the greatest guitar player I ever saw”. The 67 year-old received his first guitar at the age of four. He learned to play the instrument by accompanying his mother and by six he was working professionally with the touring family band. He remembers at that age hearing ‘Mr Guitar’ Chet Atkins play on the radio, which inspired him to become a musician. He wrote fan letters to the American legend and Chet wrote back, encouraging him to visit him in Nashville. He did just that one day in 1980. In 1997 they recorded a Grammy-nominated album, ‘The Dy Finger Pickers Took Over The World, when Chet was 73 years old. “That was a huge highlight of my career,” Tommy recalls. Chet called him one of just a handful of ‘Certified Guitar Players’. Tommy now has the initials CGP embossed on the neck of his guitars.

Fascinated by Chet Atkins musical style, Tommy is known for playing bass lines, chords, melodies and harmonies simultaneously using the thumb and fingers of the right hand. complex fingering technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects of the instrument, tapping the guitar’s sound box with his right hand. Electric guitar virtuoso Steve Vai described Tommy as, “Imagine Chet Atkins with the testosterone of Eddie Van Halen.”  His acoustic sound is alternately melodic and fiery, bringing energy and drive of rock to a good part of his playing with complex finger arrangements, most often using a thumb pick to accentuate the bass notes or to add heavy strummed chords at select points in his songs. One of my favourites is his rendition of Mason Williams ‘Classical Gas’ – check it out on YouTube. As a solo performer he never plays to a set list and uses a minimum of effects on stage. He usually completes studio recordings in one take. While he primarily plays instrumentals, Tommy does sing the occasional song, joking that it’s “a good way for me to clear the room.”

He has played Aussie-made Maton guitars for most of his career.

After the Covid-19 pandemic hiatus, Tommy eventually made it back to London, playing the Royal Festival Hall in February 2022, where he kindly signed my sketch for me.

Drawing: Dave Grusin

Autographed drawing of composer Dave Grusin

One of my favourite and frequently viewed films is Sydney Pollack’s meticulously directed 1975 political thriller THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, featuring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, John Houseman and Max von Sydow. And one of the many reasons for its favouritism is the wonderful musical score by the great and prolific legendary American jazz pianist and composer Dave Grusin. It’s considered to be one of the best and most memorable spy film soundtracks of the 1970’s. Described as ‘jazzy with an R&B funk infusion, characterised by a haunting mellow jazz with heavy strings and a smooth saxophone lead.

It’s one of Dave’s many great scores, included in nearly 100 movie titles, including THE GRADUATE (1967),  HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1979), THE CHAMP (1980), ON GOLDEN POND (1982), THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1990), HAVANA (1991), THE FIRM (1994) and countless TV productions such as COLUMBO, BARETTA, ST ELSEWHERE, and THE WILD,WILD WEST. During the 15-year period between 1979-1994 Dave received eight Academy Award nominations, winning the Oscar for Best Original Score for THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR in 1989. He has been nominated for the Grammy Award 38 times, winning ten and has also received two BAFTA, two Primetime Emmys and four Golden Globe Award nominations.

He was the subject of a feature-length documentary DAVE GRUSIN: NOT ENOUGH TIME in 2018 and a person high on my list to meet and have a drawing signed. I planned to post a letter and drawing to him, but then discovered that he was a frequent performer at Ronnie Scott’s in London with one of his regular collaborators, guitarist Lee Ritenour. My timing of this revelation was less than impressive. He and Lee had just finished a four-day gig at the iconic Soho jazz club. He was, however, scheduled to return the following year, but due to the Covid pandemic and resulting lockdowns that was cancelled. Eventually he did return in July this year and I finally got to meet him, get my sketch signed and tell him in person how much I loved his work, especially the THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR score.

Drawing: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in DARKEST HOUR

Autographed drawing of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman unsuccessfully applied for a place in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was told he could apply again the following year, but was also advised to “find something else for a living.”  Forty years on his films have grossed over $11 billion worldwide, making him one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. Back in the 1970’s he did, in fact already have a variety of jobs on assembly lines, selling shoes, a porter in an operating theatre and beheading pigs at an abattoir while he attended the Young People’s Theatre in Greenwich, before gaining a scholarship at the Rose Bruford College in south-east London, graduating with a BA in acting.

His stage career began in 1979 and he made his film debut in REMEMBRANCE three years later. By the second half of the 1980’s, having already won acclaim in the theatre with the Royal Court in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company, Gary quickly established himself as a new major force in film, first in Britain then in Hollywood. He was recognised as a member of the ‘Brit Pack’ – a term first used in an article by Elissa Van Poznak in the January edition of ‘The Face’.

BFI season programmer Geoff Andrew wrote, “His playing of real-life figures as different as Joe Orton, Lee Harvey Oswald and Winston Churchill demonstrates his extraordinary versatility; moreover, he’s always been prepared to portray a character’s less than attractive qualities. At the same time, his tonal range has extended from the frighteningly powerful (THE FIRM’s Clive Bissel) to the quietly reticent Le Carre’s George Smiley in TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY)” His career was frontloaded with exceptional performances before moving to America, where he worked with Oliver Stone on JFK and Francis Ford Coppola on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA as well as becoming a necessary stable in the HARRY POTTER and BATMAN film franchises.

With over 70 feature films, spanning forty-years, Gary has 64 wins from 101 award nominations. It was his portrayal of Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s  DARKEST HOUR (2017), that has won him the most accolades. Written by Anthony McCarten, it covers the critical month in the early days of Churchill’s premiership and the 1940 war cabinet crisis with his refusal to seek a peace treaty with Nazi Germany amid their advance into Western Europe.

Gary’s memorable and mesmerizing performance won the Oscar, the BAFTA, a Golden Globe and the SAG award plus numerous critics gongs including the Critic’s Choice Award. Last years BFI London Film Festival celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Gary’s singular directoral masterpiece, NIL BY MOUTH with a screening of a 4K remastered print. It was followed by a Gary Oldman Season with the man himself taking part in an In Conversation at BFI Southbank on 20 October, when I was fortunate to meet him and get my drawing signed.

Drawing: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Autographed drawing of director Alejandro González Iñárritu

The brilliant Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu attended last year’s BFI london Film Festival with his latest feature BARDO, FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS. While I had been lucky enough to meet him briefly on a handful of occasions, I finally got my act together and drew this portrait sketch for him to sign, which he did outside his London hotel, stopping for a chat and a graph… as you do. It’s intriguing reading about his teenage years and what shaped his future direction. He was apparently a poor student, expelled from high school for poor grades and misbehaviour, running off to Acapulco,with a girl from a wealthy family, influenced by the Milos Forman film HAIR, which lasted a week, before returning home to Mexico City. After a stint working on cargo boats, he travelled around Europe for a year, which had a great influence as a filmmaker.

 Known for his, and I quote, “modern psychological drama films about the human condition”, which have garnered plenty of Awards recognition -126 wins from 168 nominations to be precise, according to IMDb. They includes five Oscars, three BAFTAs and four Golden Globes. His 2014 black comedy-drama BIRDMAN or (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) won the Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay Academy Awards. He was the third person (and the first in 65 years) to win consecutive Best Director Oscars, taking the prize the following year for THE REVENANT. In 2018 he received a Special Achievement Award in for FLESH AND SAND (CARNE Y ARENA), a short (7 minute) virtual reality project from the POV of migrants crossing the Mexican/US  border, which was the first ever VR installation presented at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. In 2019, he was made Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters in France.

Drawing: Guillermo del Toro

Autographed drawing of director Guillermo del Toro

The list of foreign-born film directors who have reached the pinnacle of their careers on Oscar night is long, but few countries can claim to have produced a cohesive group of collaborators with the level of success that three Mexican auteurs have enjoyed for more than two decades. The Academy Award-dominating trio; Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro G. Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro, collectively known as ‘The Three Amigos of Cinema’; have won Best Director five times in six years from 2013-2018. They are three of my favourite helmers, who I have been fortunate to meet at the BFI London Film Festival, Alfonso in 2018 and Alejandro and Guillermo at last years event. They are very affable and accommodating, graciously sharing their time.

Guillermo attended the 2022 Festival for the World Premiere of PINOCCHIO, his Netflix stop-motion animated musical fantasy, co-directed with Mark Gustafson (in his feature debut), loosely based on Carlo Collodi’s classic 1883 book ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’, which re-imagines the story of a wooden puppet who comes to life as the son of his carver Geppetto, set in Fascist Italy during the interwar period and WW ll. It has been received with critical acclaim, and has been recognised as we enter the business end of the awards season, including three Golden Globe noms including Best Animated Feature. More nominations are inevitable.

Guillermo’s body of work has collected many accolades. His 12 feature films have been recognised with many awards, including six Oscar nominations, winning two – Best Picture and Best Director for THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017), the romantic fantasy that follows a mute cleaner at a high-security Government lab, who falls in love with a captured humanoid amphibian creature and decides to help him escape. He has also won two BAFTA’s from five nominations.

TIME magazine included him in their 2018 most influential people in the world list.

Guillermo signed my quick portrait sketch at the PINOCCHIO premiere on 15 October 2022.

Drawing: Paul Bettany in ‘The Collaboration’

Autographed drawing of Paul Bettany as Andy Warhol in The Collaboration at London's Young Vic Theatre

In February this year, British actor Paul Bettany returned to the theatre after an absence of 25 years, fourteen of them spent in Marvel’s AVENGERS franchise to play longtime international superstar Andy Warhol in Anthony McCarten‘s THE COLLABORATION at London’s Young Vic.  It sees the Pop Art icon return to painting after a quarter of a century of parties, gossip and lucrative printmaking.

Billed as a ‘prize-fight between two cultural heavyweights’, the play is set in New York in the summer of 1984. Warhol and the art scene’s newest wunderkid, Jean-Michel Basquiat (played by Jeremy Pope) agree to work together on what may be the most talked about exhibition in the history of modern art. “There are also a couple of titanic lead performances… and Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope really, really deliver… Bettany is a strange and riveting Warhol… he’s a fascinating creation”, wrote TimeOut’s theatre critic Andrzej Lukowski. After a successful run in London, the production has just opened on Broadway with the same leads and director Kwame Kwei-Armah at the Samuel J.Friedman Theater. All three are also central to a film version which is now in post production.

After dropping out of school, Paul lived in a small flat and earned money playing guitar as a busker on the London streets and working in a home for the elderly before enrolling in a three-year course at the Drama Centre London. He made his stage debut at the age of 19, playing Eric Birling in Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed West End revival of AN INSPECTOR CALLS at the Aldwych Theatre in 1993.

Six plays, including three for the Royal Shakespeare Company, 13 TV productions and 42 films later his career has be filled with many memorable highlights and accolades with nine wins from 19 award nominations. He received a BAFTA nom for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of surgeon and naturalist Stephen Maturinin in Peter Weir’s MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) and won the London Film Critic’s Award for Best British Actor and the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as the posh android Vision in the TV miniseries WANDAVISION. He won the London Film Critics’ Circle Award in 2002 for his portrayal of Geoffrey Chaucer in THE KNIGHT’S TALE.

Paul signed my sketch in early March during the THE COLLABORATION’s six-week run at the Young Vic.

Drawing: Jeremy Pope in ‘The Collaboration’

Autographed drawing of Jeremy Pope in 'The Collaboration' at London's Young Vic Theatre

It’s been a very busy and rewarding last few years, in spite of the Covid pandemic, for Florida-born actor and singer Jeremy Pope. He made his Broadway debut in 2018 as Pharus Jonathan Young in the play CHOIR BOY, followed by his portrayal of Eddie Kendricks in the jukebox musical AIN’T TOO PROUD. Both his performances were recognised the following year, becoming only the sixth person to receive Tony Award nominations in two categories for separate performances during the same year. He also earned a 2020 Grammy nomination for the latter for ‘Best Musical Theater Album.’ In 2019 he landed a lead role in the Netflix miniseries HOLLYWOOD, playing aspiring screenwriter Archie Colman, for which he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. Last week he received a Golden Globe nomination for his role as Ellis French in the drama film THE INSPECTION.

This year Jeremy returned to the theatre, crossing the Atlantic to join Paul Bettany in the world premiere of Anthony McCarten‘s THE COLLABORATION at London’s Young Vic, which opened in February. Directed by Kwawe Kwei-Armah, it looks at the unique and rich friendship between two of the world’s most interesting artists; the waning Pop Art legend Andy Warhol (Paul) and the ‘King’ of Neo Expressionism, the Haitian/Puerto Rican enfant terrible and former street kid Jean-Michel Basquait (Jeremy), who was “churning out canvases for dizzying piles of cash.” 

In his four-star review for the Evening Standard, Nick Curtis writes, “Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope match each other in brilliance in the study of art, commerce and identity.” The Broadway transfer with both reprising their roles, just completed previews and opened this week at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Kwame is also directing with all three collaborating for the film adaption, which is currently in post-production. Jeremy signed my sketch during the successful run at the Young Vic.