Drawing: Fay Ripley

Autographed drawing of actress Fay Ripley

British actress Fay Ripley’s breakthrough role was Jenny Gifford in Granada Television’s production for the ITV network’s award-winning comedy-drama COLD FEET. It’s one of my favourite TV shows, following three couples experiencing the ups-and-downs of romance. The six core cast members were James Nesbitt and Helen Baxendale (Adam and Rachel), Hermione Norris and Robert Bathurst (Karen and David) and Fay and John Thomson (Jenny and Pete).

The nine series includes 60 episodes, beginning with the pilot in early 1997. Fay was part of the main cast through to 2003, guest starring during series five, when she divorced Pete and moved to New York with their son. Fay returned for the second run, starting in September 2016 until February this year. COLD FEET has won 20 major awards, including the BAFTA for Best Drama Series and the National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Programme. The series also received an International Emmy Award nomination.

Fay is the only cast member to be nominated for a BAFTA Award. She said of her character, “Jenny’s very ballsy and speaks her mind, but she’s more sensitive than people than people give her credit for. She’s seen as very hard, but I don’t think she is – it’s just that she won’t show her vulnerability to everyone.”

Fay signed my sketch at Wogan House after appearing on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio Two show in January this year.

Drawing: Olivia de Havilland

Drawing of actress Olivia de Havilland

One of the last surviving stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Dame Olivia de Havilland passed away peacefully at her home in Paris on Saturday, just a few weeks after her 104th Birthday. Her career spanned five decades, from 1935-1988, including 49 films. At the time of her death she was the oldest living performer to have won an Oscar.

Dame Olivia was renowned for playing strong, beguiling characters in difficult circumstances. The first of her Academy Award nominations, was for Best Supporting Actress, as Melanie Hamilton in the 1939 classic GONE WITH THE WIND. She won the Best Actress Oscar twice, the first for her performance as WW II fire warden Josephine ‘Jody’ Norris in TO EACH HIS OWN (1946) and her second, three years later as Catherine Sloper, a women who is controlled by her wealthy father and betrayed by her greedy lover in William Wyler’s THE HERIESS. She also won a Golden Globe for the role.

Dame Olivia continued to act until the late 1980’s winning her second Golden Globe Award in 1986 for ANASTASIA:THE MYSTERY OF ANNA. She also featured on the stage, appearing three times on Broadway, ROMEO AND JULIET (1951), CANDIDA (1952) and A GIFT OF TIME (1962). In 2017 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire, the oldest recipient of the honour.

Last year I sent this sketch to Dame Olivia with a signature request, but it was returned with the attached letter, which is self explanatory.

RIP Dame Olivia.

Letter from actress Olivia de Havilland

Drawing: Neil Simon

Drawing of writer Neil Simon

Proclaimed by TIME magazine as ‘the patron saint of laughter,’ writing colossus Neil Simon passed away in late August 2018, aged 91. Considered the most popular playwright since Shakespeare, I drew this sketch of Neil and sent it to him a year earlier, hoping to have it signed, but it was returned with a letter form his office saying that Mr Simon was no longer able to fulfill requests for autographs, but did appreciate my letter and drawing.

Neil dominated Broadway like no other playwright over the past half-century. In the New York Times obituary, Charles Isherwood wrote “Mr Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still worth ruling.” Hardly a year passed from 1961 to 1993 without a new Simon production. His unparalleled career spanned four decades, with over 30 plays and musicals, starting with COME BLOW YOUR HORN in 1961 until 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY in 2001. He also wrote as many screenplays, mostly adaptations of his theatre scripts.

His breakthrough play was BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1963), followed by a string of smash hits, THE ODD COUPLE (1965), PLAZA SUITE (1968), THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1971) and THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1974). His final play was ROSE’S DILEMMA in 2003, produced off-Broadway and in Los Angeles. From 1965-1980 Neil’s plays and musicals racked up more than 9,000 performances, a record not even remotely touched by any other writer of the era. In 1966 he had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.

His arsenal of sarcastic wit with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living involving typically imperfect characters, unheroic figures who are at heart, decent human beings were the hallmarks of his work. He has more combined Oscar (4) and Tony Award (17) nominations than any other writer, winning three Tony’s for THE ODD COUPLE, BILOXI BLUES (1985) and a Special Award in 1975 for his overall contribution to American Theatre. His Academy Award noms were for THE ODD COUPLE (1969), THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1976), THE GOODBYE GIRL (1978), which did win a Golden Globe and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1979). He also won four Writers Guild Awards and received four Emmy nominations among his many accolades that included the Pulitzer Prize for Drama LOST IN YONKERS in 1991. He was the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named after him in 1983.

I was very fortunate to collect Neil’s signature a few years ago, when he signed and dedicated a poster from his 1988 farce Rumors for me.

Drawing: Sir Ian Holm

Montage drawing of actor Ian Holm

The virtuosic British actor Sir Ian Holm, who, according to the New York Times, had “a magic malleability with a range that went from the sweet-tempered to the psychotic,” sadly passed away on Friday, aged 88, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. I drew this montage sketch a few years ago, which incorporated three of his most defining performances, two from the stage (Lenny and King Lear) and one screen (Sam Mussabini) portrayal.

The stage was his initial and natural stamping ground, becoming a star with the Royal Shakespeare Company, after graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1953. He originated the role of the sleek, entrepreneurial pimp Lenny in Sir Peter Hall’s London premiere of Harold Pinter’s THE HOMECOMING at the Aldwych Theatre in 1965, which transferred to the Music Box Theater on Broadway two years later, collecting four Tony Awards, including Sir Ian’s win for Best Performance by a Featured Actor. He reprised the role for the 1973 film adaptation, also directed by Sir Peter.

In 1976, at the height of his career, Sir Ian suffered from acute stage fright, later described as a breakdown, playing Hickey during previews for Eugene O’Neill’s London production of THE ICEMAN COMETH. He left the show and never returned to the stage until the early 1990’s. His lengthy hiatus from the theatre was cinema’s gain.

His first major film role was Ash, the calm but chilling, technocratic android is Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979). He would go on to play many memorable movie performances, including the ‘ultimate passport to screen fame’, the homely Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins in Sir Peter Jackson’s series of Tolkien trilogies. He features in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) and THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) and as the elder Bilbo in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) and THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014).

In his moving tribute after Sir Ian’s passing, Sir Peter recalled meeting him for dinner in London, where they discussed the possibility of him playing THE HOBBIT’s older Bilbo. He was very sorry, initially declining because he had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and no longer could remember lines and certainly couldn’t travel to New Zealand. But he agreed to do it after it was decided to shoot his part in London. “l know he was only doing it as a favour to me,” said Sir Peter, who held his hands and thanked him with tears in my eyes. “We witnessed a wonderful actor delivering his last performance,” he said.

In 1982 Sir Ian received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role as the straw-boated, pioneering athletics coach Sam Mussabini in CHARIOTS OF FIRE, winning a special award at the Cannes Film Festival and a BAFTA, his second from the British Academy, having previously collected the famous golden mask for playing Flynn in THE BOFOR’S GUN (1968). Sir Ian received a further four BAFTA nominations throughout his distinguished career.

Sir Ian was once asked what would entice him back to the stage. He replied a new Pinter play and that’s what triumphantly happened. In 1993, his portrayal of Andy, an angry bitter man facing death in MOONLIGHT at the Almeida Theatre was was recognised by the London critics at their annual awards. Following that success he returned to Shakespeare in 1997, performing a ‘stocky, grizzled, bullet-headed’ title role in KING LEAR directed by Sir Richard Eyre on the Cottesloe stage at the National Theatre, winning an Olivier, a Critics’ Circle Theatre and the Evening Standard Award. Sir Ian also received an Emmy nomination for the televised version. “This is Holm’s Lear,” wrote the International Herald Tribune’s Sheridan Morley, “and we are unlikely to leave this century with a better… piercing to the heart of the character as king and father he exploited all his emotions and at a crucial point, mad on the heath, he dropped his cloak to reveal an old man’s nudity.”

While I had the privilege of meeting Sir Ian on a couple of occasions, I had not drawn a sketch. Eventually this was rectified and sent to him in 2016, hoping to get it signed. But it was returned with a letter from his agent, apologising, but he was unable to personally sign autographs any longer, understandably for health reasons. A small black and white photo with a pre-printed signature was enclosed.

However In 2000, when Sir Ian was filming LOTR in Wellington, New Zealand, he did sign a small copy of a poster for one of my personal favourites, Atom Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), which surprisingly, at the age of 65 was his first lead role in a film and arguably his greatest screen performance as Mitchell Stephens, a troubled lawyer who tries to persuade bereaved families to sue following a fatal school bus crash in a small Canadian community.

RIP Sir Ian.

Autograph of Ian Holm on The Sweet Hereafter poster

Drawing: Tilda Swinton

Autographed drawing of actress Tilda Swinton

Just prior to the March Covid lockdown the British Film Institute hosted a Tilda Swinton season, during which the celebrated British actor was presented with its highest honour, the BFI Fellowship recognising her contribution to film culture, independent film exhibition and philanthropy and her “daringly eclectic and striking talents as a performer and filmmaker… for her work is which is powerful and far ranging and as such occupies a unique place in our collective film history.” Tilda responded saying she “was very happy and touched,” sharing the honour with her “beloved film-making playmates, living and departed.”

After finishing school Tilda spent two years as a volunteer in Africa, before studying for a Social and Political Sciences degree at Cambridge University, where she also performed on stage. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, appearing in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Her screen career, which includes small independent and mainstream projects to international blockbusters AVENGERS:ENDGAME and THE CHRONICLES OF NANIA, began with experimental films directed by Derek Jarman, beginning with CARAVAGGIO in 1986. She went on to appear in a further six films by the late renowned British director.

Her supporting performance as Karen Crowder, the ruthless lawyer on the verge of a mental breakdown in the 2007 legal thriller MICHAEL CLAYTON, was recognised with both BAFTA and the ACADEMY AWARD victories, as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. Tilda won a BAFTA Scotland award for her role as Ella Gault in the erotic drama YOUNG ADAM (2003). She has also developed a live performance art installation with producer and friend Joanna Scanlan, entitled THE MAYBE in 1995, where she was asleep in a glass box on public display at the Serpentine Gallery in London. It was repeated the following year in Rome and again in 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tilda appeared in person at the BFI on London’s Southbank on numerous occasions during the 1-18 March season, introducing screenings and participating in Q+A’s. Always friendly and accommodating with fans, she kindly signed my quick portrait sketch at the venue during the final week.

Drawing: Fanny Ardant

Autographed drawing of actress Fanny Ardant

While my physical ‘stalking’ at stage doors and events in London came to an abrupt halt in March – the 14th to be precise – due to a you-know-what, the mail has continued to be delivered, albeit reduced, but a signed treasure arrived recently, a sketch I sent to one of France’s most admired actresses, Fanny Ardant, back in 2009.

More than a movie star, Fanny was part of cinema history, the muse and companion of the great French new wave director Francois Truffaut during the early 1980’s, before his early death. Fluent in English and Italian, she has appeared in more than eighty motion pictures since 1976, including Hollywood and British films, thirty theatre productions and twenty TV dramas. She has also become an acclaimed director and screenwriter.

At this year’s Cesar Awards in Paris, a couple of weeks before France went into lockdown for the aforementioned you-know-what, Fanny won her second Cesar for her supporting portrayal of Marianne in the romantic comedy-drama LA BELLE EPOQUE, having previously won for Best Actress in 1997, for her comedic role of Eva, the gay bar manager in PEPALE DOUCE. She has also been nominated for two Moliere theatre awards. Last year Fanny directed the opera LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK at the Greek National Opera.

The sketch, drawn in my fine black biro style, prior to the 4B pencil take over, was accompanied by a signed photo. It took eleven years, but well worth the wait.

Autographed photo of Fanny Ardant

Drawing: Mike Figgis

Autographed drawing of filmmaker Mike Figgis

One of the most innovative filmmakers in the business is Mike Figgis, the British director, screenwriter, musician and composer. After initially working in theatre as a director and performer he made his feature film directorial debut with the neo-noir thriller STORMY MONDAY in 1988 featuring Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting and Melanie Griffith. Six years later he directed Terrance Rattigan’s THE BROWNING VERSION based on Terrance Rattigan’s 1948 play with Albert Finney in the lead role. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a BAFTA for Mike’s screenplay.

The following year he received two Academy Award nominations for Direction and Adapted Screenplay for the romantic drama LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Nicolas Cage starred as a suicidal alcoholic who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death after being fired from his LA law firm. It was based on the semi-biographical novel by John O’Brien, who shot himself two weeks after signing away the movie rights. His father said the novel was his suicide note. The low budget film was shot on 16mm with Mike composing his own musical score. Nicolas loved working with the smaller camera, said it was less intimidating and allowed the actors give more relaxed, nuanced performances. He won the Best Actor Oscar.

TIMECODE (2000) is an experimental film with a ensemble cast that included Salam Hayek, Stellen Skardgard and Holly Hunter. Four continuous 93 min hand-held takes were filmed simultaneously by four cameramen beginning at 3pm on 19 November in 1999 with the cast improvising, using a predetermined structure. It follows a group of people in an LA office, prepping a movie. The screen was divided into quarters to show each take.

Since 2008 Mike has been Professor of Film Studies at the European Film School, teaching summer seminars in Saas-Fee in Switzerland. He is also an Associate at the London Film School.

Mike signed and returned my quick portrait sketch after I sent it to his London-based production company, Red Herring.

David Mitchell in Upstart Crow

Autographed drawing of David Mitchell in Upstart Crow in the Gielgud Theatre on London's West End

Ben Elton’s BBC TV Blackadder-esque Shakespearean sitcom UPSTART CROW first screened in May 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. In early February this year the stage version – or as Ben puts it, “an entirely original excursion, not a TV adaption,” opened at London’s Gielgud Theatre, directed by Sean Foley, with BAFTA- winner, David Mitchell reprising his lead role. The derogatory title refers to a critique of Shakespeare by his arch-rival Robert Greene, “an upstart crow, beautified with feathers.”

It is set in 1605, with Shakespeare, depressed after the death of his son Hamnet, needing to come up with a successful new play. In his LondonTheatre review Jack Hudson said that the TV series “has made an easy transition to critical acclaim in the West End. The Show is a hit-packed with intelligent, textured humour, acute historical insight, barbed wit and the welcome inclusion of a break-dancing bear.” It has been nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play.

David kindly signed my Bard sketch when he arrived at the Gielgud for the final Saturday matinee before the production shut down due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Drawing: Roger Deakins

Autographed drawing of cinematographer Roger Deakins

At one of the many crossroads earlier in my life, I entertained the notion of following a path to cinematography, influenced by the wonderful work of legendary lensman such as Haskell Wexler, Conrad Hall, Freddie Young, Vilmos Zsigmond, Gordon Willis and Sven Nyvist. I even subscribed to ‘American Cinematograper’, which proved a source of inspiration for my own, less ambitious super 8 and 16mm epics.

Often cited as one of the most influential cinematographers of all time is the Englishman Roger Deakins. ‘Sight & Sound’ listed him as one of the greatest artists of light and shade in movie history. His first dramatic feature as DP was ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE in 1983, directed by his former schoolmate Michael Radford, who he teamed up with again the following year, appropriately to shoot the film version of George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Roger used a bleach bypass process where silver is retained in the print to give it a washed out look reflecting The celebrated author’s bleak vision. Such ingenuity would be the hallmark of his illustrious career.

In 1991 he shot BARTON FINK, the first of 12 collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen. Three years later he received the first of his 15 Academy Award nominations was for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Roger achieved a degree of notoriety, as much for his acclaimed body of work as for his surprising lack of success at the Oscars. It would take until his last two noms to win the converted gold statue, consecutively, for BLADE RUNNER 2049 in 2019 and again this year for the Sam Mendes helmed (their fourth collaboration) war film 1917, renowned for its continuous ‘single’ tracking shot – actually ‘two takes’ with a blackout just over an hour into the film, when the main protagonist Lance Corporal Will Scholfield is knocked unconscious, separating afternoon to dusk then night to dawn. He is also credited with being the Camera A Operator.

Among his many other accolades, Roger has received ten BAFTA nominations, winning five, including his Academy winning films and the Coen’s THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001), NO COUNTER FOR OLD MEN (2007) and TRUE GRIT (2010) and has won five American Society of Cinematographer Awards.

I was very pleased to catch Roger at the Corinthia Hotel in London as he left for the Royal Albert Hall to attend this year’s BAFTA Awards in early February.

Drawing: Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit

Autographed drawing of Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit

One of the breakout film performances of 2019 was Roman Griffin Davis’ impressive acting debut as the twelve year old Hitler Youth member with his imaginary friend Adolf, Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler in Tamika Waititi’s Oscar-winning JOJO RABBIT. He received six award nominations, including a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild and a Critic’s Choice Award which he won. Roman’s twin brothers, Gilby and Hardly also featured in the dark comedy as Hitler Youth clones.

His follow up film is the festive-themed dark romance about an extended family gathering, SILENT NIGHT (working title) opposite Keira Knightley, written and directed by his mother, Camille Griffin. It’s been described as LOVE ACTUALLY with a killer sting. Filming started in February, and managed to finish ‘by the skin of their teeth’ before the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

Roman signed my drawing at the Soho Hotel in London as he left to attend the BAFTA Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in February.