Drawing: Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon and The Father

Frank Langella

Frank Langella has won four Tony Awards. His latest was for his role as Andre in Florian Zeller’s THE FATHER this year. He played Richard Nixon, the only US President to resign the office in Peter Morgan’s FROST/NIXON at London’s Donmar Warehouse and the Gielgud before transferring to Broadway’s Bernard B Jacobs Theatre in April 2007, winning his third Tony. He reprised the role in the film version the following year, earning Oscar, Globe,SAG and BAFTA Award nominations.

I sent Frank this sketch of him in both roles while he was in THE FATHER at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre last month and he signed it with his unique abbreviated initials graph.

Drawing: Dame Eileen Atkins

Eileen Atkins

One of my favourite plays is THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE by British writer Frank Marcus. It premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 1965 with Eileen Atkins and Beryl Reid in the lead roles. The production transferred to the West End, before its run at the Belasco Theatre in New York.where Eileen made her Broadway debut. She  played the dimwitted ‘Childie’ alongside Beryl’s sadistic, gin-guzzling radio star June Buckridge and her alter ego ‘Sister George’.

Dame Eileen has been treading the boards and appearing on the big and small screen since 1953. She has won a BAFTA, Emmy and three Olivier Awards and has been nominated for four Tony’s, the  first of which was for her role in SISTER GEORGE. She also created the iconic British TV series UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS.

Her films include EQUUS, THE DRESSER and GOSFORD PARK-once again all favourites of mine and she can be seen recently on the small screen in DOC MARTIN as Martin Clune’s Aunty, Dr Ruth Ellingham, another favourite of mine.

It’ s no wonder I had to draw her. This montage, which I dropped off at her London agent’s office for signing a couple of weeks ago, includes her as Childie and images from ALL THAT FALL at the Jermyn Street Theatre in 2012 and her solo show ELLEN TERRY WITH EILEEN ATKINS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe earlier this year in which she portrays over ten parts including Juliet, Beatrice and Viola.

Drawing: Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils

Jesse Eisenberg

Eight hours. 8 long hours. Written in words or numerically, either way it still spells out a l-o-n-g  time to wait for an autograph. Actually it was 8 hours and a few minutes, waiting to get my sketch of the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar nominated Hollywood star Jesse  Eisenberg signed. But I did. It’s not my usual practice and not one I hope to make a habit of. Jesse is in London to make his West End debut as the dope-smoking, entitled, living of his wealthy parents, narcissistic bully Ben in the tragicomedy THE SPOILS, which he wrote and had its world premiere at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre in New York’s Pershing Square Signature Center last summer.

“Engrossingly acted, impeccably staged,” wrote the New York Times.

The off Broadway transfer to London’s Trafalgar Studios starts on 27 May for a three month run. It’s Jesse’s third play, all of which have stated life on the off-Broadway boards.

We – a handful of fellow collectors – found out where he was rehearsing and duly waited nearby. But Jesse had to interrupt his rehearsals to fly to Cannes to do press for his latest film CAFE SOCIETY directed by Woody Allen. Then zap back to London. We thought he was already in the building and would finish at the customary time. That plan disappeared when he actually arrived at five and quickly slipped in without us having time to catch him.

One gets to a point in this business when one has invested time that one does not want to waste by ditching the mission. In other words it would be a waste of time if you didn’t stay to get the graph. But eight hours is a long investment. Thankfully it was a nice sunny day  even though the pollen count was eight times higher than normal. It’s a recurring theme. SPOILS Sketch, sneezing and sharpie at the ready.

All was forgotten, well nearly all when we finally met meet Jesse. He thanked us for turning up and waiting. Truly one of the nicest in the business and he really liked the drawing, which is always a bonus.

Drawing: F. Murray Abraham in The Merchant of Venice and Galileo

F Murray Abraham

F. Murray Abraham grew up in El Paso, Texas and was a gang member before becoming one of the most respected character actors of his generation, after his high school teacher introduced him to acting.

Since winning Hollywood’s piece de resistance, the Academy Award for his career-defining portrayal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s bitter rival Antonio Salieri, in Milos Forman’s 1984 Best Picture, AMADEUS, he has mainly focused on classical theatre and some TV, including the award-winning series HOMELAND, collecting Emmy and SAG Award nominations.

Two of his acclaimed stage roles have been Shylock in an Off Broadway production of Shakespeare’s MERCHANT OF VENICE in 2011 and the title character in Bertolt Brecht’s GALILEO at the Classic Stage Company the following year. He reprised his Shylock role replacing Al Pacino in the Public Theatre production.

F. Murray returned to the Classic Theatre Company in New York this month in NATHAN THE WISE, which gave me the perfect opportunity to send this sketch for signing.

Drawing: Emma Thompson as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd

emma thompson sweeney

Emma Thompson returned to musical theatre after a 30 year break to make her New York stage debut in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to critical acclaim alongside Bryn Terfel as the serial-killing shaver. She last appeared on the boards in London in 1989 in Look Back in Anger. With her then husband Kenneth Branagh and in the musical Me and My Girl with Robert Lindsay in 1985.

For five performances she played Mrs Lovett, London’s worst pie maker in the concert production of the Sondheim’s classic, seminal musical at the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in the Big Apple. Backed by the New York Philharmonic Emma wowed the critics last month, one saying she, “not only held her own against more experienced vocalists, but wound up running off with the show”.

I quickly drew this minimal line drawing when I found out she would be attending the Empire Awards at the end of March, where she was nominated for Saving Mr Banks. Like the trooper she is, Emma signed for everyone, including my sketch, “Oh Sweeney,” she smiled, “I hope you win,” I said. “So do I,” she replied – and she did.

Drawings: Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes002

Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton Wykenham Fiennes was only signing programmes and tickets at the stage door of the Royal Theatre Haymarket in London in August 2011. He was playing Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Although spelt ‘Ralph’ it is pronounced ‘Rafe’, so don’t ask ‘Ralph’ for a ‘graph or you may not get one! The theatre management were very strict about the signing policy, so I made do with my ticket and programme siggys. I did however, leave a drawing of Ralph as Prospero and Elisabeth Hooper as his daughter Miranda at the stage door, and it was returned, signed by both.

Ralph Fiennes Elisabeth 002

Later that year Ralph also made his film directional debut, with an adaption of the Bard’s tragedy Coriolanus, in which he also played the title role. It screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October that year. Ralph attended and was happy to sign and dedicate my sketch at the Odeon West End Theatre in Leicester Square. Coriolanus actually had its premiere at the Curzon Mayfair in early January 2012. Once again Ralph attended and this time signed a sketch I did some years earlier, when he was on Broadway in 2006, playing Frank Hardy in Faith Healer at the Booth Theater. I was, in fact, in New York during the play’s season, but couldn’t get a ticket. Anyway, he was once again obliging with his autograph and complimentary comments.

Ralph Fiennes001

Drawing: Alan Rickman, Lily Rabe, Jerry O’Connell, Hettienne Park and Hamish Linklater in Seminar on Broadway

Alan Rickman001

Alan Rickman originated the role of Leonard,a caustic professor in Theresa Rebeck’s SEMINAR, which had its World Premiere at the Golden Theatre on Broadway in April 2012. The play revolves around Rickman’s character conducting a ten-week-long writing seminar for four young novelists. I had met Alan a few times and I don’t think signing is one of his favourite chores, but he was very pleasant to chat with.

Many years ago I tried for a graph through the mail and was politely refused by his agent. I sent the sketch, thinking nothing to lose… except the sketch, of course! He was obviously signing at the stage door, but sending stuff to the venues is hit and miss, depending on their policy for unsolicited mail. To my delight the sketch was not only returned, pronto, but dedicated and signed by the other cast members – Lily Rabe, Jerry O’Connell, Hettienne Park and Hamish Linklater. So next time I see Alan, I won’t have to bother him for a sig and can thank him in person.

Drawing: Jessica Chastain and David Strathairn in The Heiress on Broadway

the heiress signed001

Sending sketches for signing to Broadway productions in New York can be a bit ‘hit and miss’… a bit like the shows themselves. My success rate is about 50/50. Some theatres (theaters in Yankie lingo) pass them, some don’t. In January I sent material to three theatres for signing, so it was pleasing to receive this on back on Saturday.

Jessica Chastain was making her Broadway debut in the revival of the Tony award-winning play The Heiress at the Walter Kerr Theater. The production was scheduled for a limited run, opening in the Autumn of 2012 with final curtain on 10 February 2013, after 27 previews and 118 regular performances.

The story of The Heiress is set in the 1850s. Jessica plays Catherine Sloper, the daughter and only heiress of a prominent New Yorker (played by David Strathairn), who must navigate the terrain of love and regret, desire and duty against the demands of an emotionally distant father and the attention of a passionate young suitor.

Jessica has always been pleasant on the few occasions I had met her at London premieres and award ceremonies. Someone wrote that as a vegan, she wanted everyone to feel that they were welcome on this planet… including signature stalkers (some latitude used in the paraphrase). So no surprise when I opened up the envelope and it was from her.

In 2012 Time Magazine listed her as one of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ and she is considered one of the finest actors of her generation. Jessica was also nominated for every award going for her role as Maya in Kathryn Bigelow’s Military thriller Zero Dark Thirty. The Award’s Season coincided with the play’s season, so her understudy saw more action as Jessica attended the various ceremonies.

The Heiress actually closed a day earlier (Feb 9th) to allow Jessica to attend the BAFTA Awards in London on the 10th.

Academy Award nominated and Emmy Award winner David Strathairn has also signed the sketch. His Oscar nomination was for his role in as Edward Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck. He also has a prominent role as Secretary of State William Seward in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

To demonstrate further Jessica’s love for all things living, she rescued a three-legged dog called Chaplain from a New York dog shelter. A the most climatic point in The Heiress deep in the second half on a February Saturday matinée, Chaplin walked on stage… unexpectedly. He has not signed the sketch, however.