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.

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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.

Drawing: Anthony McCarten

Autographed drawing of writer Anthony McCarten

Continuing with my fellow Massey University alumi after my previous post with Shehan Karunatilaka, another writer with kiwi connections… well… screenwriter, novelist, playwright, journalist, film director and producer, Anthony McCarten also graced our Varsity’s hallowed halls. Born in New Plymouth on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Anthony worked as a reporter for The Taranaki Herald for a couple of years before studying for an Arts Degree at both Massey and nearby Victoria. While there he attended Bill Manhire’s famous creative writing course. This was followed by a period of unemployment, a stint on the boards in a production of the Bard’s KING LEAR and writing, including two abandoned novels and some poetry, but a meeting with Stephen Sinclair in 1987 at a NZ Playwrights’ Workshop resulted in them writing LADIES NIGHT together in six days, which is now New Zealand’s most successful commercial play.

First performed at Auckland’s Mercury Theatre, it had several national sell-out tours in the UK and has been translated into sixteen languages. It continues to play worldwide. The French version at the Theatre Rive Gauche in Paris won the Moliere Award for stage comedy in 2001. Since 1984, fifteen of his plays have been performed, the latest, A BEAUTIFUL NOISE – THE NEIL DIAMOND MUSICAL opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway earlier this month, following a four-week run in June at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston.

Anthony has written nine novels, translated into 14 languages, winning several accolades. His fourth, SHOW OF HANDS, was adapted into a movie directed by the author in 2008 and nominated for for Best Picture and Best Director at the New Zealand Film Awards. His 2017 work of historical non-fiction, DARKEST HOUR: HOW CHURCHILL BOUGHT US BACK FROM THE BRINK was turned into a critically acclaimed  biopic with Gary Oldman in the lead role. DARKEST HOUR received 5 Academy Award nominations with Anthony given a nod for Best Picture as producer. He also collected two BAFTA noms for Best Film and Best British Film.

Since 1999 he has written nine screenplays, receiving nominations for four Oscars, eight BAFTAs and a Golden Globe. The 2014 biographical romantic drama THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, detailing the life of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, which Anthony adapted from Jane Hawking’s 2007 memoir, TRAVELLING TO INFINITY: MY LIFE WITH STEPHEN was nominated for six Oscars. He was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. It also received 10 BAFTA noms with Anthony winning two for his adapted script and Best British. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018) was nominated for the BAFTA’s Outstanding British Film and the following year THE TWO POPES garnered Anthony Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for his adapted screenplay. His latest screen project is an adaption of his 2022 play THE COLLABORATION, exploring the relationship between artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, which originated at London’s Young Vic earlier this year, featuring Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah. The Broadway transfer is currently in previews at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, opening 20 December with Paul and Jeremy reprising their roles, also directed by Kwame. All three are also involved in the film adaptation.

As you can see, Anthony is one of the busiest people on the planet, but I managed to catch up with him at The Old Vic in February during the first week of THE COLLABORATION, where we acknowledged our Massey alumni status and he signed my portrait sketch.

Drawing: Shehan Karunatilaka, Booker Prize Winner 2022

Autographed drawing of Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka

Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka’s second novel, THE SEVEN MOONS OF MAALI ALMEIDA was announced the winner of the 2022 Booker Prize – the most prestigious literary prize in the English-speaking world – at The Roundhouse in London on 17 October this year. Set against the backdrop of civil war, it follows the story of renegade war photographer Maali Almeida, tasked with solving his own murder.

The first draft was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize under the title, DEVIL DANCE. It was subsequently published as CHATS WITH THE DEAD before being revised to “make it familiar to Western readers” during the two-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic and released by the independent British publishing house Sort of Books this year under THE SEVEN MOONS title.The Booker judges said that the novel “fizzes with energy, imagery and ideas against a broad, surreal view of the Sri Lankan civil wars. Slyly, angrily comic.”  On his website Shehan is described as “writing about forgotten cricketers, drunk old men, war photographers, chatty ghosts, self-driving cars and time travelers. His stories are absurd and mostly true. He lives in Colombo with his wife, two kids, five guitars and thirty-two unfinished stories.”

Shehan grew up in the Sri Lankan capital and was educated in New Zealand, graduating from Massey University with a degree in English Literature against his family’s wish to study business administration.

His debut novel in 2010, CHINAMAN: THE LEGEND OF PRADEEP MATHEW won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the Gratiaen Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. It was also adjudged the second greatest cricket book of all time by Wisden in 2019. telling the story of an alcoholic sports journalist’s quest to track down a missing Sri Lankan cricketer of the 1980’s. Shehan’s first manuscript THE PAINTER was shortlisted for the 2000 Gratiaen Prize, but was never published. He has also published three children’s books with more in the pipeline and another novel “that will hopefully not take ten years to finish.”

He has said that his influences are Kurt Vonnegut, William Goldman, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Tom Robbins and “a few hundred other authors.”

Shehan also plays bass for the rock bands ‘Independent Square’, ‘Powercut Circus’ and ‘Brass Monkey Band’ and has written and spoken about his lifelong obsession with ‘The Police’.

Three days after Shehan won the Booker he appeared at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre in AN EVENING WITH THE 2022 BOOKER PRIZE WINNER event as part of the London Literature Festival. When I met him at the aftermatch booksigning he immediately recognised my Kiwi accent so we immediately found a point of reference as fellow alumni of Massey University in Palmerston North on New Zealand’s North Island, and the city’s best student takeaway. NZ Stuff described him as a ‘Sri Lankan-Kiwi’ after his win and said that he is in the process of moving back to Aotearoa, something he mentioned to me. He then signed a copy of his book and my sketch.

Drawing: Jodie Comer in PRIMA FACIE

Autographed Drawing of Jodie Comer in Prima Facie on West End

“West End debuts don’t come much more astonishing than this solo tour de force by Jodie Comer,” wrote The Telegraph’s Chief Theatre Critic Dominic Cavendish in his five-star review of the 90 minute, one-hander PRIMA FACIE, which ran this spring at the Harold Pinter Theatre, for a sold-out nine week season. The BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning actress plays Tessa Ensler, a brilliant barrister, who specialises in defending men accused of sexual assault, until she is raped by a colleague. It was only her second ever stage role, the first in Scarborough, thirteen years ago when she was 16, playing Ruby in THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

“The KILLING EVE star makes a masterful West End debut in Suzi Miller’s play about sexual assault and the legal system,” said the Guardian’s Arifa Akbar. The Evening Standard’s Nick Curtis wrote, “We all wanted to know if she’s as good live on stage as she is on screen. And the answer is no: she’s better.”

“Comer evolves the character as the play goes on, twisting Tessa’s charismatic confidence into traumatised, fidgety panic-duality expressed in the publicity poster, which overlays an image of a self-satisfied lawyer-mode Comer into one of her letting out an anguished scream… and she plays all the other supporting roles… we watch her slip between the prim prosperity and rounded vowels of Tessa’s Cambridge Professors to the crotch-scratching arrogance of policemen and Elton-boy drawl of her peers among many others,” wrote Yasmin Omar in her Curzon Cinemas review for the NT Live screening of the production in movie theatres.
Jodie will make her Broadway debut at the Schubert Theatre later this year when the production transfers to New York.

She kindly signed my sketch at the Pinter stage door after her final performance on 18 June where hundreds of fans gathered, fifteen deep.

Drawing: LIfe of Pi, The Tiger 7

Autographed drawing of the Tiger Puppet from Life of Pi on West End, London

The Covid pandemic delayed the West End transfer of the spectacular stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling Booker Prize-winning novel, the LIFE OF PI from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to London’s Wyndham’s Theatre. It finally opened last December, winning five Olivier Awards including Best New Play…. and creating London theatrical history when the six puppeteers and voice artist of the tiger – Fred Davis (Head), Daisy Franks (Heart), Romina Hytten (Heart), Tom Larkin (Head), Habib Nasib Nader (Voice),Tom Stacy (Hind) and Scarlet Wilderink (Heart) – won Best Supporting Actor.

A sixteen-year-old Indian boy named Pi is cast adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for 227 days with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutang and a Royal Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker. The puppet designers and movement directors, Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes also won Oliviers. In her WhatsOnStage review, Sarah Crompton wrote,”If you want theatrical magic, LIFE OF PI is the show for you. The tiger is a magnificent creation whose every movement and sound make you believe you are in the presence of a dangerous, prowling beast.”

“It’s a landmark moment in puppetry… we’re hoping it opens the door for more puppets in central roles in the future”, said Fred after their deserved win.

I left a quick sketch of Richard Parker along with a congratulatory card at the Wyndham’s stage door, which all of the ‘Tiger 7’ kindly signed and returned for me, along with two pieces of special original artwork from Romina and Payal Misty, who plays Pi’s sister Rani. They also gave me a programme, signed by all the cast. Big thanks!

Artwork and thank you notes from Life of Pi Puppeteers