Drawing: Priscilla Presley

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Priscilla Presley made her pantomime debut in London last Christmas, playing the wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I sent this drawing to the theatre and received it back through the mail in January.

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Drawing: Tom Cruise

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It’s April – not that the weather’s come to the party, as it continued to chuck down the white stuff…. but, as they say ‘there’s no business like snow business.’

Appropriately, a white carpet (or maybe originally it was red!) awaited Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko and director Joseph Kosinski for the UK premiere of the Sci Fi saga Oblivion at the BFI IMAX near London’s Waterloo station.

One of the highest paid and most sought-after actors in screen history, Tom Cruise, has played a bartender, soldier, pilot, special agent, samurai, contract killer, senator, magazine owner, lawyer, sports agent, student, vampire, race-car driver and pool player can now add one of the few remaining drone repairmen assigned to an Earth devastated by decades of war with the alien Scavs.

One forecast was guaranteed, whatever the weather, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV would not disappoint his frozen fans. Thankfully, he shortened his moniker, or it would be Summer before he finished signing. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Tom doesn’t rush. He always arrives early, completes media commitments, and then spends as much time as it takes ‘signing the line’ (that’s graphers lingo for everyone).

The planet’s biggest star is also its biggest signer. An interesting fact: he’s actually left handed but signs with his right hand. He has been known to spend up to 3 hours signing siggies and posing for pics prior to screenings. That’s quality and quantity, but then he’s good with numbers. Each one of his three wives have been 11 years younger than the previous one. And they were all 33 when the marriages ended. So maybe he’s more of a numerologist than a Scientologist.

By the time he got to me which was around half an hour after he started down Sharpie street, he must have signed nigh on 100 ‘graphs. When he saw my sketch he was really pleased with it and we had a brief chat and he signed and dedicated it. Mission: Acccomplished

Drawing: Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench in Peter and Alice

Peter and Alice Blog

The Michael Grandage Company’s second of five theatrical treats at the Noel Coward Theatre is Peter and Alice written by John Logan, it’s a moving study of enchanchment and reality after a brief encounter between the real-life models for Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, laying bare the lives of two extraordinary characters shaped by JM Barrie and Lewis Carroll. The actual fleeting meeting took place at a literary event in 1932, when Alice Liddell Hargreaves was 80 and Peter Lleweullyn Davies was 35. Logan speculates on their imagined conversations, looking at how we are all shaped by our childhoods. The children who inspired two classics meet as emotionally bruised adults in a dusty old bookstore and explore their views of past relationships with the authors and the price that they have paid when fame is foisted on the child heroine and the boy who never grew up. It is a tale of two tortured souls with Peter struggling the most with the unwanted fame. “I think I know what childhood is for. It’s to give us a bank of happy memories against future suffering.”

Alice passed away peacefully and contented, Peter committed suicide, throwing himself under a train in Sloane Square. The principle characters are played by Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw – transferring ‘M’ and ‘Q’ from the screen to Wonderland and Neverland from the recent Bond film Skyfall (also written by John Logan).

Both actors are terrific on stage and off stage. They are great signers, but the problem is that they leave at opposite ends of the theatre. Alice through the front looking glass (barriered) and Peter flies out the back. In order to avoid having to go back twice, signature strategy requires some prior intelligence. My spies told me that Ben usually exits first, then the mob hot foot it to the front of the theatre for Dame Judi. And that’s exactly what happened. As all good bedtime stories should finish.

Drawing: Sir Alec Guinness – the theatrical Jedi Knight

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In a galaxy far, far away… actually, in 1994, I drew a quick caricature of Sir Alec Guinness. In the absence of a stage door to stand at or a reliable agent’s address, I found out that he was a member of The Garrick Club, Charing Cross Road in London. I was in the city at the time, so I made a couple of copies, wrote a note and left it with a stamped self addressed envelope before heading back to New Zealand.

This month I read that the British Library had recently bought 1000 letters and 100 volumes of his hand written diaries from his family for £320,000. The archive will go on display next year.

Catherine Ostler in the Daily Mail wrote: “To some fans, Sir Alec Guinness will always be remembered as Obi Wan Kenobi, the sagacious Jedi Knight of the Star Wars films. To others, he is The Bridge On The River Kwai’s resolute but misguided Colonel Nicholson.

These and other brilliant performances — in Ealing comedies, Lawrence Of Arabia, Dr Zhivago and TV’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — should surely have left him secure in the knowledge that he stood at the pinnacle of his profession. Yet his private writings, previously unseen by the public, reveal this titan of the screen and stage to have been a flawed, insecure man who found release in petty malice.”

Nobody escaped his barbed comments, from the Queen down. Even the great Sir Laurence Olivier. For more than half a century they shared the accolades as the greatest actors of their generation, but behind the scenes a poisonous rivalry existed. He called his fellow thespian “cruel, unpleasant, destructive and pretentious.” He did, however, balance that by praising Lord Larry as a “total actor – technically brilliant.”

It is common knowledge he disliked the Star Wars trilogy and would throw away fanmail associated with it. he called it “fairy-tale rubbish”. In spite of an Academy Award and Golden Globe nomination for his role, the theatrical knight wanted the Jedi Knight killed off and convinced George Lucas that it would make the character stronger (and he wouldn’t have to go on speaking that bloody awful, excruciating, banal dialogue, he confided).

The Star Wars films did, however, provide an income for the rest of his life. While he hated the films, he was shrewd enough to realise that the public wouldn’t, so struck a deal for 2% of the gross royalties, along with his initial salary. The franchise went on to become one of the most successful ever. He later said, “I have no complaints, I can live the rest of my life in the reasonably modest way I am now used to and I can afford to refuse work that doesn’t appeal to me.”

One person who he did like, and who sympathised with him was co-star Harrison Ford. Apparently, he said to the director, “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it!”

There was no doubt Sir Alec was a complex man – a shy introvert who shone on stage and screen. Melvyn Bragg said he was the weirdest, strangest person he’d ever interviewed. But, back in 1994 he signed my drawing and added some self-mockery. Six years later he passed away,aged 86.  I wonder if I’m mentioned in his diary dispatches. A visit to the British Library next year could be worth it. The force (and the graph) is indeed with me, always.

Drawing: Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth

Robert Powell

Robert Powell was a guest speaker at the Art in Marylebone exhibition in London in 2010. An excellent opportunity to listen to ‘Jesus’ (his most famous role) mingle with the followers and philistines, collect a ‘graph and have a vino or three.

Robert had a distinguished TV career with forays into film including the title role in Ken Russell’s Mahler (1974) and Captain Walker in Tommy (1975). As Tommy’s father, he had no lines and appeared mostly in dream sequences. In one such sequence he is seen in a crucifixion pose, a rehearsal for his role as Christ in Jesus of Nazareth (1977) which immediately followed. It was directed by the legendary Franco Zeffirelli as a two part TV film and co-starred Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Rod Steiger and James Mason. Robert received a BAFTA nomination for his performance. He also spent some time in New Zealand filming Chunuk Bair, based on Maurice Shadbolt’s play about the Wellington Regiment taking and holding Chunuk Bair hill on the Gallipoli peninsula during WWI. He played the lead role, Sgt Maj Frank Smith.

I spoke with Robert after his speech about the film. In 1990 I played ‘Scruffy’ in Jonathan Tucker’s moving production of Once on Chunuk Bair, for Invercargill Repertory, my first role for the society and it still remains my favourite. I had drawn a quick sketch of him as Jesus and he was happy to sign it. As there was still plenty of wine, he wasn’t required to perform any miracle.

Drawing: Chess with Magnus Carlsen

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Yesterday I met Magnus Carlsen – the 22 year old Norwegian World Chess No1… well ‘met’ I use candidly. The Telegraph calls him the Justin Bieber of chess. He prefers to be likened to Matt Damon. Actually, he looks more like a condensed, cherub-faced Roger Federer.

He has the highest chess rating of all time and has been called the ‘greatest ever player’ at the tender age of 22. The former chess prodigy became the youngest player to reach number 1 in the world in January 2010. His game style is described as “poetic and brutal” – as you would expect from a Viking!

The World Chess Candidate’s Tournament has the top eight players gathering to do battle over two weeks at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, under the shadow of the Waterloo Bridge in London. The victor will then challenge current World Champion Viswanathan Anand “the Tiger of Madras” for the title. The competition concludes this Easter weekend. With chess having 600 million players worldwide, revamped rules and a new poster boy, many believe the game is returning to the glory days of the Fischer-Spasky confrontation in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1972.

He is the tournament favourite and up until Good Friday he was leading. However, he suffered his first loss to Ukranian Vassily Ivanchuk, leaving a Russian, Vladimir Kramnik in the lead. Challenger hopes could be resurrected on Sunday.

Anyway, back to the meeting and signing. I arrived at the venue with half an hour to go to kick off.. or should I say ‘piece movement’. A sprinkling of photographers and journos wandered into the institute, and a smattering of your usual chess groupies. Not an autograph zombie in sight… I’m alone at last!

With 10 minutes to go I thought he’s probably already in the building working on his moves. But no, he was walking on his moves. I see this mini version of the Fed/Matt Damon hybrid walking towards a side entrance. I race after him, thinking “this is a little weird, chasing after a chess celebrity”.

He and his minder go into one of those doors… oh I would say, 6cm thick, that operate like a bear trap with hinges that are spring loaded. But my fingers on my drawing hand managed to stop the offending barrier from closing completely. As I prised it open to reveal a startled chess champion. Wringing my fingers, but with my Sharpie in my left hand, I asked him to sign my sketch. Clearly not used to such intrusions, his facial expression changed to a smile, and he calmly said “sure,” and signed. Little did I know he was about to suffer his first defeat…

I thanked him a left, still flexing my fingers, bumping into 2 guys directly behind me. I wasn’t sure if they were fans or security. Needless to day, mission accomplished. Checkmate.

Drawing: Alex Jennings and Richard Griffiths in The Habit of Art at The National Theatre

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RIP Richard Griffiths.

Although known as a ‘grumpy signer’ by the autograph collecting ‘fraternity’ – I guess it was one of the unique features of getting a Griffiths ‘graph with the gruffness, I personally always enjoyed meeting him and never had a refusal. He had one of the nicest signatures – full name, well scripted and always consistent.

He signed this sketch at the National during his season of The Habit of Art in January 2010. I was waiting at the stage door after an evening performance with a number of other hopefuls – a mixture of zombies and audience members. Richard eventually came out. I was standing on my own to the left of the exit. He stopped and started to roll a siggy a ciggy. After a few moments he turned to me and said. “I’m just having a cigarette.”
“Feel free,” I replied.

A little while later he said, “Have you got something for me?”
“I have.”
“What is it?”
“A sketch,” I said
“Oh.”

More minutes passed. I think I was the ‘graph guinea pig that evening, testing Richard to see if he was ‘in the mood’.

“Can I see it?” he asked.
“Sure,” and I showed it to him.
“Very good. Do you want me to sign it?”
“To Mark,” I told him and handed him the Sharpie. He did the siggy, finished the ciggy, hopped in the waiting car and left. I wonder if he’ll sign for God?

Drawing: Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle

I like Danny Boyle’s style. The Lancashire born director is the most down to earth celebrity I know. In spite of a trophy cabinet including every major film gong and co-ordinating the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, he also turned down a Knighthood.

He returned to his theatrical roots in 2011 to direct Frankenstein at the National Theatre. On the opening night he signed for me. Actually there were two opening nights (World Premieres) as the two leads – Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch – alternated the roles of ‘the creature’ and Dr Frankenstein.

He wore casual clothes and mingled with the minions in the Olivier Theatre foyer. I did this quick sketch and approached him. He smiled and said, “that’s great.” He was more than happy to sign it, confirming his humanity and humility. I asked him why he alternating the leads, he said, “you’ll see”.

I watched the show on the theatre monitor in the bar. Cumberbatch played the creature. If a ticket had been available I would have returned to see Miller in the same role, so I could see what Danny meant.

Drawing: Martin Freeman in Clybourne Park at Royal Court Theatre

Martin Freeman002The Moêt British Independent Film Awards were held at the Old Billingsgate Fish Market in the Shadow of Tower Bridge in December 2010. This time I was on the other side, covering the event for the Irish World – always awkward asking for ‘graphs when you’re interviewing the stars and supping on the sponsor’s product!

However, Martin is one of us: normal, nice and no expletives deleted. I had a couple of sketches on me from his role in the award winning Royal Court play Clybourne Park.

As a member of the forth estate one has to remain professional at all times… so I politely showed Martin the sketches and and said I could send them to his agent. He said “I’ll save you the stamps,” and we had a brief chat about his upcoming trip to Middle Earth (New Zealand) to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit.

As I write this, I discover that Martin has just won the Best Actor perspex trophy at the Empire Film Awards across town at the Grosvenor Hotel, for his Hobbit role, beating Lincoln and James Bond (Daniel Day Lewis and Daniel Craig).