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RADA Off Stage

Published April 17, 2008

Ever wondered what Anthony Hopkins’ garden looks like? Or where Roger Moore has a holiday house? The photographer Cambridge Jones found out when he was granted a window into the lives of a hundred actors, photographing them for Off Stage: The RADA Centenary Portraits, currently being displayed at the National Theatre. Laura North looks through the results with Cambridge Jones and asks Juliet Stevenson and Adrian Lester what they thought of their photos.

It’s not easy to find the real face of an actor; they spend their lives pretending to be other people. Cambridge Jones photographed a hundred off-duty actors, all graduates of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, for the Off Stage exhibition and book, and made an interesting discovery in the process. “I think photographing a hundred actors in a row has made me realise that they really don’t like being photographed. They’re not used to putting themselves on show or saying ‘This is me’.”

So it’s an impressive achievement to catch these actors – including Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt and Ralph Fiennes – off stage and often off guard. Jones even found his way into their houses, an accomplishment Hello! would be proud of: Anthony Hopkins gave him a guided tour of his home, Roger Moore invited him to his pad in Monaco, Margaret Tyzack posed in her garden.

“Photographing a hundred actors in a row has made me realise that they really don’t like being photographed” – Cambridge Jones

The result is a collection of snap shots which give an insight into the actors’ private lives. “There is something that has caught the moment, I can’t tell you why or how,” says Jones. “I think it is because it’s just me and a couple of lights. By the time you actually click the shutter, you’ve already broken through a lot of barriers; they’ve asked you if you want tea and you’ve looked at their furniture.” He says he doesn’t take a single shot but a series of them, capturing the subjects in mid-flow of conversation. With no requirement to pose or publicise, they have no reason not be themselves. The photo of Anthony Hopkins is a prime example. “It was taken after the session. At the end of the session we carried on talking and he showed me round his house, and where his garden was. He was just standing looking out at the sea, at Malibu Beach, telling me about his wedding. And I thought that’s – click – great.”

Even more personal, perhaps, is Juliet Stevenson’s portrait: it is taken in her daughter’s bed. I talk to her on her mobile phone while she’s on the motorway en route to a family holiday. It gives me the opportunity to ask whether her daughter was happy about this bed-intrusion. “Did you mind?” yells Stevenson. Affirmative: “Yes!”

The veil in the photo is in fact the drapes around her daughter’s bed; Jones liked the “mystical” look. Does she think it indicates anything about her character? “It perhaps reveals my extreme ambivalence about being photographed. I find being photographed very difficult, I haven’t really got better at it.” Stevenson continues, “Acting is absolutely the opposite of having your photograph taken. Acting is all about losing and hiding yourself inside somebody else’s skin or identity. Being photographed is about you, it’s not about taking refuge in somebody else. It’s quite exposing.” Jones agrees that the gauze partially obscuring her face has some significance. “As Juliet herself said, there’s a private side to her I think. I chose the setting, but there’s something about the photo that fits well, that she’d rather be behind this veil.”

The reason Stevenson agreed to bare her own character for the camera, and in such a personal setting, is her affection for RADA. “You want a photo taken for the Academy to really represent you, if any photograph can do that. I am very indebted to RADA. I had a fantastic time there, I loved it.”

“Acting is all about losing and hiding yourself inside somebody else’s skin or identity” – Juliet Stevenson

Since graduating from RADA she has had the chance to lose herself in many different identities, sometimes several at a time. One of her first roles at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she stayed for eight years, was a nun/whore in Measure For Measure, surely a difficult combo to pull off. “Not really, we were just bits of set. We stood at the back either with lots on or very little on.” Her next stage role is another fractured identity: Alice in the Alice Trilogy at the Royal Court. “It’s three periods of a woman’s life at 25, 40 and 50. I play her at all three stages.”

Although her own identity is under wraps, she seeks out characters with a strong identity; a quality present in the role of Alice. “I’m always looking to not be playing someone’s wife or mother. Alice is just herself; she is married and a mother as it happens, but she’s not there in relation to those characters. She’s there in her own right – always a relief.” A return to Shakespeare is not being ruled out but “there’s this terrible injustice: guys go on having fantastic roles in Shakespeare throughout their career, and at my age are still playing Hamlet or Macbeth. For the women it dries up to a certain extent. I’d love to do Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Cleopatra one day; but there’s plenty of time for her.”

Another actor featured in the exhibition is Adrian Lester, who is currently filming the third series of TV’s Hustle. His picture shows him playing a piano, not at home but in Jones’ friend’s house in south east London. “It was a really quick set up. I’m just jamming around. I’m not a proficient player at all, I just muck about.” This is at odds with Jones’ evaluation of his piano playing prowess: “He’s good. He’s one genuinely multi-talented person.” But what does the image reveal about his personal side, the part that is in action when he is not? “It is me switched off, when I’m not thinking about doing anything. I can see in my face that I’m actually just thinking about trying to make the notes work.” It’s rare to see an image where the subject, especially if they spend their life performing for the watching eye, is lost in their own world. “It’s caught me at a moment that not a lot of people see. It looks very private, and it is really.”

His reservations about being photographed are different to Stevenson’s. Whereas Stevenson feels exposed when a camera lens is pointed at her, Lester feels unsettled by what the final result will be. “The moment I relax about having my picture taken is the moment I look at the photograph and think “Oh my God, that’s crap”. I can deal with it if the picture’s crap but a lot of strangers are going to look at it and go, “Oh, that’s Adrian Lester”. It’s a ‘does my bum look big in this’ syndrome. It makes you a bit nervous about having your picture taken.”

“The photo's caught me at a moment that not a lot of people see” – Adrian Lester

Jones has managed to crack some quite resilient defences, and has garnered a very positive response from many of his subjects. Susannah York emailed him saying, “you’ve captured the essence of me and I hate being photographed”. Tom Courtenay sent him a cheque with the accompanying message, “I want you and your wife to buy a very fine bottle of wine because I’ve never had a photograph that my wife thought captured me and I looked happy and relaxed.” If you’ve got a “fine bottle of wine” from Tom Courtenay, you must be doing something right.

Jones’ technique and the homely settings clearly play a big part in capturing these private moments, but it may also be that the graduates of RADA are prepared to open up a little bit more for the much-loved institution that kick-started their careers.

Off Stage: The RADA Centenary Portraits will run until 17 September. Each image has been signed by its subject and will be auctioned with the proceeds going to Trailfinders Centenary Bursary to help future students at RADA. The book is available for £17.99 and a DVD, featuring Cambridge Jones' portraits and music by composer Adrian Munsey, costs £3.99. If you would like to place a bid or buy a copy of the book or DVD go to www.cambridgejones.com

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