I loved Italian neorealist films as a teenager because they always featured somebody struggling to find themselves in a city. Miracle in Milan, directed by Vittorio de Sica, is a magical film about a young man who arrives lost and alienated but is gradually absorbed by an equally poor society that takes care of him. He finds amazing revelations in the simplest of things. I love the beginning, where it’s so cold, the sun comes out and all the people jump into the slightly warmer circle of heat. Then when the clouds move, they rush to follow the circle. It’s phenomenally simple, but it shows how even the poorest of people can depend on the simplest of pleasures.
I loved Bicycle Thieves, also directed by De Sica, about an impoverished worker who goes everywhere on his bicycle, putting up posters, until someone steals it. As a fairly poor young man, I felt intense empathy. I also loved La Strada by Federico Fellini, which was haunting. These Italian films were full of mystery, magic and inspiration and made even the smallest elements something to relish. I hardly watched any English films: they seemed a little dull in comparison.
American and French cinema
I rarely went to the theatre as a teenager. It seemed very old and rather deadly. Maybe I was sitting too far back, but I was amazed how empty and thin it all seemed and how you had to strain to hear, compared with the movies. I began to understand theatre more after studying at drama school and learning the difficulties of movements, learning lines, communicating and gesture. But film was always my great love.
I especially loved the American movies of the time, such as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, which I eventually staged myself. French cinema also appealed to me. Hiroshima Mon Amour is an astonishing movie, and I was madly in love with Le Trou by the fantastic French director Jacques Becker. That was real cinema to me. I rarely saw a British film until I was in my early 20s, when I suddenly found one I thought was amazing: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Jazz, jive and classical
I have always loved jazz, because you can move and dance to it. I learned jive as a teen and I became very adept. I loved the movement and the elegance compared to rock’n’roll; it’s so ornate and clever. I’d go to dance halls where you dressed immaculately to parade your style. I was a big fan of musicians including Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, the Ink Spots and the wonderful Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
Then I started to learn to love classical music. I’d go to HMV on Oxford Street in my lunchtimes to try out records in a booth. I discovered Darius Milhaud. I loved La Création du Monde, which describes the early stirrings of plants, the growth of trees, the movement of seas and the arrivals of humans on Earth. I’d never heard anything like it. On the reverse side of Milhaud was Aaron Copland. I discovered his El Salón México and Rodeo – tremendous, physically exciting pieces full of movement, dance and activity. I was quite precocious and always exploring. I loved Stravinsky’s Petrushka and some of the other wonderful experimental composers, such as Shostakovich.
I was fascinated by Les Enfants du Paradis, one of the great French films of all time. It was shot during the war and it’s about the theatre of mime. At the beginning, Jean-Louis Barrault does the most exquisite mime that I’ve ever seen, over the mistaken identity of a pickpocket. It is such an astonishing piece of silent cinema; it made me fall in love with mime and want to study it.
A woman called Claude Chagrin had moved to London. She was a student of Jacques Lecoq, one of the foremost mime teachers in the world. She held classes in London and I went every week for a year. Then I went for a summer course in Paris with the master himself. It helped me to understand more the mechanics of the theatre through movement and how so much can be expressed through an understanding of the symbols of movement. That was one of the great learning experiences of my life. I’ve loved mime ever since and it’s always been the backbone of my performances.
Art and poetry
I loved the impressionists as a teenager. The sweetness of Renoir always moved me. I also loved Van Gogh and Chagall, and Dalí was a great favourite; I always found him totally fascinating. But I also opted for the more radical and fell in love with Hieronymus Bosch and Bruegel. I find their paintings so incredibly detailed, with such phenomenal brilliance in their technique. I love Gustave Doré. His scenes of the slums of 19th-century London are astonishing.
I started writing poetry as a teenager and have recently gone back to it – I’m having a book published called Poems for the Working Class. It’s all about the terrible, funny, sarcastic and sardonic events of our modern age.
Goethe’s Faust fascinated me as a teenager. It’s an amazing play, but it’s very complicated, so it takes concentration. I was delighted to appear in Philipp Humm’s contemporary adaptation last year, The Last Faust. It’s about the temptation of someone who has surrendered all moral integrity to achieve power and success.
Trump is a perfect example of Faust. He’ll do anything to signal his decrepitude to the public. Like Faust, those who crave power, experience and sex sacrifice their souls. We see a lot of this today when people will do anything to achieve a limited thrill. This horrible Covid is the result of this Faustian pact to kill and taste anything to achieve some kind of enlightenment and relief. To me, the hunters who go to Africa and kill just for the thrill are the sickest people on Earth. The wet markets in China and Thailand are full of the horror of slaughtering animals, and now we’re paying for it.
The Last Faust is on Amazon Prime