Monday 15 June 2015

Sir Christopher Lee

I was sitting on a film set when I heard Sir Christopher Lee had passed away. I suppose that's quite fitting, though mostly I just mentioned it to show off.

But, no, it was an occasion rendered extra-poignant because I was sitting in a room full of actors, aged from 15 to... well, quite a bit older than me.

Even though he was 93, absolutely everyone was saddened by the news of his passing, and absolutely everyone had a different personal career highlight for this extraordinary actor. The 15 year old, you won't be amazed to learn, knew him as Saruman. The actors in their 20s, including a trainee stuntman, remembered him best for his lightsabre-wielding Count Dooku. As the age ticked upwards, Bond fans and Hammer fans chucked their own nostalgia into the ring, and though no one was prepared to pretend The Wicker Man was their favourite Lee film, it was probably mentioned more than any other.

For myself, I had a few weird thoughts rattling round my head. Lee had a part in a BBC adaptation of Ivanhoe in the late 90s. His distinctive voice popped up to surprise me in Kingdom Hearts 2. He was of course the only choice to play Death in TV adaptations of Discworld novels. And I can never forget his delivery of the word "lollipops" in Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was the first victim of the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow as well, wasn't he? And the highly dodgy elements of the Fu Manchu films mean his excellent work in that series is pretty much overlooked these days.

Even if he hadn't recorded metal albums into his 90s, met JRR Tolkien, and spoken seven languages, Lee would have been a legend in his own right. As it is, he will never be forgotten as long as people are still watching films. Someone on my Facebook page commented that Lee could be a bit hammy in his acting. I didn't rise to the bait, but... well...

When I was 10, I played a retired vampire in a school play called The Horrors. My Dracula had become a rock singer (and even had a backing group who I think were called The Vampettes). I had one scene full of dreadful one-liners, followed by a song to which I mimed along disgracefully. I over-acted my heart out, wearing my Dad's old graduation gown as a cloak, and did my very best to steal the show.

The local newspaper named me in their single paragraph write-up, along with the words "Eat your heart out, Christopher Lee!"

At the age of 10, I thought that was a pretty cool line to get, though I'd never seen a single Hammer Horror film. Now that I'm, ahem, a little older, I see it for the slightly condescending journalistic shorthand it clearly is. At the same time, if there's one thing my pre-teen vampire performance had in common with Sir Christopher Lee's acting, it's this. We were both clearly having an absolutely incredible time.

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