Carry On Don’t (Not) Cho-ose Your Head(shots)

An unusual post, this; less description than illustration. As part of my ongoing battle to masquerade as a professional actor, I had sparkling new headshots taken last week! One of the best decisions I’ve made recently. When I took part in the Marlowe Showcase, I received two token headshots. These were less than stellar: overexposed, low resolution, and displaying rather more body than head. In one, I resembled Hurd Hatfield’s disturbingly waxen Dorian Gray; in the other, I appeared a smirking, heavy-lidded buffoon. Whilst I’m sure that the photographer had the best intentions, none of this came as a surprise: there’s only so much that two minutes of stripped-back, shutter-snapping contact can achieve. In a profession as characterful as acting – and none more than character acting – there’s no excuse for such an impersonal approach. I vowed that next time I would get it right.

Next time came: I took a train journey to Highgate for a session with the ridiculously talented Vanessa Valentine. After a few hours in the local park, great work had been done. I felt completely at ease throughout, which is a tribute to Vanessa’s professionalism and refreshingly no-nonsense approach to photography. Craft first, art second. I think that Vanessa’s approach also solved my concerns that I would gurn without realising and spoil a ton of the pictures. Of course, the easiest thing of all is to do absolutely nothing. When you resign yourself to the task and simply get on. However, conditions must be right. In the Marlowe Showcase, the guiding presence of Max Stafford-Clark left me more comfortable than I’ve ever been doing less and less and less. On the photographic front, Vanessa worked a similar magic. I was heartened, at the end of the shoot, when Vanessa told me that I hadn’t done any pouting. That strikes me as much more odious than the amiable gurn.

So here’s my primary headshot; my go-to choice after trawling through a selection of hundreds! A few qualities swayed this decision. It’s face-on, which is surprisingly uncommon even with so many shots to choose from. It’s clean and presentable, without becoming model-like – although my eyebrows appear to be at the same height for once, there’s still a pinched and pointed character about my head and hair. I like the way the light falls: it liberates my bone structure (pointedness again!), picks out my eyes, and paints some interesting shadows about my cheeks and temples. There are also some less rational factors, extending their semi-transparent tentacles across my reasoning faculties. For example, the slightly high angle reminds me of the way that John Mescall shoots Ernest Thesiger’s bulging cranium in Bride of Frankenstein. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

Here are some other shots that I particularly liked. I don’t think Vanessa Valentine’s capable of taking a bad photo, so you can imagine how difficult it was to extricate these from the general excellence. These will serve as my back-ups, to broaden out the ol’ portfolio!

The rest of my afternoon in London involved scouring the largest HMV branches in the country for Eureka’s newish DVD of Island of Lost Souls, complete with Simon Callow interview. Neither had the damn thing! I’m not opposed to Amazon, but I’ve been sitting on a HMV gift card for so long that I’m loath to waste it on anything that I don’t want. This was followed by a trip to Leicester Square, where I had the pleasure of meeting the always-delightful Quentin Beroud for dinner. I’m now kicking myself for not having booked a later train; a special kind of torture, strolling past the glittering West End pavilions and not quite having time to see anything. I’ll be back before the year’s end, though. I have an unbreakable obligation to see Matilda now that York panto hero David Leonard is playing Miss Trunchbull (Leonard’s Shakespearean villains were one of the first things that made me want to act; moreover, his Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons is the best performance I’ve seen in any theatre). I must also get to the revival of The Mystery of Charles Dickens, the fourth time I’ll have seen Callow in the one-man form.

One thing more. At the end of the shoot, Vanessa suggested she create a portrait of me as Fagin, which triggered full Swanton gurn mode. Sikes & Nancy will be returning in October, for a one-off performance in the West End. I’ll post more details in the near future. For now, enjoy the shot I should have settled on…

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