It takes a lot of confidence to be this ridiculous.
It’s 5.30 pm and I enter the very quaint Hotel Du Vin. I have a date. Both of these things are not what a usual day in my life entails but today is a very special day. I’m about to sit down with the one and only, Terence Stamp. Tanned, silver, stubbly, and extremely attractive, at age 74, even in socks and sandals, he oozes old school sophistication, every bit the English gentleman, and truly deserving of his reputation as being one of Britain’s most stylish men. As I wait a few moments, wrought with the flu and sniffling, fighting with my roll of toilet tissue (I’m a true lady, I know), his manager comes over to me and offers a handshake (which he quickly retracts upon noticing my handful of tissues), and leads me to Mr. Stamp. He gets up, I put my hand out for a handshake, and he instead kisses me on both cheeks, unfazed. We chit chat about the little things in life for a good while before we even start the interview. He tells me about his train journey from London and shares a few stories from the London premiere of his latest film, ‘Song for Marion’. I am struck by how softly spoken he is. His voice is quiet and rhythmic, with a tiny hint of his East London roots every now and then. He asks me about myself and tells me how much he likes my college, Peterhouse, despite us not allowing him to buy a fancy block of flats on our land in Albany. He tells me about his teenage passion (table tennis), we share in lamentation over being goalkeeper in college teams, and he jokes about never making it to Oxbridge to his mother’s despair. We then get started. He makes himself comfortable and turns to face me, eager and enthusiastic. I can see every laughter line across his finely chiselled face and I am reminded why in his younger days women fell at his feet.
Stamp is well known for being picky about the parts he chooses to play. He was at first reluctant to play Arthur because he felt that the character was ‘too ordinary’. Being the stylish, sophisticated, and often expensive man he is, the prospect of playing a man with no pizzazz frightened him at first. ‘I’m not that good at playing ordinary’. Stamp still feels like a young man and does not accept his old age, unlike Arthur who is a bit miserable, extremely melancholy, and every bit the stereotypical old age pensioner. Having let go of a huge part some years ago (King Arthur in Camelot!) because he was not convinced that he could sing the score, Stamp decided that playing Marion’s husband would be a small way to make peace with his regrets. ‘The universe was giving me my second chance’. The relationship that Arthur has with his son James is cold, distant, awkward and reminded Stamp of his own relationship with his father. In fact, he bases Arthur entirely on him, from style to countenance to mannerisms. Stamp takes a trip down memory lane and recounts the way his father never expressed any affection towards him, but he still knew that he was loved. He praises his father’s style and taste – ‘he was a poor man and so when he bought a tie, it had to be the best tie because it would have cost him a week’s money’. Not having a close relationship with his father, he was nurtured by his mother. I discover that Stamp has a wicked sense of humour, which he says he inherited from his father, Tom. He makes a few jokes about his ex-wife (‘I should have known that I had met my future ex-wife’) and being a ‘dunce’ who made it to grammar school. He is equally self-deprecating as he is confident and charming, which I find endearing. After a long pause, he tells me about his theory of the ‘twin souls’ – people like Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose – who are desperately in love with each other. He says that Arthur and Marion embody this ideal beautifully, to the exclusion of everybody else, made particularly touching by their older age. Stamp speaks lovingly about his grandparents – he was fortunate enough to grow up with all four living plus one great grandmother – and assures me that now that he is older he has little say in his costumes as he likes to see what the stylists on the set come up with. From the way Stamp speaks about his career, one can understand that he is a true artist: ‘Art is timeless and if you are good at what you do you will be respected’.
Stamp makes a habit of entering movie theatres towards the end of his films and watches the audience watch him on the big screen. Most recently with ‘Song for Marion’, he felt ‘choked up’ when the audience started clapping for Arthur after his solo. ‘I am often struck by how the audience engages with a film’. Veering away, slightly, from my questions in my notepad, I asked Stamp if he was a ‘spiritual’ man. His travels across the world, particularly India have been well documented. He took several years out to ‘find himself’ when he thought his career was over. After an exceptionally long pause, not awkward just expectant, he recounts meeting a ‘sage’ called Jiddu Krishnamurti who changed his life. He describes how Krishnamurti was ‘full of light and wisdom’ and opened the young Stamp’s eyes to a world of unanswered questions.
As Stamp’s manager signalled for me to wrap up the party, I remembered that Stamp had an exciting circle of famous friends, including Michael Caine. They lived together for a few years in their youth: ‘Our time together was wonderful. He was like my life Guru. We don’t see each other anymore now that we’re famous but I’ll always remember our time together.’ As Valentine’s day is in just a couple of days, and ‘Song about Marion’ is as much a love story as it is a comedy, I ask him to tell me in three words what ‘love’ means to him. I am treated to one more long and thoughtful pause, and then Terence Stamp tells me that love is ‘work made visible.’
He kisses me goodbye (on both cheeks of course) and wishes me luck in my exams next term. I thank him for his time. Before I leave he asks me what my star sign is: I’m a Virgo and he is a Capricorn. ‘I’ve had some wonderful Virgo girlfriends in my time, Siana.’ As I leave Hotel du Vin with a big smile on my face, I realise that for the first time all day, I just spent twenty solid minutes free of my flu.
By Siana Bangura.
Note Below: You will also find an abridged version of my interview with Mr. Stamp in this Thursday’s (21st Feb 2013) copy of The Cambridge Student.