Dalkey Literary Awards - 20th June 2020
Dalkey Literary Awards - 20th June 2020

Michael Gambon and Michael Colgan: the friendship and the comic gold

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People have taken to sitting on the ground in a packed St Patrick’s Church as Sian announces one of the most highly anticipated events of the festival – actor Michael Gambon and Gate Theatre artistic director Michael Colgan in conversation.

Colgan opens the interview by saying that there are not going to be anything difficult questions in this session because he and Gambon are great friends, and adds that he hopes he does it well, as he’s looking for a job – Colgan has recently announced that he is stepping down from his artistic direction of The Gate Theatre.

Colgan asks Gambon where he was born. “Dublin, Inchicore,” comes the reply.

Gambon says that his father was  a London policeman, and that he was on the beat in London during the bombings. He describes growing up in Dublin as a small child, admitting that he doesn’t have very distinct memories, but that one of them is driving down O’Connell Street in his uncle Denny’s car when he was only 12.

He then describes moving to Camden in London, where there were a lot of Irish people, and how he got his start in the Unity Theatre a socialist theatre as “a non-speaking man in an armour.” “I didn’t know what to do in the armour. I started to hum and rock myself. I was told to ‘Shut Up'” immediately.

“And then what happened?” “I don’t know I forget,” Gambon says.

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Colgan reminds him of what a liar he is playfully, and how he’s always lied and then leads into a question of how Gambon ended up acting under the direction of Laurence Olivier after an odd audition.

“I auditioned for Laurence. I stood in front of him. And he said, ‘No no go to the end of the hall.’ I really wanted to impress him, so I ran at this column while I was doing the speech and threw my hand onto the column and it, and I nail went straight through my hand.”

Laurence sent him home because he was bleeding, but he got the part!

 

Colgan now asks Gambon about a story about Pope John Paul II.

Gambon lied to his mother and told her that Pope John Paul (who did actually act before joining the priesthood) had acted with him in Birmingham Rep where he acted after his time in the National Theatre.

“‘Did you speak to him?’ she asked me. ‘Of course I did. He was my best friend!'” Gambon then describes how he looked on as his mother told a glaring priest that her son had acted with Pope John Paul.

The audience have been in stitches as Gambon goes through these anecdotes, which are punctuated by his playing up the fact that he forgets things, which forces Colgan to prompt him even though he’s already laughing at what’s to come.

 

Gambon admits his memory isn’t very good these days.

Colgan now reminds Gambon that his mother wasn’t actually that into the fact that he was an actor, and that she in fact preferred his brother who flew planes!

Gambon agrees and remembers a time she went to see him in a play: “She said, ‘Mike don’t turn your back to the audience.’ ‘Why?’ I said. ‘Because you have a big bald spot at the back of your head and it looks stupid.’ “

Colgan asks him about the stage.

 

Theatre legends Michael Colgon & Michael Gambon in conversation this evening in a full St. Patrick’s Church at #DalkeyBookFest

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“My first love is the stage. It’s where I spent most of my life. But I’ve lost my memory so I can’t do the stage anymore. Now I spend a great part of my time with a little thing in my ear with someone speaking the lines to me. A lot of actors do this, apparently it’s a great secret but I tell everyone. Johnny Depp told me he’s always acted with that in his ear.”

Colgan and Gambon have moved onto speaking about Harold Pinter, their great mutual friend.

“I adored him but I was also terrified, because he could be quite fierce. ” He’s describing how Harold called him into his house when he was sick and dying and asked Gambon to be involved in The Homecoming. Gambon says he pretended to cry for joy, whilst he was just actually distressed at the idea of having to be involved in that play again.


Colgan tells us a couple of things we might not know about Gambon. We find out he’s an “antiquated antiquarian” and that he collects clocks as well as ancient fire arms (which famous London antique shops often send out to Gambon to fix). He’s also an aviation enthusiast, which is followed up with an anecdote about Gambon almost flying into a Toys R Us.

“Who are the actors you’ve worked with that you’ve admired?” Colgan asks.

 

Michael Colgan and Michael Gambon! #dalkeybookfest #dalkey #michaelgambon #dumbledore #harrypotter #gamboncorner

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“Oh… Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Robert De Nero,” Gambon says. Colgan asks him about De Nero and his direction. Gambon says he was acting with an American actor whose name he can’t remember – “Matt Damon?” Colgan suggests. It is Matt Damon, and Gambon remembers how De Nero would suggests things really quietly into his ear. “Touch his ass. Touch his ass!”

Colgan asks Gambon if it’s true that he’s never seen himself on TV or in a film: “Harry Potter?” “No.” “The Singing Detective?””No.”

 

It turns out it’s quite common, Gambon explains that “on the stage you don’t see yourself” and then adds “Johnny Depp who’s done mainly films, he’s never seen himself on film either.”

Gambon and Colgan have been friends for over 20 years, and it turns out that as a final hurrah before Colgan leaves The Gate they are going to do Samuel Beckett’s Eh Joe together again – they’ve done this award-winning production a few times.

As it ends Colgan thanks Gambon. “I’m grateful for your friendship and I thank God for you.”

They get a standing ovation.