Actor Blessed with stage appeal

PUBLISHED: 17:12 26 November 2008 | UPDATED: 17:13 16 August 2010

WITH his thick bushy beard, wild eyes and booming voice, behemoth actor Brian Blessed is one of the most instantly recognisable faces in British TV, film and theatre.

WITH his thick bushy beard, wild eyes and booming voice, behemoth actor Brian Blessed is one of the most instantly recognisable faces in British TV, film and theatre.

But despite a highly decorated 40-year career including roles in Z-Cars, I Claudius and Ken Branagh's As You Like It he is still regularly approached on the street by sci-fi fans begging to hear him recite the immortal lines he delivered as Prince Voltan in cult classic Flash Gordon.

"Everywhere I go people ask me to say 'Gordon's alive', everybody does," he booms. "I used to see Flash Gordon when I was a child in the black and white version. We used to go to the picture house every Saturday and those Flash Gordon's were our favourite of all the children's programs. It was just astonishing. It had wonderful sets, wonderful music and such a strange atmosphere. Of course as kids you then re-enacted it afterwards and always played Voltan. I never dreamt that in the future I'd actually play Voltan.

"I must say that's the happiest film I've ever been in."

The actor made a triumphant return to sci-fi in 1999 lending his trademarks booms to Boss Nass the reptilian leader of the Gungans in Stars Wars Edpisode I: The Phantom Menace.

"All actors want to be in Star Wars so it was wonderful for me. George doesn't give any direction, none at all, he leaves it all up to you. He said to me, 'Brian, do what you like'. He said it was like a big giant frog and I said 'Do you mean to say that I have been to the Royal Shakespeare company with Ken Brannagh, been everywhere, done this that and the other and I end up playing a frog George? And he said: 'No, a salamander'.

"I received my part through a fax machine. It was an old-fashioned fax machine like toilet paper coming out and I thought, 'what the hell is this?' There were sketches of him and I thought, 'how can I do this?', so I invented an accent all of my own. It was semi-Italian/Jamaican sounding. Of course I made all of those noises too. When the Jedi beg me to be their hero and use my army to save them I suddenly went 'brbrbrbrbrbrbrbrrrrrrr' and George said to me: 'Brian, that's wonderful, that's exactly what I want but it's going to cost $250,000 in special effects'."

For his latest role Blessed is back on planet Earth starring as Captain Hook in the Ashcroft Theatre's production of Peter Pan.

Hook's combination of debonair Victorian graces and ruthless menace seem tailor-made for him and the actor says he is taking the part as seriously as he would any other dramatic role.

"To do Captain Hook well with power and drive and energy requires the technique of King Lear.

"It gives as much satisfaction as playing King Lear. I feel that pantomime at its best embraces opera, musicals, dance, acting, everything. This one is very quick, very fast and it changes the DNA molecules of children, it gets them away from their television sets.

"I love television and computers but it gets them away for a while. I saw Jack and the Beanstalk when I was 12. The giant was 25ft high and it was a magnificent production. It changed our lives. After that we said we want to be actors, this is it."

It is such a feeling of joy and wonder that Blessed had as a young boy that he wants to pass on to the current generation of children.

"The book is genius but the play is dreadful," he said. "It's too long and it has got a fourth wall so kids go away disappointed because you can't participate, but in the pantomime you can bring the book on to the stage.

"You can bring the genius on to the stage. In the middle of the show I do Hook's soliloquy from the book. We have a tremendous amount of fun with Smee acrobating around the stage and then he leaves the stage and the lights go dark and I say: 'How still the night is' and I do a soliloquy about the night. Of course at the end of it, when they are all gasping, I suddenly say: 'Shakespearean actor, there's no end to my talents ladies and gentlemen', so I bring them back to the pantomime again. They love it.

"It's very important to bring the children into the play. The show is not us and them. The children are our future and as Arthur Conan Doyle says, 'the child is the father of the man'".

* Brian Blessed appears in Peter Pan at the Fairfield Halls from December 6 until January 4. For information and tickets call the box office on 020 8688 9291.

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