About me

As Oscar Wilde said: there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.

Robert Powell is an actor who doesn't need to worry about the latter. He has been continually discussed since he brought Jesus to life on the silver screen a quarter of a century ago. What bigger role could there be?

The blue-eyed actor became an international star after he appeared in Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth and still his portrayal of the son of God has people talking.

"That comes up in virtually every interview," he says good naturedly. "We're actually talking 26 years ago, so one cannot help but be actually flattered that people remember it.

"I think the question one gets asked mostly now is do you get fed up with people asking you about it?" he laughs.

Many have written that, post-Jesus, Powell found it difficult to get parts as producers were afraid to cast him in any part in which he may play a sinner. But Powell is dismissive of such claims. "No,not at all,not even remotely, it opened a thousand doors for me. I'd already got a pretty good reputation in this country because I'd starred in a few films and television series, what it did was open an international door for me.

"While for most playing such a part would be a lifetime's dream, Powell, who plays the altogether more sinful Lord Henry Wotton in Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray at Theatr Clwyd, had another dream which he shared with Dennis Waterman when both were young actors on the up.

"Waterman and I were great friends and we were rock and rollers so we watched Top Of The Pops for that reason.

"And when Pan's People came on I always fancied the blonde one since I can remember,everyone had their favourite; Babs was my favourite and then cut to six years later I actually met her," he says.

"I asked her out and that was it -we had our 28th wedding anniversary four days ago," he adds proudly.

Powell has been in the public eye for 40 years and taken on some of the most famous roles in cinema picking up award after award along the way, but Babs keeps his feet on the ground.

"My wife hides them (his awards)," he laughs, "I don't know if it's on purpose but she thinks they clutter the place up a bit, she was complaining about it just the other day." There are certainly enough to fill a room.

There are best actor awards from Paris and Venice Film Festivals, the Irish Academy of Film and Television arts, the TV Times and Italian TV Times. There is also the international arts prize at the Fuiggi Film Festival and the grand prize at the Saint-Vincent FilmFestival.

"What I don't do with them is that rather twee thing of putting them in the downstairs lavatory, because that is the room in the house everyone goes to. I've got a couple in my office, and my snooker room I suppose, because that's where I put all my posters up. But that's all right, I think I'm allowed to do that, but nowhere else in the house.

"Following on from the massive success of Jesus of Nazareth Powell took the role of Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps, which was a huge hit. Then Hollywood beckoned.

"I didn't like Hollywood very much," says the 59-year- old father of two. "But whenever you say that people think that the ulterior motive is that you didn't make it.

"He did break into American TV and played in a number of well received productions including an adaptation of Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle.

"But I didn't make any effort to make it in Hollywood," he explains. "At that time there was no real tradition of English actors making it in Hollywood. Now it's littered with Australians and Irish and Scots and other Brits, but in the 1980s, if you were a British actor in America you played villains and you always played the part the American actor wouldn't do.

"You only have to talk to Michael Caine about it to see that his career is filled with him accepting roles American actors wouldn't play, but good luck to him, he's made a tremendous job of it."

The awards he won and his reputation as a great actor of powerful parts meant it was shocking to most when he took on the role opposite Jasper Carrott in the comedy The Detectives.

"I'm delighted people were surprised, and it's nice to be able to surprise people every now and again although it didn't strike me as an unusual thing to do at all. If anybody wants me to come and work for them they've got to come up with something that will spark my curiosity," he says.

The Detectives certainly did that as it ran for five series. No series of It Will Be Alright On The Night is complete without a clip of Powell and Carrott in fits of giggles as they try and get through their lines.

"We never stopped laughing, virtually from 8 am to 6 at night, we were always giggling and the crew were giggling as well," he giggles at the memory. "There was a lot of larking about but we got the job done.

"Jasper and I pulled the plug on The Detectives in the end, we'd had enough. It wasn't that we suddenly woke up and found we'd had enough, we'd discussed it when we started doing the very first episode of the first series and we had a private deal that we wouldn't go beyond five," he says. "Virtually every series there's ever been has done one too many including great things like Men Behaving Badly and Fools and Horses.

"But now he is revelling in the theatre, playing the lead in The Picture OfDorian Gray : "I've never done any Oscar Wilde before and it's early days in this production but it's going very well.

"Acting has earnt him a good life even if he had to "duck and weave", as he puts it to stay in work when the British film industry collapsed in the early 1980s, but other career paths had offered themselves in his 20s.

He explains : "Ben Kingsley and I did a play together which Ben wrote the music for. He played guitar and I played harmonica and it was taken up by Brian Epstein and put on at the Arts Theatre in London. We were very young,only in our early 20s and were whisked away to a studio and made a demo disc.

Suddenly another career beckoned but the show was not a huge success and it sort of fizzled away. "Waterman (Dennis) is always getting at me to get all of my blues harmonicas out but when I took them out recently I found they had rusted. But maybe one day. Dennis still plays,he's got a terrific voice, he's a good old rock and roller.

"But music wasn't the only other avenue open to him. He gave up studying law at Manchester University for drama but he says he does not have the slightest regret. "I would have to have been a bloody good lawyer to have been as successful as I have been as an actor," he laughs.

But he has some regrets about his career. "There have been some scripts that maybe I should have done but they were in really dodgy places to be shot, and other scripts that were in really exciting places like Venezuela and Thailand and maybe those were the ones I shouldn't have done. But I did them because I wanted to see Venezuela and Thailand," he says playfully.

"I've lived a very nice life,I like very simple things in life, like my cricket, golf,I like friends,I love pubs and I like being able to be me.

I look at the lifestyles of some of the guys and they seem to be surrounded by security guards and bodyguards and can't go out, they have to have blackened windows and I'm thinking, I walk down the street, I get stopped all the time. They just go, Hi, Robert, how you doing?', Yeah I'm fine thank you very much', Can I have your autograph?' and I go into Boots and get my toothpaste or whatever.

"So I could have concentrated a little more on acting and less on having a good time,"he says before adding," but that wouldn't have been fun.

"I'm still standing, I'm still managing to get people to come to the theatre so I'm thrilled, if you can do that after 40 years at the sharp end I think that's pretty good." 

Alun Prichard, Daily Post (Liverpool) September 5, 2003