Thursday, May 31, 1990


If you came here by clicking on "May 1990" under the "Archives" subheading on the left sidebar, this page is not actually part of the archives. This is where we store the FAQ and long articles which would otherwise have cluttered up the front page.

The archives actually begin in May 2005.

Saturday, May 26, 1990

NPR on Utopia

Stoppard's Epic 'Coast of Utopia'
25 November 2006
NPR: Weekend Edition - Saturday


A major theatrical event Monday, the Broadway premier of the first play in a trilogy by Tom Stoppard, "The Coast of Utopia." It's about 19th century Russian intellectuals whose ideas contributed to the Russian Revolution. The trilogy is one of the most ambitious productions ever mounted on Broadway, three plays spanning 30 years, featuring 41 actors in 70 roles, in plays that run for more than eight hours.

From New York, Tom Vitale has the story.

TOM VITALE: Part one of "The Coast of Utopia" is called "Voyage." It's about a group of young idealists in the 1830s setting out on a metaphorical journey to what they hope will be a better society. The play's characters are historical figures, including the literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, the novelist Ivan Turgenev, and one of the forefathers of socialism, Alexander Herzen.

The central character is Michael Bakunin, whose interest in German philosophy leads him to embrace the politics of anarchism. Ethan Hawke is in the role.

(Soundbite of "The Coast of Utopia")

Mr. ETHAN HAWKE (Actor): (As Michael Bakunin) How couldn't you know? Dawn has broken in Germany. The sun is already high in the sky. It's only us in poor behind the times Russia who are the last to learn about the greatest discovery of the age. The life of the spirit is the only real life.

Unidentified Woman: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back, I hope you hope you had a lovely lunch. We will be beginning on stage in one minute in scene four.

VITALE: The Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center. While part one of "The Coast of Utopia" is on the stage, part two of the trilogy is being rehearsed downstairs.

On a lunch break, Tom Stoppard smokes European cigarettes. He looks tired but younger than his 69 years. Stoppard says he set the first act of "Voyage" in the Bakunin country estate because of his affection for classic Russian plays by Chekhov and Gorky.

Mr. TOM STOPPARD (Playwright): I think I got into "The Coast of Utopia" partly out of a desire to do something like one of those plays, the family and friends just talking together out of doors with (unintelligible) stage left. You know what I mean?

VITALE: And talk they do. Voyage takes place over 11 years, beginning in 1834, as Michael debates with his family and friends at his country estate, and then in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

(Soundbite of "The Coast of Utopia")

Mr. HAWKE: (As Michael Bakunin) (unintelligible) is trying to get rid of objective reality, but Hegel shows that reality can't be ignored. On the contrary, reality is the interaction of the inner and outer world. You see, Father, we've exchanged windbags, that's all...

VITALE: Tom Stoppard is known for writing verbose, erudite plays. He won a Tony for his last Broadway play, "The Invention of Love," about the poet A.E. Houseman. And he won an Oscar for his verbal gymnastics in his screenplay for "Shakespeare in Love." Some say now he's gone over the top. When it premiered at London's National Theater four years ago, "The Coast of Utopia" was a hit. But some critics complained that Stoppard was bludgeoning the audience with monologues about philosophy, history and literature.

Stoppard says the audience in the theater doesn't have to be familiar with Pushkin or Hegel to appreciate the drama.

Mr. STOPPARD: The audience needs to pick up that these were people who felt that life didn't consist only of your material existence, your day-to-day reality. And they clasped gratefully to their bosoms the idea that your interior life is the one that really counts. That's the one that the secret police can't get to.

Mr. HAWKE: We're used to being talked down to. We're used to very simple ideas. We're used to people not challenging us.

VITALE: Thirty-six-year old movie star Ethan Hawke has given up seven months of more lucrative work to perform in "The Coast of Utopia" trilogy through March. Hawke says he'd rather get paid next to nothing in the theater to say good lines than make a bundle in movies to make dumb lines not sound dumb.

Mr. HAWKE: You know, you take your five movies that are usually nominated for Best Picture each year, like what we consider as good, intelligent artful cinema. It so often could be completely understood by a 12-year-old. I feel the great thing about watching Tom Stoppard, it makes you feel incredibly intelligent because you do get it. The ideas aren't that complicated.

VITALE: Stoppard couches his characters' grand ideas in personal dramas - father/son conflicts, betrayed friendships, failed marriages. In one scene, Michael's sister, Varenka, warns another sister to think twice about a perspective fiancé.

(Soundbite of "The Coast of Utopia")

Ms. MARTHA PLIMPTON (Actress): (As Varenka Bakunin) Pushkin is killed in a duel. But somehow it's all about the tragedy of a woman marrying unwisely. It's always putting you all between the lines. When he went to see "Hamlet," it was all Ophelia's fault.

Ms. PLIMPTON: People become movie stars so that they can find their way to something like this.

VITALE: Actress Martha Plimpton plays Varenka. She's better known as the teenaged actress in the films "Goonies" and on the TV sitcom "Family Ties." Plimpton says acting in the ensemble in Stoppard's epic trilogy is unlike anything she's done.

Ms. PLIMPTON: There's no star vehicle here. The plays are the stars here, and so it's sort of a wonderful opportunity for us as a company to really feel like pieces of the machinery and contribute each in our own way to this greater whole. And that's really - it's an opportunity you don't get all that often, it's really wonderful.

VITALE: Tom Stoppard didn't set out to write a trilogy. He says his script grew as he started writing because he admired these characters as writers whose work mattered to their audience. Stoppard says he'd like his work to matter that way.

Mr. STOPPARD: You know, because of the kind of society we live in, you don't, as it were, change people's lives. But you remind them of things. You remind them of truths. You remind them of what matters in society.

(Soundbite of "The Coast of Utopia")

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) But a gentleman has a duty to look after his estate.

Mr. HAWKE: (As Michael Bakunin) But my estate is the self and the future of philosophy in Russia.

VITALE: The rest of Tom Stoppard's trilogy follows the young idealists in "Voyage" as their dreams are shattered in the failed French Revolution of 1848, and then as they pick up the pieces and move on in the following decade.

Part two of "The Coast of Utopia" is set to open in December. Part three arrives on Broadway in February. In March, all three plays will be staged on the same day in a series of marathon performances.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

Sex in The Camomile Lawn

Sean Day-Lewis reviews sex on the small screen
6 March 1992

The ingenious Star Chamber (C4), the Sunday tea-time series in which politicians are questioned by a seductively voiced female computer, is recorded some time in advance. This may explain why Paddy Ashdown approached the question "What was your first sexual experience?" with such a brisk and confident evasion. "Exciting", came his reply, quick as a flash, almost as though he had rehearsed.

He was less concise with his answer to "How much are the public entitled to know about MPs' private lives?". Getting into his stride, the Liberal Democrat leader said it was his view that "there is an unhealthy attention to MPs private lives, and lack of attention to their public morality. The result is that you will have mediocre people who may be safe, but not necessarily good for running the country".

With hindsight he might have wanted to rephrase this. He also may have wished to form his own burglary team to locate and destroy the famous archive clip where a younger Ashdown is heard galvanising the Somerset Liberal faithful with the claim that "We are fighting the local elections on our erection."

This prompted a supplementary asking if he would "like to have an erection every four years" and the reply that "I think that would be rather a long gap even for a man of my age."

The personable Ashdown could not be expected to see the public airing of his private affair as anything but a misfortune. For other liberals, if not Liberals, there is a heartening aspect of the arrival in tabloid lore of Paddy Pantsdown. That is the apparent public response to his exposure.

He would want to argue that the mini-surge in the polls results from his erection of good policies and his capacity to penetrate the electorate with them. That may be so but at least he would have to admit that the news of past passion has not done him any harm. The nation, it seems, is becoming more robust in its acceptance of human nature. Optimists may begin to wonder if the opening of the Channel Tunnel could coincide with a move closer to the sexually adult French.

None of which is to suggest that Displeased of Devon has suddenly been eliminated. Here she is, in the shape of a 79-year-old colonel's daughter, speaking at her Totnes home to the local Western Morning News about a new television drama.

"There is rather a lot of nudity which surprised me a little ... I think it's the present mood. Look at the Melvyn Bragg series, A Time To Dance, about the bank manager and the young girl. That was all about nudity. The present fashion seems to be explicit sex in everything. I find it rather tedious; it leaves nothing to the imagination."

Just another inattentive and boring old fart you may think. Until you reliase that the Mary Wesley who gave the interview is also the Mary Wesley who, as recently as 1984, published the novel now adapted into the drama of which she speaks.

Ken Taylor's The Camomile Lawn (C4), the four-part serial starting this week, is nothing if not faithful. But Ashdown, who told the computer he found Felicity Kendal "extraordinarly sexy", may be disappointed that she does not contribute, in the role of Aunt Helena, to the surprising nudity.

As to explicit sex, well, consider just one early scene on the Cornish cliffs. Aunt Helena and Uncle Richard (Paul Eddington) are entertaining five young cousins at the large house with the camomile lawn in the last August of 1939 before Britain declared war on Germany. The five are taking part, according to family tradition, in a night-time "Terror Run" along a cliff path. Oliver (Toby Stephens) and the Calypso (Jennifer Ehle) he adores finish first. They embrace.

"Oliver what's that?, she asks. "What?", he replies. "This." She touched him. "Me. My cock" - "Oliver". "It's quite ordinary, I've got an erection" - "A what?." "An erection. I want to poke it up you. Have you never seen a man with an erection?" - "No".

Director Sir Peter Hall, father of the natural and candid Rebecca, is cleverer than Kevin Billington was with A Time to Dance in disguising the lack of real erections among his actors. The visible flaccidity of retired bank manager Ronald Pickup, as he leapt into bed with teenage mistress Dervla Kirwan, received a lot of attention from the male viewers who use television as nourishment for their wit. Even the Observer's ever readable John Naughton, picked as critic of the year by the What The Papers Say judges (BBC2), subjected the limpness to his careful scrutiny.

Maybe that is what the panel had in mind when it commended him not so much for his perception of television as his capacity to use it as a means of showing himself "a critic of society".

Erections apart, and the truth of course is that any such visible arousal would automatically be deposited on the cutting room floor as "hard porn", it seems to me that the sexual content of A Time To Dance and at least the first episode of The Camom ile Lawn was both acceptable and essential. It was also wasted.

For different reasons neither director managed to create the sensual moods that turn mechanical simulations into something genuinely erotic. A consummation director should be able to manage without demanding anything that might embarrass actors.

Given a two-hour stretch for their double-length part one Taylor and Hall should at least have been able to summon up the feeling of hothouse sexual intensity that was so prevalent as young people contemplated shortened lives in 1939-40.

Instead Taylor went for strict fidelity to the original, including almost every line of dialogue in the first 100 pages or so. Sir Peter settled for an even pace and a sharp eye for the look of period detail, and left the actors to create what atmosphere they could in their fleeting sequences.

Ashdown's "exciting" first sexual experience appears enviable when set beside those seen or implied in this drama.

Wednesday, May 23, 1990

Guardian: "Honour bound"

Honour bound
Michael Billington.
8 July 1995
The Guardian
(c) 1995

The re-discovery of Spanish Golden Age drama has been one of the great bonuses of my theatre-going lifetime. And it seems right that the RSC should have invited Laurence Boswell, who uncovered Spanish treasure at the Gate, to direct the British premiere of Pedro Calderon de la Barca's The Painter of Dishonour (1645) at Stratford's Other Place. A strong story, big emotions, an operatic intensity: this is the real, right stuff.

Calderon's cloak-and-sword drama, which shuttles between Naples and Barcelona, amounts to a damning critique of the honour code. Don Juan Roca, an ageing painter, has married the young, beautiful Serafina: a woman once secretly engaged to Alvaro whom she believes drowned at sea. Needless to say, Alvaro turns up, badgers and pursues the hapless Serafina and abducts her from the painter's blazing Barcelona house. By what W S Gilbert would call a set of curious chances, the dishonoured dauber is eventually commissioned to paint his beleaguered wife, which leads to a predictably violent climax.

Calderon's play is sustained by a spirit of sceptical enquiry. "What madness created laws like these?" asks Don Juan in this version by Boswell and David Johnston; and he goes on to expose the fatal weakness of the honour code, which is that it works against the innocent victim rather than the sinner.

But the play is also a fascinating meditation on art and nature, in which Don Juan finds it easier to project his jealous rage on to canvas than his admiration for Serafina's flawless features.

Boswell's production is both intellectually rigorous and voluptuously theatrical. The sombre Velazquez interiors of Rob Howell's panelled design are offset by a white-robed Barcelona carnival and the ubiquitous flame-red figure of Death. John Carlisle also brings a craggy grandeur to the role of the dishonoured painter, and there is bracing support from Jennifer Ehle as his divided bride, Clifford Rose as a silvery ambassador and Tony Rohr as the hero's tale-spinning servant. A marvellous revival that makes me hope we shall continue to dig for Spanish gold.

Tuesday, May 22, 1990


  • Are these questions actually frequently asked? Was this post actually written in May 1990?
    Nope. But "Infrequently Asked Questions" just doesn't have the same ring. And no, this post was not written before the Internet was a wee twinkle in Al Gore's eye; the blog was actually created in May 2005. We backdate long posts to April/May 1990.
  • What should I know about Jennifer Ehle?
    The fansite has just about everything you need to know, but here are a few handy facts.

    • She is the only daughter of actress Rosemary Harris and writer John Ehle. News about their careers is sometimes posted here as well.
    • She is married to writer Michael Ryan and has a son, George. They reside in upstate New York.
    • She is not British, at least not completely. She was born in North Carolina, her father is North Carolinan, her husband is American, and they all live in the US. In the fan interview, she says she considers herself American. It is true, however, that she studied and worked in the UK for a long time, and her mother is from there.
    • Ms Ehle attended the Central School of Speech and Drama, as well as the North Carolina School of the Arts. She pulled out before graduation as she was cast in The Camomile Lawn. Among the 18 schools she attended are Interlochen Arts Academy and Queen's College.
    • She is not a brunette, nor a redhead. She is in fact blondeish.
    • Her current accent is American with hints of British.
    • She won a BAFTA for her role in Pride and Prejudice and a Tony for The Real Thing.

    The fan interview also contains lots of interesting tidbits about Ms Ehle. For example, her first time onstage was as a toddler in A Streetcar Named Desire.

  • How do I contact Jennifer Ehle?
    You can try mailing her via her agents or the theatre she is currently working at.

    London: ICM
    This has been tested before and apparently works- people have received signed photos etc.

    Jennifer Ehle
    c/o Sally Long-Innes
    Oxford House,
    76 Oxford St
    London W1N0AX
    United Kingdom

    New York: Endeavor
    This is the most recent we have.

    Jennifer Ehle
    c/o Bonnie Bernstein
    152 West 57th Street, 25th Floor
    New York
    NY 10019

    Los Angeles: Endeavor
    Likewise new and untested. Especially unsure about this one, since some links on the web say it's 9701 not 9601 Wilshire Blvd. I'd recommend the above two addresses.

    Jennifer Ehle
    c/o Brian Swardstrom
    9601 Wilshire Boulevard, 3rd Floor
    Beverly Hills
    CA 90212
  • Who are you?
    The blog team over the years has included Chelsea, Tina, Abigail, Kate, Janet and Ceci. We're just fans - not officially connected to Ms Ehle in any way. Emails sent to the blog's email address,, are read by us, not her.
  • How do I navigate around this place?
    It is rather confusing, sorry. If you want to read chronologically, the most current news is on the front page. On the right hand column, there are links to archives, which are collapsible. You can read a whole month's posts by clicking on the name of the month, or select individual posts by name. To read things by category, select one under the "labels" heading. We haven't completed labelling all our archives yet. If you ever want to return to the front page, click on the heading or the picture of Ms Ehle up the top.
  • I am Jennifer Ehle [or her agent or her lawyer or a journalist or a blogger or the FBI/ASIO or a random passerby] and I find XYZ offensive [or intrusive or illegal or otherwise unsavoury].
    If the former: HOLY CRAP! WELCOME! SO SORRY! If any of the latter: likewise, very sorry. Just post a comment or send an e-mail explaining your complaint, and the offensive post will be modified or deleted.
  • You guys rock! What can I do to thank you?
    Definitely an inFAQ, but we live in hope. If you're Official, you could provide us with news about Ms Ehle's past, current or upcoming projects. If you're a fan, you can write a report from her shows or new DVDs, or transcribe DVD features . You could also help us find materials: magazine articles, photos, scans, professional reviews, etc. If you own a website, a link to the blog would be greatly appreciated. And please comment on posts or in the forum. We'd like to get to know you.
  • How did you manage to get that fan interview?!
    Around May 2005, a fan letter was sent to Ms Ehle explaining about the blog and enclosed a list of questions as a long shot. A few months later, contact was made regarding some privacy issues, and through that the topic of the questions was brought up again. Submissions from fans were sought, and the rest is history.
  • What are the highlights of this blog?
    Glad you asked. Look on the list of categories on the right; most of the good stuff is in "interviews", "multimedia" and "photos". If you're looking for specific entries, you can use the search bar at the top.
  • What is your privacy policy?
    Unacceptable: anything relating to her family, or her private life, including

    • Photos, encounters, gossip, etc about Ms Ehle's husband and child. However, we do blog about Rosemary Harris and John Ehle in their public roles.
    • "Stalkerazzi" photos, eg. from the supermarket, park, etc.
    • Encounters from colleagues

    Acceptable: basically anything work-related, including

    • Stage door encounter stories
    • Stage door photos
    • Other work-related photos: including premieres, fundraisers, awards shows, etc.
    • Other work-related links, written materials like reviews, news about projects, trivia, interviews, articles, blog posts, etc.
    • Stories from colleagues about their own filming experience (eg. own impressions of the work and atmosphere, things not specifically about Ms Ehle)

    If you have been linked or quoted here and object to being so, please send us an e-mail and we'll remove it. Also, if you have any comments on or suggestions for the posting policy, don't hesitate to contact us at Furthermore, we try to be vigilant, but we may accidentally violate our own policy; if you notice this, please let us know.

Monday, May 21, 1990

The Harris hat method

Rosemary Harris is pure presence
By Maureen Dowd
19 January 1986
The New York Times
Copyright 1986 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

When Oscar Wilde called the stage “the refuge of the too fascinating,” he might have been talking of Rosemary Harris. The British-born actress has a presence so rare that, over the years, critics have outdone themselves trying to describe it: She flutters like a beautiful butterfly. She rises like an undulating coil of smoke forming into unpredictable billows. She moves like a magical, mesmerizing gauze.

At the moment, she is sitting quietly - no smoke or gauze or flutter -in an East Side restaurant, pondering the question posed: Is such stage presence a natural, or an acquired, trait?

"You can achieve it, I think," she says. “I remember Sir Laurence Olivier invented something he called his green umbrella. He never came on stage without imagining he was carrying a large, green umbrella, which gave him a great advantage over the other actors.

“And I read once that Julie Harris always made entrances on top of a large pink elephant,” she added.

In the hundreds of plays she has appeared in, Rosemary Harris has never relied on such colorful mental props.

“What is presence but self-confidence?

If you crawl on stage with your tail between your legs, bent double with shyness, you don't have it.”

But, during performances of “Hay Fever,” the hit Noel Coward revival at the Music Box in which she plays the vain and vivacious Judith Bliss, she has detected some presence being generated by the large straw garden hat she wears in the first act.

“There's something rather special about wearing a hat, it gives you a feeling of importance,” she says. She plans to use her discovery when she goes home and resumes teaching master acting classes at the North Carolina School of the Arts, which her husband, the novelist John Ehle, helped found.

“I'll make all my students rehearse in their favorite hats,” she says. “We'll call it the hat method.” Miss Harris is gentle and gracious, showing no hint of the histrionic Mrs. Bliss, who, when upset, lifts hand to forehead and trills, “I would like someone to play something very beautiful for me on the piano.”

But Miss Harris's 16-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who is at lunch, teases her mother that she “has picked up little bits of Judith. You can be bossy about getting the laundry.”

“My voice projection has gone up a bit,” Miss Harris concedes.

On the whole, however, her family is very grateful when she is doing comedy rather than drama.

“I'm much easier to live with,” she says. “When I did Arthur Miller's play, 'All My Sons,' in London, I would feel fine after the curtain. But I'd wake up in the morning with a crushing depression. I'd wonder why and then suddenly it would come to me: Last night, my husband shot himself and my son committed suicide, all in the last five minutes of the play. Those feelings in your psyche have to go somewhere else. They're rampaging around in your brain all night and you wake up feeling depressed.

“With 'Hay Fever,' my eyes pop open in the morning and I think, 'Oh, isn't life lovely?'"

When the actress married to the novelist is not on Broadway playing an actress married to a novelist, she can be found at her rambling Spanish-style home in Winston-Salem. Although Judith Bliss pronounces marriage “a hideous affair” and amuses herself by “bouncing about on a sofa with a hearty young thing in flannels,” Miss Harris spends her time at home contentedly tending the crabapple trees, roaming the local fish store, playing with her Cuisinart and cutting out cranberry mold recipes from Gourmet magazine.

Miss Harris says that she and her husband do not have the sort of family readings or rambunctious rows that Judith and her novelist husband do.

“When we got married, John and I had a fantasy that we would sit on either side of the fireplace in the evenings and he would read me what he'd written during the day and I would make helpful comments.” She laughs mischievously at the memory. “But the first time that happened, we had an argument. So we decided that, since we had managed to get so far in our careers without each others' advice, we would continue that way.”

Miss Harris was raised in India, where her father was a British Air Force officer. Her father played the piano and her mother dabbled in theatrical revues, and she grew up longing to be an actress.

“I went to movies a great deal as a child and I always identified with the females. When I was taken to all-male movies, like 'Dawn Patrol' and 'Lives of the Bengal Lancers,' I was bored to death. But the moment Jean Harlow or somebody sailed in in a slinky dress, my interest was held.”

After she saw Vivien Leigh play a lady-in-waiting in Queen Elizabeth's court in “Fire Over England,” she went home, tied her comforter around her waist in an imitation of court dress, and paraded up and down the corridor for hours.

She began her career in repertory companies in England, developing an uncommon range in both comedy and drama, classical and contemporary. “I think I thought that's what acting was - being good at being different,” she says, “We got thrown a new character every week and we had to do something with it.”

One week, she was thrown Cecily, one of the ingenues in “The Importance of Being Ernest.” It was a disaster. “I'd never done anything resembling a classical play before, and I cried myself to sleep every night with frustration and despair. I didn't know how to get one's thoughts, let alone one's tongue, around those convoluted sentences. I only knew how to act as I talked; I didn't know how to act as Oscar Wilde talked.”

But the week ended and she was thrown somebody else. And she worked hard with her acting coach, Mary Duff. “Mary used the wing chair method of teaching: She sat in her chair and said, 'Here, say it this way' or 'This is how you do it,' “ Miss Harris recalled fondly of her teacher, who died this winter in England.

“I asked her once whether I should read Stanislavsky, and she said 'When you can act, you will know everything you need to know about Stanislavsky.' “

Although she has since given some of her most memorable performances on Broadway in revivals of classic plays - as Blanche du Bois in the 1973 “Streetcar Named Desire” and as Julie Cavendish in the 1976 “The Royal Family” - Miss Harris felt stifled by them as a beginning actress. “I played Desdemona with the full weight of past Desdemonas before me,” she once recalled. “I felt I didn't have a chance and I left England for that very reason.”

She came to New York in 1952 and played in Moss Hart's “Climate of Eden.” In 1959, she married Ellis Rabb, who formed the APA company. They worked together for a number of years in the APA Phoenix Company, doing the repertory for which the group became famous.

After Miss Harris and Mr. Rabb were divorced, a friend, Bella Spewack, who had written the play “Boy Meets Girl” and who felt that casting in love was similar to casting in the theater, called one day and said, “Come over. The man you're going to marry is here.”

And so she met Mr. Ehle, wed him, moved to North Carolina, acquired her first washing machine, and retired. “I had spent a lot of my life acting and thought in another phase of my life, I would be perfectly happy not to be an actress.”

But a year and a half later, she was offered “Plaza Suite” in London. “We talked it over. He was able to travel with me, because he can do his work anywhere, so we said, 'Let's do it.' We've been playing it by ear ever since.”

Her desultory approach may have denied her celebrity, but she says that raising her daughter has been much more rewarding than achieving the movie-star fame for which she once yearned. “People don't always know where they know me from,” she says, smiling. “They say, 'Were you ever in Miami?' or, 'Were you at a caravan site last summer?'"

Now that Jennifer is attending the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, Miss Harris finds herself with more time to devote to the theater.

She has wanted to play the role of Judith for years. “I was in a production of 'Hay Fever' so long ago that we did it in modern dress,” she says, with a fey grimace. “I played Myra and had to be kissed by the leading man and blush to the roots of my hair.” As she played the flapper, she said she coveted the juicier role of Judith. Miss Harris does not divulge the year of the production or her exact age - she is in her early 50's - saying blithely, “Oscar Wilde says that a woman who tells her age will tell anything.”

The critics agree that Judith is ideal casting for Miss Harris. “I read once that, to play Noel Coward, one should toss the words out recklessly without too much force,” she says. “You need tremendous energy to play Coward at his best. The first time I come out, I'm on stage for about 30 minutes and when I come off, I feel as though I'd run a 30-minute dash. Unless you come off out of breath, I don't think you've been playing it right.”

The director, Brian Murray, has choreographed the play with the same split-second timing featured in “Noises Off,” the Michael Frayn farce in which he starred last year.

“If you liken Coward to a racquet game, the shuttlecock has to stay up in the air,” Miss Harris says. “As soon as it hits the stage, or the deck, play is over. And, to use a pun on the word, the play is over. And you have to start new points again.

“We discovered that in rehearsals. When the timing goes, you feel it go with a great thud. You know you've lost something. Brian orchestrated wonderful rests where the game is far from over, but just lapses into Pinteresque pauses. Contrary to what a lot of people think, Coward is not just chitchat. There's an iceberg of subtext underneath.”

Lunch over, Miss Harris leaves to go shopping for a “stressless chair” for Mr. Ehle. She manages her graceful exit without benefit of pink elephant or green umbrella. But she does adjust her beige beret - the Harris hat method, at its finest.

Sunday, May 20, 1990

The Journey of John Ehle

John Ehle: N.C. mountains shape author's work without confining it
Bill Morris
15 July 1996
Greensboro News & Record
(Copyright 1996)

John Ehle has had a life-long love affair with the North Carolina mountains _ the backdrop for most of his fiction, including "The Journey of August King."


John Ehle was born in Asheville in 1925 and grew up hearing mountain stories from mountain people.

His Aunt Lucy remembered many of the people who became characters in the novels of Thomas Wolfe, an Asheville native who was master at blending fantasy and fact.

But despite his early exposure to Appalachian stories, Ehle - whose 1971 novel, "The Journey of August King," has been rereleased and made into a movie out on video this month - didn't become seriously interested in writing until he reached high school.

"I started writing speeches in high school," he recalls, "and I learned to my astonishment that my first speech was successful. The topic was a movie, 'Ferdinand the Bull."'

Always an avid reader - of Uncle Wiggly stories, the Bible, Dickens, anything he could get his hands on - Ehle traveled extensively with his high school debate team, from Kentucky to Florida, honing his writing and speaking skills as he went, beginning the long apprenticeship required of all successful writers.

Curiously, Thomas Wolfe was off-limits to him as a boy. "My mother had a copy of 'Look Homeward, Angel,"' Ehle says, "and I asked her if I could read it. She said, 'No, it's a dirty book.' So I did not read Thomas Wolfe at all until I was in my 40s. And then I read just about everything by him. He's an amazing writer."

After serving in the infantry late in World War II, both in Europe and Japan, Ehle earned a bachelor's degree in English at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1949. He then went to work at the university, writing documentary film scripts and radio plays while trying his hand at short fiction. He did not enjoy instantaneous success. One short story was returned by a New York publisher with a form-letter rejection and a terse, hand-written note: "Sorry."

But Ehle kept plugging. His friend Paul Green, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, convinced Ehle that one of his rejected short stories was actually the first chapter of a novel. He persuaded Ehle to write two more chapters, then an outline.

Eventually it mushroomed into a novel and, with Green's help, got into the hands of an editor at William Morrow. It took that editor just 24 hours to make an offer on the book, the story of the travails of a black family in a fictional North Carolina town that sharply resembles Chapel Hill.

"Move Over, Mountain" was published in 1957 to excellent reviews. And John Ehle was on his way.

His second novel, "Kingstree Island," set on the North Carolina coast, was published two years later. Since then he has published nine more novels, most of them set in the North Carolina mountains, where Ehle feels most at home to this day.

"I just felt more comfortable writing about people in the mountains than I felt writing about people in the Piedmont or on the coast," he says. "It was just more natural. Most of my books start with a place, then a person. The two have to be together. The place shapes the person. I think that's particularly true in the mountains (because) the mountains limit the action to what goes on in that valley. The mountains cup the action."

But Ehle has not allowed himself to become trapped by those mountains - or by a single literary form. He has written non-fiction books on wide-ranging topics, including the civil rights struggle in Chapel Hill in the early 1960s, the forced westward march of the Cherokee Indians, a biography of Frank Porter Graham, even an appreciation of the wines and cheeses of England and France, with ruminations on the abundant joys of Irish whiskey.

He also has taught writing in Chapel Hill, worked for the Ford Foundation in New York and served as a cultural adviser to Gov. Terry Sanford from 1962 to 1964. It was then that Ehle came up with the inspiration for the Governor's School, the N.C. School of the Arts and the nation's first statewide anti-poverty program, the N.C. Fund, all of which led Newsweek magazine to dub him a "one-man think tank."

"All of them were my babies," he says with evident pride. "It was fun to see them get developed."

Along the way Ehle has won a truckload of literary awards - including five Walter Raleigh Prizes for fiction and the N.C. Award for Literature - as well as several honorary degrees and countless kind words.

"I like just about everything John writes, especially his fiction," says Buzz Wyeth, who, as a young editor at Harper & Brothers, published Ehle's "Lion on the Hearth" in 1961, beginning a working relationship that lasted almost 20 years. Wyeth also edited "The Journey of August King."

"It was right in the tradition of the stories in his previous books - the mountain country, the mores and characters of that place," Wyeth says. "I thought it had a potential to appeal to a lot of readers."

Ehle appealed to Wyeth from the outset.

"I was sent as a young editor down to Chapel Hill to do some prospecting," Wyeth recalls. "Paul Green gave a dinner for me at the Carolina Inn, and one of the guests there that evening was John Ehle. After the dinner, John and I moseyed off and ended up killing most of a bottle of bourbon together. After that we were very close friends."

Marshall De Bruhl, a fellow Asheville native, edited Ehle's 1968 non-fiction book, "Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation."

"What I wanted was to have a novelist's sensibility on a non-fiction book," says de Bruhl, then an editor at Doubleday's Anchor Books. "He really hit on the right approach to the story. Perhaps only a novelist would have hit on that - so my instincts were correct."

The book has sold a robust 180,000 copies over the past quarter century. After modest sales on his first three novels, his fourth, "The Land Breakers," was a main selection of the Literary Guild. It sold a stunning 120,000 hardback copies in Holland, which prompts Ehle to speculate, "I think they stuffed them in the dikes." Every one of his novels, except his debut, has come out in paperback as well as hardback.

"'August King' is one of my favorite books," de Bruhl adds. "I'm a Southerner. These people were anti-slavery, and that attracted me to the story. I'm a kind of sucker for the evocation of the mountains. They didn't mess up the film - they didn't make a big interracial love match, which would have been impossible in those days. I was very moved by the film. Jason Patric is terrific - whoever coached him with the accent did a great job."

Fred Chappell, an acclaimed writer who also grew up in the North Carolina mountains and now teaches at UNCG, says of "The Journey of August King": "It's a strong book, with fairly short scenes that move right along. It should translate very easily to the screen. It's very vivid. He knows what he's talking about - it's not phony stuff, but it's not dogged realism, either. He has a real streak of adventure and action that I've always admired."

Ehle and Chappell became acquainted in the early 1960s, when they were working in the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill and Durham, respectively.

"We go back a long ways together," Chappell says. "John was very instrumental in demonstrations. He was one of the people who helped keep the lid on the situation. The rural people were against civil rights - the town (of Chapel Hill) was, too, for that matter. He worked with the police, university officials, the NAACP, whoever was around. Everybody knew he was somebody sensible because passions were running pretty high."

Ehle's civil rights activism, like just about everything else he has done, led to a book. "The Free Men" is his 1965 account of the boycott of Chapel Hill businesses that refused to serve black people, a volatile subject that inspired strong feelings - "from high plaudits to near-absolute and sometimes bitter condemnation," according to the Greensboro Daily News.

Like many others familiar with Ehle's work, Chappell feels Ehle deserves a wider, national reputation but has been denied it because he has chosen to write about a specific place, those lilting North Carolina mountains.

"It's true that if you come from a specific place, then you're regarded as a regional writer," Chappell says. With a rueful chuckle, he adds, "If you come from New York, on the other hand, you're universal."

Of the remarkable people Ehle has met in his 70 years, Frank Porter Graham stands above all the others.

"He was a wonderful fellow, an absolute knockout," Ehle says of Graham, who served as president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina from 1932 to 1949, then in the U.S. Senate for two years, and finally as a mediator at the United Nations in the 1950s.

Ehle became acquainted with Graham in the late 1940s during his undergraduate years in Chapel Hill. Ehle visited Graham's home one Sunday afternoon - and promptly got into an argument about where N.C. Memorial Hospital should be built. Graham, naturally, favored Chapel Hill. Ehle thought Asheville or Charlotte would have been more suitable.

"Dr. Graham always liked people who had opinions - including people whose opinions didn't jibe with his own," Ehle says. "I'd always known I was going to write a book about Dr. Graham. He came up to me at a reception once and asked if I would consider writing a book about him. I left that out of the book because it was so out of character."

Ehle remembers Graham not as a self-promoter, but as "an outright genius," a tireless champion of the university, a defender of civil rights, freedom of speech and the working man.

The two men saw each other frequently in New York in the 1950s, when Ehle was working at the Ford Foundation and Graham was at the U.N. mediating India's and Pakistan's claims to Kashmir.

"It took an eternity to get from his office to lunch," Ehle recalls. "He seemed to know everybody. Guards, doormen, secretaries - they seemed to sparkle when he was around. I uncovered some wonderful stories about him. He would lend people money if they needed it. He would go to funerals up in Harlem, wherever."

And he would go to parties. Ehle particularly remembers the ones thrown by Al Lowenstein, a Chapel Hill grad who later became a virulent critic of the Vietnam War and was instrumental in driving Lyndon Johnson from the presidency.

"Al's idea of an hors d'oeuvres table for 150 people was a box of crackers and a quarter pound of cheese," Ehle says with a laugh. "At Al's parties, Dr. Graham would stand up in the middle of the room. He could talk, and he could listen. He was mostly interested in what you were doing and what he could do to help."

In 1967 Ehle married Rosemary Harris on the porch of his 19th-century cabin near Penland. An English actress acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic, Harris has won a Tony Award, an Emmy, and an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her role as T.S. Eliot's mother-in-law in the 1995 feature film, "Tom and Viv." She recently finished filming "Death of a Salesman" for British television.

Ehle and Harris have one daughter, Jennifer. The 26-year-old actress is also in England, where she recently played Elizabeth Bennett in a six-hour BBC production of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." It won critical raves when it was shown this year on the Arts & Entertainment network.

Ehle recently visited his wife and daughter in England. "I told Jennifer at her 26th birthday party that I wish she had been twins," Ehle says. "I'd like to have two of her. Her career is a treasure to me."

Much as his own life has been a treasure.

"Yes, I have led a rich life," Ehle says. "There have been many facets to it. I've enjoyed every year of it - and most every day."

Behind the scenes of Pride and Prejudice

NB. This is copied from the Google cache of Eras of Elegance, itself probably copied from the A&E site.

We invite you to learn more about the making of "Pride and Prejudice" (1995).


The 1995 version of "Pride and Prejudice" is the fourth film adaptation of Jane Austen's most beloved novel. Its predecessors were released in 1940, 1967, and 1979.

Producer Sue Birtwistle had read Pride and Prejudice "at least one hundred and fifty times" from the age of fifteen when she decided to pursue a film adaptation: "I am still finding things in [the novel]. I admire Austen so much more now that I see there is not a word wasted [in her novels]." 1

Birtwistle first met screenwriter Andrew Davies at Coventry College in England. Davies was Birtwistle's English tutor during her freshman year, and the two discussed making Pride and Prejudice into a film adaptation. Davies remarks: "I well recall Sue's entrepreneurial flair. Even in those days she was already very much a producer... We had similar ideas about how Pride and Predjudice should be approached when we talked about it -- it's just that we seem to have taken a bit of time getting round to it! It was always my ambition when I was a lecturer that my pupils would eventually get powerful positions and be able to employ me in my old age. But Sue seems to have been the only one that's managed to do it!" 2

On the birth of their idea to create a film adapation, Birtwistle recalls: "[Andrew and I] were watching a version of Northanger Abbey and after the credits had rolled and the lights went up, I said to Andrew, ‘We simply have to make Pride and Prejudice...and we shook hands on it there and then. That was seven years [before our film finally came out]. We both knew that it was the other's favorite book." 3

On writing the screenplay, Davies remarks: "Adapting Pride and Predjudice was certainly no chore for me. I wouldn't have done it were that the case. No, it [was a] sheer pleasure. Even when one knows that this is one of the greatest classics in the English language, and that it is a well-known and much-loved book to hundreds of thousands of fans. Inevitably there are favorites as well, and there can be few opening lines ('It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good a fortune, must be in want of a wife') of a novel that are known so well, and quoted so often." 4

As a freelance television producer, Birtwistle needed the support of the British Broadcasting Company (BBE) and the Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) to make her dream of producing a $6 million dollar "Pride and Prejudice" into a reality: "Every single character in Austen's book is introduced by a phrase about how much they are worth. And everybody's money is discussed by everybody else... Personally, I am rather feckless about money, I'm afraid, though incredibly responsible as a producer." 5 Birtwistle's responsible nature allowed her to stay within her budget and make a modest profit from the film.

Before the BBC signed on, Birtwistle and Davies had to peddle their idea to several television executives. In meeting with one executive, Birtwistle recalls pitching the story of five young women seeking husbands and their pushy mother: "We made it sound very modern, very contemporary. [The executive] was beside himself and asked if we'd secure the rights to the book! We assured him that we had -- and he was totally taken aback when we told him that it was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that we'd been talking about!" 6

After commissioning three scripts, the company that first signed on with Birtwistle and Davies decided to scrap the project, thinking that it was too soon after BBC's 1979 version for another version. Birtwistle and Davies then approached BBC, whose executives surprisingly leapt at the idea.

Director Simon Langton envisioned a Mr. Darcy that was slightly different from his predecessors: "Our Darcy is warm-blooded and passionate. Yes, he's aloof and arrogant at times, but Colin [Firth] shows what's attractive about him underneath." 7


Producer Sue Birtwistle had previously worked with actor Colin Firth in a 1985 British film about a group of English schoolboys. Firth had never read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice when Birtwistle called to offer him the lead role as Mr. Darcy. Birtwistle recalls: "He told me he was not interested because 'it's girlie stuff' -- but later, when he had read five pages of [screenwriter Andrew] Davies' script, he was hooked." 8

Firth admits: "I didn't have the slightest clue on earth [who] Darcy was. I hadn't read any Jane Austen at all, chiefly because when her novels were offered as potential coursework at school, I thought they'd be rather, well, sissy. And I certainly never dreamed of lifting an Austen off the library shelves or at a bookstall... I had this prejudice that [the novel] would probably be girls' stuff. I had never realized that Darcy was such a famous figure in literature. [But whenever I mentioned the script,] everyone would tell me how they were devoted to this book, how at school they had been in love with Darcy." 9

On receiving the script for the first time, Firth recalls: "When Pride and Prejudice was offered I just thought, without even having read it, 'Oh, that old warhorse' and I unwrapped the huge envelope with great trepidation. Another reason for that hesitation was that I really didn’t want to take part in a ‘classic serial’ type of costume drama. Purely because my memories of them were all from the seventies. All rather formal, rather stiff, and with stilted scripts. When I opened up the package that Sue Birtwistle sent across to me, I saw that I couldn’t have been more completely wrong. Andrew Davies adaptation just leaps off the page at you..." 10

Despite his misgivings, Firth was sold on the project: "I think I was only about five pages in [the script] when I was hooked. It was remarkable. I don't think any script has fired me up quite as much, just in the most basic, romantic-story terms... I knew I had to listen to the voice inside me which said 'You enjoyed this. It's the only script you've been able to read for long time'. I had to take that seriously... I knew that I wanted to be involved. I realized in the end that if anyone else played the part, I’d be extremely envious of them. And the way the story moves you’re kept guessing at what might happen to Darcy and Elizabeth until the very last episode. I’m the man who didn’t know how it finished off at all and when I first met Sue to discuss the project, I hadn’t got around to reading the final part - and I confess that I was more than slightly surprised when Sue let slip that the pair of them actually get married!" 11

Although Birtwistle seemed to want Firth as her Mr. Darcy, Firth admits that he was "absolutely terrified" when he arrived for his first casting audition: "I was so wound up that I went into the gents toilet to have a fit of nerves. Well there I was, surrounded by about fifty actors, only one or two of whom I knew, and required to put flesh and bones on Darcy. In a situation like that you're asked to get the measure of the man purely by using your voice. And it became immediately apparent to me that what Darcy doesn't say at times is far more important, or a least equally so, than what he does. He's rather inscrutable, very taciturn. He's used to keeping his emotions in check. He certainly never really lets on to others what his innermost thoughts are. So the immediate thought I had as the day progressed was... 'I'm rather dull,' especially when you remember that this is Austen's wittiest novel, and all the rest of my colleagues were making everyone laugh with their characterizations." 12

Firth almost did not accept the role of Mr. Darcy for fear that he would not be able to live up the expectations for his character. Firth admits that he usually chooses lesser known projects and often "gravitate[s] towards things that are doomed." When Birtwistle offered him the part, Firth was apprehensive: "I looked in the mirror and I didn't see Darcy. I started to think... '[Lawrence] Olivier was fantastic [as Darcy in an earlier film version] and no one else could ever play the part.' ... I didn't feel I was right for Darcy. I didn't feel I would be able to make him what he should be. He seemed too big a figure somehow." In addition, Firth's aunt begged him to turn down the role of Darcy so that he wouldn't ruin her schoolgirl ideals for the romantic hero. Despite his insecurities, Firth read through Andrew Davies' script and became attached to the character of Darcy: "I realized that I had begun to appropriate the character and I now owned [him]. The thought of anyone else doing [Darcy] made me feel rather jealous." 13

Actor Crispin Bonham-Carter (third cousin to actress Helena Bonham-Carter) had not expected to audition or to be cast as the amiable Mr. Bingley: "Funnily enough, when the project first came up, I actually auditioned for the part of Wickham, the baddie. But after a short while the producer and director thought I'd be far better playing Bingley, and I was delighted to accept." 14

When actress Susannah Harker won the role of Jane Bennet, she wasn't the first in her family to play the gentle-mannered sister. Harker's mother, Polly Adams, played Jane in an earlier TV adaptation of the novel! Harker remarks: "That's an amazing coincidence, don't you think? Of course, we talked about it, and she told me how she played Jane all those years back in the sixties. But I didn't dig out any archive tape or film or anything. I wanted to play it for myself." In accepting the role of Jane, Harker sought to dedicate her performance to her grandmother, whose favorite book was Pride and Prejudice: "She helped bring me up, and I owe a lot of what I am to her. In a sense, I did this role for her, in her memory." 15

Actor Adrian Lukis won the role of Wickham after a screen test on the set of another film, as he recalls: “I was given a coat that was too small, huge side whiskers and a ruffled shirt, and away I went. One of the crew ended up playing Elizabeth. It was wonderful to get the role. I’d been doing theater for two years and it was a good way back into television." Lukis had just finished reading the novel before he landed the role: “I’d read Pride and Prejudice for [school], but I enjoyed it more when I read it again before I got the role. It’s a phenomenal book, beautifully written, with gentle humor." 16

When Alison Steadman was offered the role of Mrs. Bennet, she was "just absolutely delighted because I didn’t honestly think that I'd be the actress that a director, producer or writer would instantly think of to play someone like her. I was really quite pleased when, after one of the first read-throughs, Andrew Davies said 'Alison, we knew you'd bring something to Mrs. Bennet, but we didn't know what! It's great!'" Steadman adds: "When people learned that I was going to play her, a lot of them said ‘Oh, but we always thought she was quite old. Aren’t you a bit too young for it?' But then I said 'No, because if you work it out, she married at eighteen, she's got a daughter of fifteen as her youngest child, so that would put her at the forty or early forties mark. She's still quite a young woman herself!" 17

Steadman was excited to be part of a period film: "You see, it really was an acting challenge. Just one of the reasons is because the language is structured completely differently to the way we talk now. We had to be very careful to get everything precisely right. Now normally when I'd do a television piece, I find that it's okay for me to learn the lines the night before shooting, and then polish them on the way to the studio or the location in the taxi. But not with this. It was far more like working for the stage--learning a lot in advance. It’s been a very good discipline for me, and a challenge--which I enjoy. I haven't done a great deal of costume drama [before]...” 18

Actress Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet) was filming another BBS period miniseries, she began reading the scripts for both “Pride and Prejudice” and yet another period miniseries. Sawalha decided to accept both roles: "I was initially slightly concerned about doing two classic series almost back-to-back, but I realized that they would be shown about a year apart, and then, of course, when they’re both prestige productions, you don’t sit down and ask too many questions. You grab the opportunities when they come along." 19

Joanna David, mother of Emilia Fox, who played Georgiana Darcy, was cast alongside her daughter as Mrs. Gardiner.


One of the principal locations for "Pride and Prejudice" was Lacock, in Wiltshire, England. In order to transform the town into a Regency period village, set designers paid special attention to detail and had to ask residents and storeowners for permission to change the paint, doors, windows, and doorknobs of their homes and shops.

On her first Regency film, costume designer Dinah Collin sought to create dresses that were authentic. With a camera and sketchbook in hand, Collin searched costume shops and museums from Bath to Bradford, from Winchester to Worthing, and from Manchester to Rome in pursuit of Regency style examples. Collin also read everything she could about the period.

The scene in which Mr. Darcy indulges an impetuous fancy and dives into a lake was more complicated than expected. First, screenwriter Andrew Davies intended Darcy to dive in completely undressed. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC), however, wanted to preserve its reputation for family-friendly programming and suggested that Darcy wear undergarments. Unfortunately, men in the Regency period did not wear undergarments appropriate for swimming. So costume designers created knee-length pantaloons, hoping to fake the Regency period style. Actor Colin Firth was fitted for the counterfeit undergarments but looked so uncomfortable in them that everyone decided that Darcy should dive in fully clothed instead!

Firth recalls: "Originally I was supposed to take all my clothes off and jump into the pool naked. The moment where the man... is a man, instead of a stuffed shirt. He's riding on a sweaty horse, and then he's at one with the elements. But the BBC wasn't going to allow nudity, so an alternative had to be found." The alternative was that Darcy would dive in "via underpants, which, actually, were not historical. He would never have worn underpants. They would have looked ridiculous anyway." In the end, the inevitable decision was reached: "If you can't take them all off, just jump in." 20

In addition, the underwater sequence was filmed in a large tank. Firth slammed his nose on a steel girder in the tank during the first take. Firth's nose was so bloody and swollen that the crew had to shut down filming for a day. Firth was not allowed to jump into the pond because, "there's a thing called Wiles disease, which means you can't be insured to jump into a pond, because you can get sick from rat's [urine]. So we got a stuntman to do the actual dive. Everything is me, except there's a very, very brief shot of the stuntman in midair. Everything else is me." 21

As Elizabeth Bennet, actress Jennifer Ehle especially enjoyed donning the Regency costumes. Ehle remarks that the costumes for the Bennet girls, who were supposed to be of modest means, were quite simple and comfortable: "Anna Chancellor (Miss Bingley) [had] some marvelously rich things to wear, but I didn't envy her having to put all those things on in the heat of the midsummer, when we did most of the filming. The wardrobe people were wonderful to me, and gave me a wide-ranging selection of dresses to choose from... You don't often get the chance to have a choice like that, and I was very grateful. They were also very comfortable to wear. Often in costume drama you're really constricted and pulled in. But the dresses were light, and the corsets not tight at all. My daily mix-and-match became part of the pleasure of making the series." 22

Susannah Harker, who played Jane Bennet, also loved wearing the Regency dresses: "I loved all the costumes. Doing a series like this is always wonderful because you get to dress up, which is what every actor really wants to do!" 23

Actress Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet) adds: "Of course all those wonderful costumes helped. As I said, I’d just [another BBC miniseries], where the period is about thirty years after ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ and the women’s costumes in early Victorian times were very constricting--corsets, tight dresses, bonnet right to the side of the head, impairing vision. In Jane Austen’s day, there was a totally opposite fashion movement. The dresses were flowing, very free.” 24

Actor Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) enjoyed the locations of the film: "One of the delights of making a series like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is that you get out to some absolutely breathtaking locations. Luckington Court, the ‘home’ of the Bennets, for example is a completely unspoilt gem...the lady who has lived there for some forty or more years has preserved it like the treasure it is." 25

Whitrow recalls a particular day of shooting which wasn’t quite as pleasant: “I remember one sequence, which was a sort of party scene, with a lot of food on the table. It may have looked pretty wonderful, but under the lights, when we finished shooting on the third day, no-one wanted to go near the stuff, it was getting pretty high!" 26

Actor Crispin Bonham-Carter cherished his experiences filming "Pride and Prejudice": " 'Pride and Prejudice' [was] the first major television I've done, and I really don't think I could have enjoyed myself more. It was such a wonderful group of people to be around... ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is, after all, very much a quality production, with amazingly high standards and values to it. But it is also interesting and accessible. And a lot of fun.” 27

Bonham-Carter also admits that he was swept away by the glamour and romance of the Regency period: “And an actor's dream is to put on a good period costume and some've got the character straight away! Seriously, when you're surrounded by such total realism in the sets and the clothes, it would be very hard indeed not to have some of the naturalism rub off on you. And that Regency period was such a time of style that you do indeed stand and move in a different way. You almost feel ashamed to climb out of it all at the end of a day and put your jeans and T-shirt back on. What Bingley would have thought of today's casual dress would be anyone's guess. I think he'd have been horrified!" 28

Sawalha remarks: “ ’Pride and Prejudice’ was a unique experience in every way, from the sets to the locations, from the casting to the locations, and the script. It was one of the most relaxed and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and I look back on it with great affection. I think, by the way, that I was one of the few people involved who hadn’t read the book before the script arrived!" 29

Although the actors all agreed that the atmosphere on location for "Pride and Prejudice" made for some of the happiest times of their careers, director Simon Langton often worried about the proximity of their sets to military bases: "I'm delighted that [our actors were happy] and I always believe that you get the very best from your cast and crew when everyone is relaxed. But every director will tell you that when you're working on a major project like this, every single morning you wake up and wonder what the hazards are going to be. Is it going to be rain, will the sun shine for you? Has anyone got a cold or the flu? And when we were making Pride and Prejudice, were the RAF going to do a close formation exercise bombing raid right over the top of us just as Elizabeth Bennet has something important to say to Darcy? The locations we used were absolutely stunning, but fate decreed that the main ones were almost invariably near the RAF or NATO base, and we had to do a bit of persuading of the various commanders that they wouldn't overfly at certain times and places. When we explained the situation they were consideration itself." 30


Actress Julia Sawalha (Lydia Bennet) remarks: "Looking back, I think the nicest thing about ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was that, as the Bennet Family, we really did feel like a family. We all got on really well together, and ate out together in the local restaurants after a day’s work was finished. That’s not always the case. There are times when you definitely DON’T want to see someone you’ve been working with!" 31

Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) agrees: “One of the chief pleasures of doing ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was the wonderful actors the BBC assembled. It genuinely was like having your own family around you on the set.” 32

While Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet courted on screen, actors Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle also began dating early during the filming. By the time the actors performed the final wedding kiss, however, Firth and Ehle had parted amicably after one year together. Firth admits that having a relationship with Ehle during the filming made the acting process a greater challenge: "I actually find that if you're involved with an actress that you're having to tell a love story with, it's more difficult. I don't find it easy to draw on it. Your relationship, your feelings aren't the same as those of the characters. She's not that person. And you're not telling your own story. So I think you have to put all your own stuff aside completely and reconceive your relationship as other people. So I think it stands in the way, to be honest." 33

In addition, the media's interest in Firth and Ehle's relationship proved to be a headache, as the actor recalls: "They only discovered it after it was over... They get your number and phone up, pretending to be BT, then ask, 'Are you and your leading lady in love?' You let them write about it, and all this invented stuff comes out. It's astounding, breathtaking, what gets invented." 34

Producer Sue Birtwistle was extremely fond of Firth: "[In Firth,] we have the definitive Darcy. He's just perfect in every regard." 35


All in all, Firth thinks that "Pride and Prejudice" was "an intoxicating story. The language is wonderful. I think it's very romantic, beautifully structured, and the actors do a good job." 36

In spite of the unexpected fame that Mr. Darcy brought to actor Colin Firth, he sheepishly admits that he doesn’t share much in common with the proper Regency gentleman: "There's this other person called Mr. Darcy who I have very little to do with. He's like a bizarre doppelganger that I've spawned who walks around doing things without me. I've not really allowed myself to get hung up about it. Life has gone on perfectly satisfactorily. It hasn't held me back. It dominates what gets written about me, but it doesn't affect me any closer than that... It's not going to bring anyone any closer to Mr. Darcy to find out more about me." 37

Firth adds, "I felt as if I'd lost my whole personality [after 'Pride']. It's been very strange, this idea of Mr. Darcy appealing so much to women. Because obviously, as you can see, I don't carry that around with me. I'm not so Mr. Darcy every day of my life. If people expect to see a saturnine, dark, smouldering tall aristocrat, they are going to be disappointed." Firth is widely known to be "completely unassuming, friendly, and funny." 38

Firth remarks of his character: "Colin Firth of the twentieth century would not be happy in this period, but as an actor I adore exploring Jane Austen's strict social conventions... And Mr. Darcy has a few absurd aspects to him. But playing him, you can't try to be funny. Darcy himself says, 'It's been my study to avoid ridicule.' He's definitely not a man to be laughed at, which of course causes the comedy." 39

Although Firth initially wanted to play Darcy differently from his predecessors, he decided to remain faithful to the character: "I reasoned: 'To make myself different...I will have to do an awful lot.' But doing anything is the last thing that is right for playing Darcy. The only way for it to work is to be Darcy." Firth’s commitment to play Darcy as Jane Austen’s enigmatic and quiet hero was more exhausting than Firth expected: "In the first [ballroom] scene, I had to go in and be hurt, angry, intimidated, annoyed, irritated, amused, horrified, appalled and keep all these reactions within this very narrow framework of being inscrutable because nobody ever knows quite what Darcy's thinking... The physical dimention is essential. He's basically a taciturn person, and what he doesn't say is much more important than what he does a lot of the time. I've played some far more physically energetic parts, but I don't think I've ever been as physically exhausted at the end of a take as I have with Darcy." 40

Of course, Firth confesses that playing a taciturn character like Darcy was difficult also because of the vibrant cast of characters about him: “[Darcy] used to keeping his emotions in check. He certainly never really lets on to others what his innermost thoughts are. So the immediate thought I had as the [filming] progressed was... ‘I’m rather dull,’ especially when you remember that this is Austen’s wittiest novel, and all the rest of my colleagues were making everyone laugh with their characterizations." Firth admits that Darcy’s brooding nature actually made it easier at times to finish a shoot: "I've always believed, somehow, that the more 'miserable' a character you play is, the more interesting they become. I'd rather play someone like Darcy, who is very uptight and proper and controlled, and leave him at the end of the day to go 'up' to my normal self, than be relentlessly cheerful in a comedy part day after day, and have to come 'down' to normality afterwards! At least when the director shouts 'Cut!' you can return to some semblance of being yourself." 41

On understanding Darcy’s essence, Firth remarks: "I remember reading a very helpful saying: 'A man who is eligible needs to entertain no one.' For me that was a great key to understand Darcy. I thought that if he was charming as well, life would be intolerable for him. So out of both shyness and lack of necessity he remained aloof." Firth adds: “One of the key moments in the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy is when she rejects his first proposal of marriage. I don’t think that he can actually believe that someone would turn him down. He’s certainly guilty of social snobbery, and that’s something he realizes as the book ends. He makes assumptions about other people, and basically, that’s ignorance." 42

On the unfolding of Darcy’s character, Firth remarks: "Jane Austen is rather vague in her description of Darcy [when he meets Elizabeth at Pemberley], and I found myself foraging for clues about how he is supposed to come across. There are contradictions. People often ask whether Darcy changes in the course of the story or whether we find out what he is really like. I think it is a mixture of the two. His housekeeper talks affectionately of him and reveals that he has always looked after his sister and taken care of his household in a very kindly way. He hasn't suddenly turned into a good man; I think he has always been a good man underneath that stiff exterior." 43

At the same time, Firth believes that Darcy's character changes after meeting Elizabeth: "[Darcy] learns his lesson when he falls in love with one of those barbarians and realizes that she's at least his equal, if not his superior, in terms of wit, intellectual agility and sense of personal dignity. He is so profoundly challenged by her that his old prejudices cannot be upheld..... His real crime, I think, is silliness. I know that's a terribly undignified way to look at him, but I believe his failing is foolish, superficial, social snobbery, and that's the bitter lesson he has to learn. And I think in that sense he does change." 44

On the future of Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage, Firth speculates: “[Darcy] makes a tremendous journey throughout the book. He finally comes to realize that Elizabeth is at least his equal [so] I think the marriage is going to be an interesting one. I don’t think that he’s quite learned not to take himself too seriously, although that might come with time. Whether or not he ever learns to fully tolerate Mrs. Bennet as a mother-in-law, is another question entirely!" 45

On Elizabeth, Firth remarks: "Lizzy is a most extraordinary character. In every way. She sort of predates a whole list of very individual, free thinking ladies. She has so many different aspects and so many layers. I think she got a giddy side and a solemn side. She is pertinent and cheeky, but she is also extremely sensible and judicious. Although she clearly despises [Darcy], she also seems to be very much preoccupied with him, and very concerned with his opinion, which is not quite consistent with the feelings towards someone you despise. So one will have to make of that what one will: ascertain when her feelings towards him start to change. But I think it's their similarities that bring them to clash. I think it's the pride in both of them that does so. Also she is clearly blinded to his... to huge elements of his true nature." 46

Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth Bennet, first read Pride and Prejudice when she was twelve years old, and "fell in love with it, right from the very first page." Ehle remarks: "I still love it now -- even after working intensely on the television adaptation... That really is the test of something -- that you still admire and enjoy it after being so very close to it. As soon as I get a little time to myself, I’ll be back with Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors. [Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park] are the only two I haven’t read as yet, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them." 47

Ehle always admired Elizabeth Bennet "very much indeed, she's such a likable person, I never dreamed that I'd get to play her. She has such an incredible sense of humor, it's a fundamental part of her make-up. That comes out in the book I think, and it certainly is there in Andrew Davies' marvelous screenplay." 48

On understanding Elizabeth, Ehle remarks: "I see Elizabeth as independent and very strong minded... witty with a wonderful sense of humor... great intelligence. And she thinks her integrity is perfect. She does have integrity, she's just a bit misguided on the prejudice bit." Ehle also approves of the match between Elizabeth and Darcy: "I think Elizabeth Bennet is perfectly matched with Mr. Darcy! They fit perfectly... You sort of feel that the characters are not quite whole 'till they've met... till they've come together." 49

On the story itself, Ehle remarks: "The book was originally going to be called First Impressions, I believe, and that's really what it is all about...[Elizabeth’s] first impressions of Darcy as a bit stuck-up, her first impression of Wickham as an agreeable companion instead of a bounder. Then both Elizabeth and Darcy's pride lead them to inevitable prejudices. Even though it is nearly 200 years old, it's still a very modern novel -- the emotions of today are the same, or nearly the same, as the emotions then. People don't change that much." 50

In order to prepare for her role as the headstrong Elizabeth, Ehle "re-read the book carefully, and then I read a couple of very interesting biographies of Jane Austen herself. And I also looked at a lot of pictures to get the 'feel' of the time and the way people looked. I think that's very important." 51

Crispin Bonham-Carter loved playing the affable Mr. Bingley: "It was really like a dream come true, because while [Bingley] seems to come across as a perpetual 'Mr. Nice Guy,' he really does make a journey of his own. At first, he's totally in thrall to his older friend Darcy. He's completely influenced by the older man, who he perhaps sees as a sort of social mentor. After all it’s Darcy who tells him not to marry Jane Bennet, and at first he does completely what he says. But then he does a bit of growing up, and has opinions of his own. He grows and becomes his own man. And, of course, he changes his mind, independently, about Jane." 52

On Bingley, Bonham-Carter remarks: "People tend to forget that Jane Austen had a sense of humor, and Bingley wasn't a total stuffed shirt. I loved playing him... I tried to make him natural and friendly, he’s a very genuine sort of chap... Being the 'nice guy' is so much harder than being the Mr. Nasty, so that's why I was grateful to Andrew Davies for letting Bingley make his own journey to self-fulfillment." 53

Actress Susannah Harker, who played Jane Bennet, fell in love with Jane Austen’s literature when she read Northanger Abbey as a required book in school: "Far from making me shun Austen forever, [reading Northanger Abbey] turned the key in the lock for me and opened the door to the rest of her work." 54

On playing the sweet-tempered Jane, Harker remarks: "When I found I'd been cast as Jane, I was more pleased than I can say. I think she's a charming young girl, accomplished, quiet, very dutiful -- a typical product of her time and upbringing. The difficult part was getting that over on the screen. Playing nice people is always far harder than playing the nasties. You want to make people pleasant and agreeable, without turning them into... goody-goodies. Jane is one of Austen's perfect heroines, very romantic. But there's also a lot of humor and irony in the book, and sometimes that's difficult to inject, although Andrew Davies' script and adaptation is a delight to work from. He captures the vivacity of the writing, which I always think must be the hardest task of all." 55

Actor Adrian Lukis, who has been consistently cast as the bad guy, says of his role as Wickham: “I love playing cads. They’re more interesting and so many of them seem to have a special kind of power and aura about them... Playing Wickham was a bit daunting because Pride and Prejudice is so well-known and everyone has their own ideas about the characters. I tried to present him as appearing to be a gentle man and a good listener whom people feel they want to confide in. It would have been wrong to make Wickham too overtly caddish. It doesn’t give the audience anything to guess at and, also, Elizabeth is an extremely observant and intelligent woman who’s taken in by Wickham, so he can’t be too obvious." Lukis gives credit to his wife, a former actress, for his success as Wickham: “She’s great for bouncing ideas off. She’s got a great theatrical instinct... [but]I’m certainly not a cad, I’m a happily married man!" 56

Actress Alison Steadman (Mrs. Bennet) confesses that truly understanding her character was challenging: “I thought a great deal about her character, building up layers of her unique personality. I can certainly relate her to people I actually know now, in the way she behaves--but I'd better not tell you who I'm thinking of!" 57

On Mrs. Bennet’s behavior toward her youngest daughter, Steadman remarks: “I think one of the reasons why she’s so forgiving towards Lydia is that she can see herself doing exactly the same thing when she was younger. But she, too, is admiring of handsome men, and Lydia has not only managed to find herself a good-looking partner, she’s also married him. So that’s also a bonus--a daughter off Mrs. Bennet’s hands." 58

Of the Bennets’ marriage, Steadman remarks: “In a lot of ways, I thinks [Mrs. Bennet]’s the perfect balance for Mr. Bennet, because he’s very down-to-earth and quite serious with his books, and she’s all over the place, getting excited, forever changing her mind and having attacks of the vapors. Mr. Bennet’s one job in life is to tease and vex her, but when the chips are down, he’d defend her to the last. She may drive him wild, but then a lot of relationships are like that - it doesn’t mean that you loathe someone. I rather fancy that she was a bit anarchic and wild as a girl and Mr. Bennet fancied her because of that. And Lydia’s just like that too, so she welcomes her back with open arms.” 59

Steadman adds: “I loved playing [Mrs. Bennet], there are so many facets to her that I discovered. I don’t honestly think that she’s all that bright really...she backtracks all the time, she’s forever changing her mind and her opinions, she blows hot and cold and she goes with the wind. Look at the way she thinks Darcy is absolutely wonderful when she first sees him and then, only a short time later, she can’t stand the sight of him... Mrs. Bennet is a silly old thing, but you can’t help being fond of her." 60

Actor Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) remarks that the chief joy of Mr. Bennet’s life "is making his wife cross! He sits there, listening to all that idle chatter from the girls, all the giggling and silliness, and he’s terrifically patient with Mrs. Bennet, who’s a bit of a daft old goose, and then he drops in a comment which throws them all...he’s a delightful character to play, and I was overjoyed to be offered the role." 61

Whitrow adds: “Secretly, I rather think [Mr. Bennet] wishes that he’d been given at least one child who was a boy, so that he could escape from that house, and go out shooting or fishing with his sons. I rather fancy he’ll be looking forward to Lizzie and Jane getting married, because then he can get off with his sons-in-law. In the meantime, he just retreats into his library with his books and his newspapers." 62

On Mrs. Bennet, Whitrow remarks: “I think she was a very... fun and attractive girl when he met her, and that she just swept him off his rather staid feet. He loves her dearly still but now he teases her just for the sheer fun of it. I think Alison Steadman has her to a tee, don’t you?" 63

Whitrow is full of praise of Andrew Davies’ adaptation: “I’ve read quite a bit of Jane Austen, and I rather like her work. But Andrew has caught the tone and nuances of it all precisely. I don’t think there’s a sentence he’s invented - it all features in the original. The dialogue is faithfully reproduced and since it’s the sort of English that we don’t speak any more, that makes it terribly hard for an actor to learn.” Whitrow adds: “The odd thing about Austen, that not many people realize, is that nowhere in her novels does she have two men alone together, talking to each other. I think the only book of Austen’s I haven’t completely read is Emma, which also has a nice strong male part in it--Mr. Woodhouse--which I could quite cheerfully play, if I were lucky enough to be asked. But the thing is, you get cast in something as good as this series, a really excellent costume drama, and you’re not asked to do anything like it again for another ten years. That’s the way this business goes." 64


Before the series premiered, actor Benjamin Whitrow (Mr. Bennet) remarked: “Because I shall be working [on another production] in the evenings, I shall probably have to tape the series, and I’ll watch it alone later on. Why alone? Because I just hate watching myself when I’m in company!" 65

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle both received nominations in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories for the prestigious Bafta Award (the British equivalent of an Emmy). Ehle won in her category.

Firth was completely surprised by the attention he received for his role as Mr. Darcy: “There's me working my socks off for ten or so years and the response is fairly modest... Then [a film in which] I hardly open my mouth gets me noticed. I have to start thinking it's to do with things other than me. I don't have Mr. Darcy's money, I don't have his castle and I don't own Derbyshire. You can't overestimate that part of his appeal for women and Jane Austen doesn't. Elizabeth [Bennet] wouldn't have married me." 66

In addition, Firth remarks that Ehle should have received the fame from the miniseries instead: "She won a Bafta for it. Darcy is the romantic destiny. She's the one you're meant to identify with." 67

Firth first heard of his sudden fame among British women in particular (which has since been called "Darcymania"), while he was filming "The English Patient." Firth recalls: "I thought my mum was having me on. She would ring me up every so often and say, '[’Pride and Prejudice’] is popular. People like it.' Then she'd ring again and say, 'Actually, they're going a bit mad about it.' Then, 'This seems to be getting out of control.' My initial reaction was, 'Yeah, right, Mum.'" 68 As it turned out, Mrs. Firth was being a little understated with her son, because more than ten million viewers tuned in every week, and the BBC video series instantly sold out.

On "Darcymania", Firth remarks: "It seems obvious that what happened with the Darcy character was very special, not just to me but to a lot of other people, and I feel that I must look at it all again, absorb it, understand this bewildering golden moment... I'm not Mr. Darcy, though I sometimes wished I were. Certain tabloid newspapers have suggested I'm sick of the image and loathed all the publicity. Nonsense, I never said that. The great thing about Darcymania was that it had no down side; it was great even though it all seemed so unreal, as if it was happening to someone else. But it wasn't really me that everyone went crazy about -- it was the character, who'd been around for a couple of centuries... And that's just a simple fact of life." 69

With the 2001 release of "Bridget Jones' Diary," a film in which Firth plays Mark Darcy, a character based upon Mr. Darcy, Firth admits that he is reluctant to keep rehashing what he refers to as "the Darcy business." He remarks: "I do feel that I am talking about something which I know nothing about. It honestly doesn't mean anything to me. I don't have anything to do with anything I did six years ago. I don't know if you remember how you spent your summer of '94, but that's how I spent my summer of '94, and that's about it... If I spent 20 years training to be an astronaut, the headlines would still say Darcy Lands On Mars!... 'Pride And Prejudice' wasn't the most rigorous or challenging thing I've done." 70

In fact, Firth is not sure that he would do the miniseries again. "I'd be bored... [Darcy] was somebody else's party. I'm still trying to think it all through." 71

Footnotes: 1. Unknown source; citation pending. 2. on TV: Pride and Prejudice (hereinafter ""). 3. Id. 4. Id. 5. Id. 6. Id. 7. Bart Mills, "Colin Firth Talks About 'Pride And Prejudice' in the 21st Century," TV Times. 8. Unknown source; citation pending. 9., supra. 10. Id. 11. Id. 12. Id. 13. Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, The Making of Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Books, 1995). 14., supra. 15. Id. 16. Id. 17. Id. 18. Id. 19. Unknown source; citation pending. 20. The Observer (April 9, 2000). 21. Id. 22., supra. 23. Id. 24. Id. 25. Id. 26. Id. 27. Id. 28. Id. 29. Id. 30. Id. 31. Unknown source; citation pending. 32. Unknown source; citation pending. 33. Jasper Rees, "Interview with Colin Firth," The Independent (January 19, 1997). 34. Susie Steiner, "Twice Shy," The Guardian (March 31, 2001). 35., supra. 36. Carol McDaid, "There's No Escaping Mr Darcy," The Independent (June 9, 2000). 37. Elizabeth Grice, "He's back - Without the Breeches," The Telegraph (April 3, 2001). 38. William Leith, "Interview with Colin Firth," The Observer (April 9, 2000). 39. Bart Mills, "Colin Firth Talks About 'Pride And Prejudice' in the 21st Century," TV Times. 40. Rachel Kelly , "Pride and Passions: How Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy Has Become the Nation's Heart-Throb," The London Times (October 25, 1995). 41., supra. 42. Unknown source; citation pending. 43. Unknown source; citation pending. 44. Unknown source; citation pending. 45. Unknown source; citation pending. 46. Unknown source; citation pending. 47., supra. 48. Id. 49. Unknown source; citation pending. 50., supra. 51. Id. 52. Id. 53. Id. 54. Id. 55. Id. 56. Id. 57. Id. 58. Id. 59. Id. 60. Id. 61. Id. 62. Id. 63. Id. 64. Id. 65. Id. 66. "Interview with Colin Firth" (1999). 67. McDaid, supra. 68. John Carman, "Austen's `Pride' Glows Enchanting Evenings in A&E Series," San Francisco Chronicle (January 12, 1996). 69. Id. 70. Gabrielle Donnelly, "I'm Stuck With Mr Darcy Forever," NOW Magazine (April 25, 2001). 71. Steiner, supra.

NYT on Richard Easton

Award-Winning Actor Collapses on Stage
By ANDY NEWMAN; Rebecca Cathcart and Martha Weinman Lear contributed reporting.
19 October 2006
The New York Times

The actor Richard Easton, a Tony-award winning veteran of stage and screen, collapsed onstage last night during a performance of the Tom Stoppard play ''The Coast of Utopia'' at Lincoln Center. Mr. Easton, 73, was conscious and in stable condition at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center and undergoing tests, a publicist for the theater said last night.

He was stricken near the end of the first act of the play, a sprawling epic of Russian history set in the 19th century that opened for previews at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on Tuesday with Mr. Easton in one of the lead roles, that of a nobleman, Alexander Bakunin.

As the action unfolded, Mr. Easton's character was trying to persuade his son, played by Ethan Hawke, to take a job rather than continue his studies.

''You can't go to Berlin!'' he said, then made his exit. As he left the stage he staggered, then fell on his face, said Rosa Schneider, who was in the audience. Mr. Hawke and the other actor, Amy Irving, continued for a few seconds.

But then Mr. Hawke and several others gathered around Mr. Easton at the rear of the stage.

A minute later, Mr. Hawke addressed the audience: ''Is there a doctor in the house?'' he asked.

Some audience members were still confused.

''We didn't know that it wasn't part of the show until it was repeated by one of the house personnel over the loudspeaker,'' said Ms. Schneider, 19.

About 20 people from the audience surged onto the stage to offer help, Ms. Schneider said. While they attempted to resuscitate Mr. Easton, the audience was sent out into the lobby. Eventually they were told that the performance was canceled. Mr. Easton's understudy, David Manis, will play his role tonight, said Philip Rinaldi, a spokesman for Lincoln Center Theater.

Another actor in the production, Felicity Fortune, said she had been told that Mr. Easton had had ''a cardiac event'' and that he had had others.

A widely traveled actor from Montreal, Mr. Easton won a Tony in 2001 for best actor in Mr. Stoppard's play ''The Invention of Love.'' He is known as a ceaseless worker.

''If anybody's going to rebound from this it's going to be him,'' Mr. Manis said. ''He's not going to take kindly to being told to lie still.''

Saturday, May 19, 1990

August King goes Hollywood

Hollywood journey of August King surprisingly smooth
Bill Morris Special to the News & Record
15 July 1996
Greensboro News & Record
(Copyright 1996)

John Ehle has capped his long and varied writing career by adapting one of his novels, "The Journey of August King," for the screen.


His career has been so long and rich, so glittering, that it needs no adornment. And yet John Ehle received a jewel coveted by virtually every American writer since the invention of celluloid.

Hollywood smiled on him.

Ehle's 1971 novel, "The Journey of August King," set in his beloved North Carolina mountains in the early years of the 19th century, has been made into a major motion picture by Disney's Miramax subsidiary. After garnering strong reviews in New York and Los Angeles, the movie - starring Jason Patric, Thandie Newton, Larry Drake and Sam Waterston, with a screenplay by Ehle - played in selected cities. It is out on videotape this month.

And yet Hollywood's smile brings little warmth to John Ehle's world.

"I don't get excited about anything anymore," he confesses almost sadly, sinking into a red leather chair in his Spanish manor house in Winston-Salem. The house, dark and rambling and cluttered with books, was built by a Winston-Salem tobacco baron in 1925, the year of Ehle's birth.

"I don't know what happened," Ehle adds, almost apologetically. "I don't know."

As soon as he delivers that surprising confession, he brightens.

"I do think it's very nice to see your characters come into new life - if you can figure out a way to do it. Every morning you pay attention to what they want to do and what they want to say. A motion picture gives them an opportunity to be expressive again and take on new adventures."

Ehle, his face craggy from 70 years of living and writing, his clothes a comfortably rumpled blend of herringbone, silk and corduroy, reaches for a Dutch panatela. With trembling hands he lights it. As smoke softens the room's dying afternoon light, he delivers a verdict on Hollywood's handiwork that few American novelists, from Faulkner to Fitzgerald, have shared.

"This movie is, I think, an excellent movie."

He's not alone. Janet Maslin, writing in The New York Times, calls it "a decent, earnest, carefully researched story about a runaway slave in North Carolina and the white widower who breaks the law to help win her freedom."

Maslin adds that Patric, who plays the widower August King, has "a reticence that suits this role." And Newton, the English actress who plays the runaway slave, Annalees, is "bright and fetching."

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Jack Mathews lauds John Duigan's direction as well as Patric's and Newton's performances. He concludes: "The story itself is handled with such delicacy, finesse and fundamental humanity that its casual pace becomes a pleasure."

Even Ehle, a veteran writer who claims not to get excited by anything anymore, confesses that such accolades are warmly welcomed. Then he launches into the story of how the film very nearly turned into a disaster.

The rough cut was a disappointment. Instead of panicking, executive producer Harvey Weinstein called Ehle in for a screening and a frank discussion - a courtesy rarely shown to writers, who are regarded in Hollywood as the bottom link on the food chain.

Changes were made, and the finished cut went on to receive those glowing reviews.

"It was quite exhilarating," Ehle says of the editing process. "Harvey Weinstein is very good at his work."

Ehle's first experience with Hollywood was far less exhilarating. When his 1981 novel, "The Winter People," was being filmed on location in the North Carolina mountains in the late 1980s, Ehle visited the set. One look told him the project was in trouble.

"The people in that movie were not mountain people - at least, not the mountain people I'd known," Ehle says of the cast that included Kelly McGillis, Kurt Russell and Lloyd Bridges. "Ted Kotcheff, the director, didn't have empathy for the people. Talking to the actors was enjoyable, but I had no idea they were demeaning the mountain people as much as they were."

The only change Ehle persuaded Kotcheff to make was to remove a pig from the front yard of a house, arguing that it reinforced the worst sort of stereotype about Appalachian people.

With "The Journey of August King," Ehle had far more control, from writing to editing, and as a result he wound up more pleased with the finished film.

"I like the story," he says. "I have respect for all the characters - even Olaf (the slaveowner). I have empathy with Olaf. I'm not entirely sympathetic, but I accept him as a person."

So does the film's director, John Duigan. During filming last year in Transylvania County, south of Asheville, Duigan told an interviewer that the crew's international flavor (Thandie Newton's father is English and her mother is from Zimbabwe and cinematographer Slawomir Idziak is from Poland) might have been one of the film's strengths.

Duigan, who was born in England and raised in Australia, said he was intrigued by the story of a white Southerner coming to the aid of a runaway slave in the antebellum South.

"This was a piece of history I knew very little about and that rarely gets depicted on screen," said Duigan, who also directed the critically acclaimed "Sirens." "What can happen - and I'm not saying it's the case with this - but sometimes an outsider can shed light simply because they're approaching things from a slightly altered perspective."

Borden Mace, an old friend of Ehle's who helped establish the School of Filmmaking at the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, served as associate producer on "The Journey of August King." He recently told an interviewer in the Appalachian Journal that the film might go a long way toward banishing the region's unwarranted image as a land of poverty and illiteracy.

"The Journey of August King," Mace says, is "a wonderful film which should appeal to a wide audience - including Southern Appalachians who can watch it with pride and enjoyment."

It would not be spoiling things to reveal that there is a high level of sexual tension between August and Annalees, tension that is never consummated in either the novel or the film. For this Ehle is grateful.

"It just isn't what he did," Ehle says of August, a decent, hard-working man who is very much a product of his time and place. "He is moved to help Annalees - and risk losing everything - because he has little respect for the slave-holding planter class and, more importantly, because he believes helping a fellow human being in distress is simply the right thing to do. ... Finding a producer and director who agreed with me was just good luck."

Translating any work of fiction from the page to the screen requires abundant good luck. With "The Journey of August King," that luck began within the Ehle family.

Since 1967 Ehle has been married to Rosemary Harris, an English actress acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. They have a 26-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who is now in England establishing a reputation as a gifted stage and screen actress.

Over the years the movie rights to "August King" had been optioned by several studios and producers, but nothing came of it. Then, at a White House reception in 1992, Ehle and Harris bumped into Sam Waterston, an old acquaintance of Harris's and a major Hollywood player who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in "The Killing Fields" in 1984.

"When Rosemary played Peter Pan out of doors in a summer stock theater in Connecticut," Ehle says with a chuckle, "Sam Waterston pulled the rope (that enabled her to fly). So far as I know, that was his first theater experience."

Harris asked Waterston to read her husband's script. He agreed, and liked it. Meanwhile, at a party in London, Jennifer Ehle asked Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein to read the script. Once again the response was enthusiastic. Duigan was signed up to direct, with Waterston as a co-producer and a leading actor.

And suddenly, after languishing for a quarter of a century, an old novel had a new life and was on its way to the silver screen.