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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 May, 2005, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Falstaff personified
On Sunday 15 May 2005, Sir David Frost interviewed Sir Michael Gambon, Actor

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Sir Michael Gambon
Sir Michael Gambon, Actor

DAVID FROST: Sir Michael Gambon is one of our most distinguished actors, no doubt about it.

He began his stage career at the National Theatre with Laurence Olivier some 40 years ago and he's played many of the great Shakespearian roles.

On television he achieved huge acclaim and critical and public in the 1980s in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective.

And his many and varied film credits include Gosford Park and last year he took on the part of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series.

But for his latest project he's returned to the stage in the role for which many think he has long been destined, that of Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV. Michael, welcome.


DAVID FROST: People all do say that, this is the part to which you were born.

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes, yes, I don't really understand it now, now I'm playing it. Everyone's....I've been offered it for years you know, and always avoided it. I never really read it. And I thought well I must be right for it. But now I find it's an extremely difficult part to play.

DAVID FROST: What's difficult about it?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Well because he's a different man in every scene. You don't know who he is, he doesn't know who he is himself. So every scene I come on and I can't use that old technique of sliding from one scene to the other and building up on it. No, it seems like I'm playing a new man in every scene. So when people say I should play it I still don't understand why because I'm quite introspective really as an actor.

DAVID FROST: Well we've got a clip here from one of the more serious moments in the piece which is the honour speech. Let's take a look at Michael Gambon in action.


DAVID FROST: That's your catechism there.

MICHAEL GAMBON: Do I really look like that?


MICHAEL GAMBON: Awful isn't it.

DAVID FROST: But no, you, slightly different here. Slimmer presumably.

MICHAEL GAMBON: Slimmer yes...DAVID FROST: You had to fatten up with, what, cushions, yes?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes, a big fat suit which I climb into. That's why I've lost a bit of weight, I mean, it's pouring off me.

DAVID FROST: And honour there, it's about leadership as well isn't it, Henry IV?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes, it's about the two plays together, it's about life and then the second play's about death, all coming to an end and things being right and proper.

DAVID FROST: And then how did you get embroiled in the splendid Harry Potter epic?

MICHAEL GAMBON: I was rung up and offered the part, it's as simple as that. And I'm glad to do it, it's good. I'm about to start my third one in January.

DAVID FROST: Did you give it a slight Irish twang as a tribute to Richard Harris, or was that part of your background?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Well I am Irish and so I have a natural Irish accent and I remember Richard playing this and I thought well I'll chuck a bit of Irish in. No-one's ever questioned it. The first director said what's that funny accent you've got. I said it's a bit of Irish. He said oh well that's all right. (laughter).

DAVID FROST: And you, I didn't know until I was reading stuff this week, that you were nearly James Bond following George Lazenby.

MICHAEL GAMBON: Years ago we were all 20 of us lined up in some office in Mayfair and I said I couldn't be James Bond. He said why not, and I said well I'm thin on top, double chin, rotten teeth. He said we can sort that out in two days. But I never got it.

DAVID FROST: You never got it.

MICHAEL GAMBON: No, obviously.

DAVID FROST: What a tragedy - for James Bond and so on. And what is your main relaxation? Is it flying your own plane?

MICHAEL GAMBON: No, it's generally visiting mates now really. I'm finding doing Falstaff I've ended up with a group of 30 actors and I've never had such a happy time with them. They're a wonderful group of actors. And so most of my time's spent with that.

DAVID FROST: But which do you find has the greatest respect, being a TV actor, being a film actor or being a stage actor?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes - well I suppose my generation, where I come from, think the stage is posher you know, more establishment. And so I like to do a play every one or two years and then I earn the money on the films and TV. So I suppose I belong in the theatre and that's where I'm happiest I suppose.

DAVID FROST: And The Singing Detective - people still talk about that don't they?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yeah, thank God, it's wonderful. It's just stayed with me forever.

DAVID FROST: But now you've done, you've done so many Shakespearean roles and you've done Falstaff now. What in your career as it comes up, what are the parts that you yearn for?

MICHAEL GAMBON: I don't have any left really. I just wait and see what comes and make a decision. I don't even make a decision some days, it just comes on me. And sometimes I don't even read the play.

DAVID FROST: Was it an advantage to you not to have a formal stage education, stage school education?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Well I suppose I did, because I was at the National with Olivier for three years and I was carrying a spear and fooling around playing tiny parts. So that was like a drama school to me.

DAVID FROST: Did you have advice from Olivier himself?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Well he always said, you know, we were so much in awe of him we could never speak to him really, it was like meeting God. And so he must have thought he was surrounded by idiots, because we could never quite get a sentence together for him. So, but we spent a lot of time watching him.

DAVID FROST: And Charles Spencer of the Telegraph says the whole show tells us far more about England and the English character than any number of today's posturing politicians. You said the current government yourself you said couldn't run a bath.

MICHAEL GAMBON: Did I say that?



DAVID FROST: Good outspoken stuff.

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes, yes. Well I suppose I was probably right.

DAVID FROST: And who, of all these people who said these great compliments to you, who inspired you, who was the actor that inspired you to get into this business?

MICHAEL GAMBON: I suppose Peter O'Toole when I was a teenager.


MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes, watching him in the West End. And I thought I'd like to be down there doing that. It is a very clear memory I have of him.

DAVID FROST: And you're a lesson to us all in a sense that it's possible to have a very unhappy school life and be very successful.


DAVID FROST: You hated your school life?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes, I left school when I was 15. So I had no education.

DAVID FROST: And all you remember was getting beaten?

MICHAEL GAMBON: Yes, beaten and poked, and shouted at (laughter).

DAVID FROST: Well it's joy to have you with us. We'll look forward to the next - I'm looking forward to coming and seeing Falstaff because everyone's been raving about it.

MICHAEL GAMBON: Thanks David. Thanks very much.

Interview Ends

NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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