Papering the walls with a picture of Ciarán

Ciaran Hinds as MortimerOVER the past decade the Royal Shakespeare Company has had an intravenous injection of talent from Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, declared the Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley recently. Well, just look at his predecessors at Stratford, says the actor Ciaran Hinds, one of the stars of the RSC's current season. He names names: "Suzanne Bertish, Jonathan Hyde, Jill Spurrier, Ian McDiarmid, Gerard Murphy, Mark Rylance, Mike Gwilym . . . They all came to Stratford to take on major roles after working at the Citz."

This season, Hinds, a practised proponent of the Citizens' high-cheekboned style of acting, was the heart-throb of Stratford. Mean, moody, and magnificent in black leather as Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, a wonderfully wicked witch of a Mortimer in Marlowe's Edward II, an eloquently hypocritical uncle Don Pedro in The Last Days of Don Juan, and a hilarious wining and wenching Dion Boucicault in Two Shakespearean Actors.

The RSC's press office ran out of posters and photographs of the handsomely leonine Irish actor. "People keep stealing his picture for their bedroom walls," they said.

When, one wonders, will Hinds escape the black leather type-casting? "The amazing thing is I never, ever wore black leather studded jock-straps or the like at the Citz. I had some wonderful costumes, beautiful linen suits and things, but everyone is convinced they saw me there in black leather because of the theatre's reputation for dressing people up in outrageous clothes. I was first put into black leather by Field Day Theatre Company in Derry to play a macho, kind of AC/DC character.

... And it is their house style to have oceans of tall, thin, dark men around.

"Then I went back to Ireland to play in the Yeats cycle at the Abbey Theatre and they put me into leather; I come here to Stratford and they put me into black leather. It's a bizarre twist that what you are supposed to be doing, you don't. But you come out of Glasgow and everybody is throwing the stuff on to you."

Ciaran Hinds as AchillesHe acknowledges that one of the many lessons learned at the Citz was the ability to wear costumes. "They give you a sense of yourself; a sense of your own identity. And they also teach you how to be at ease with yourself." Now in his late thirties, Hinds says other actors are constantly asking him how to get into the Citz company. "I just tell them I don't know. They choose you because of the way you look, or move, or a thought or a balance of all different kinds of things. And it is their house style to have oceans of tall, thin, dark men around."

Hinds first joined the company after auditioning for them in the mid-seventies -- one of only four auditions he has had to do in his acting career. "Robert David MacDonald has often said I did the worst audition he has ever seen. But in 1976 I got a late call to ask if I could do one of Giles Havergal's pantos. I had really long hair and a beard and they dubbed me the Charlie Manson of the company because I had this big face full of hair. I had to get it cut off of course, but in rehearsals there was this strange sight of a maniac in the back row of the chorus."

Obviously when the facial hair came off, the Citizens' directors found a pair of cheekbones you could cut yourself on and they invited Hinds to stay on and play a couple of small parts. He is, he says, fairly badly read, so he can't work out whether it was the wide repertoire of plays or the idea of style which made him stay. "One reason was certainly the camaraderie at the theatre and the people who work there in every department from front of house to wardrobe. It's my second home."

Ciaran Hinds in the Yeats cycleThe greatest adventure of Hinds's life was, however, The Mahabharata. While appearing on this epic he met his partner, the exquisitely beautiful French-Vietnamese actress, Helene Patarot. "Working with Peter Brook was an extraordinary experience," he says. He almost didn't get the part because he had lost his passport when he was asked at short notice to go over to Paris to meet Brook and to do some work with him before final casting. "I tried to get on a plane without it, but they wouldn't let me on; I dashed off to the Irish Embassy and they were very suspicious. I had already lost one passport, so they thought I was selling them."

While he worked for several months at the Bouffes du Nord with Brook and the rest of the cast on the English translation, he kept thinking he'd get the sack. "I thought I'll be found out soon. I had been working for 10 years in the theatre, but I had to go back to being a child again, to strip away all the bad habits I had got into and to use only myself to communicate thoughts and feelings, rather than hiding behind technique and things. Being with all these actors from different cultures -- 16 nationalities -- turned all my ideas about right and wrong upside down. You just get down to the basics of human beings."

Helping to tell the great story of The Mahabharata took Hinds back to his roots. The son of middle-class Belfast parents (he has two younger sisters who are also actors), he says he never had any great drive to be an actor. He did Irish dancing for 13 years as a child and then fell under the influence of a remarkable teacher called Patricia Mulholland.

"She ran Irish ballet -- not classical -- classes. She used Irish dance with traditional Irish music, mime, gesture, and drama to tell old legends of great battles against fairies and wonderful romances about people falling in love. She was the main influence on me, although I went to elocution classes and did one-act plays and things at school. She is still going in her late seventies, a great old girl. She made me fall in love with the whole business of story-telling."

Source: Herald Scotland
Author: Jackie McGlone
Date: Februray 4, 1991


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