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Andrew L. Urban had coffee at Bondi Beach with Terence Stamp, on the eve of the Australian release for the highly acclaimed The Limey, in which Stamp plays a the chap he played in Poor Cow only 35 years older and wiser. Then hes off again to breach the fear barrier.

Tell us about your character in The Limey a stranger in a strange land.
The main thing that made the character unique for me was the fact that it was based on a character that I played 35 years ago. So, in a way Id done the research and I had to revisit that character to imagine how a guy whod spent most of his life incarcerated how that incarceration would have affected his movement, how being a chian smoker would have affected his voice and stuff like that.

And then of course, how to really illustrate the intrinsic difference between somebody like the Limey going to somewhere like Los Angeles. My line of thinking was that obviously the guys in prison which either makes you or breaks you; and it obviously hasnt broken Wilson, so how has it made him?

How has Wilson, who is basically like a greyhound but deprived of his main asset, in other words his banged up in this little cell - how has Wilson mastered prison? And I figured hes just become aware, like a Zen monk or like a Samurai. Very focused. So when he arrives in Los Angeles - which can be seen like a land of lotus eaters, where people are all sort of dreaming it draws to itself people of wild ambition, so those people are always becoming, theyre never as in the moment as Wilson is. Wilson is just there.

It must be a fascinating experience for an actor to revisit a character many years later. Were talking about your character in Poor Cow; how did the idea come up and how did Steve Soderbergh put it to you?
Well I was actually on holiday on a little island in Hawaii called Kawai, and I got a message to call him. I imagined it was going to be some little part playing some sort of British eccentric in a Soderbergh film. But when I called, he started pitching this idea. I was so astonished by the very idea of using old footage from the film. I am a real snob and I love the idea of anything unique, of being the first. I love to be the first transsexual on film, I love to be the first serial killer this was a first, so I was thrilled. Then later when I got to meet [writer] Lem Dobbs he told me how it had come to pass.

Apparently theyd been attempting to write this script for a long time and hadnt been able to crack it. Finally, Lem said to Steven, If you give me some idea of who you want for Wilson, it might help me envisage the character if I had a face to work with. And Steven said, Well, I guess the best of those English guys for this part would be Stamp. And Lem said Can we get him? Steven replied I dont know, hes a lunatic. There is no rhyme or reason behind his choices. And then he said this wonderful thing; You know hes got this huge body of work and I wonder if we could find something that we could use, so when hes remembering his youth we could see it. The very next morning Steven woke up and there was this envelope under his door, from Lem. And it just said, Holy Cow! Poor Cow check it out. And from that moment that he saw Poor Cow Soderbergh said thats it. Thats the character, grown older.

For you that meant building a bridge for that character from the past. Were you able to actually recapture the notions that built that character?
Yeah its a funny thing about being an actor. I consider myself a movie actor not a theatre actor and what Im aware of is the fact that between action and cut is a kind of intensification of energy. And its to do with these great artists and technicians who come and build a space for you. They build a set, they bring props, they give you a costume . . . but the abstraction of it is there is energy being amassed and contained and I think film actors feel that, I certainly do.

And one of the spin offs of that is that the experience is kind of unaffected by the passage of time. So when I was watching Poor Cow I could actually get memory flashes of how I was at that time, and it was a very wonderful moment for me [at that time]. I was having this big love affair, Id just finished Far from the Madding Crowd, Id been out of work for a couple of days and I got this other really good job - the whole of Poor Cow was improvised so a lot of those memories were very strong. I was able to recall them and I was able to bury them. Whats happened in Wilsons odyssey is that hes suppressed his conscience in order to carry on with his life of crime, in order to exercise his great skill, which is being a thief. So hes had to not be too worried about his relationships with his loved ones.

What about Steve Soderbergh? Hes always fascinated me as a filmmaker who could make important issues very accessible?
Hes just a great moviemaker really. I mean I would put him up there with Fellini, and Wyler, but hes different in that hes of his age. He understands that were near the end of the world you know. Hes a wonderful combination of fierce intellect and extra sensory perception. Hes a wonderful filmmaker and a wonderful guy.

He obviously works well with actors he gets great performances . . .
He loves actors. You get a lot of film directors who dont understand actors and consequently they are frightened of them. So their energy is put into talking about well use this lens, well use this light and well use this angle and well zoom here Consequently the emphasis is on the technicalities. Now, Stevens got all that; he knows more than anybody on the set, you cant kid him. And he does most of the things . . . he can do his own camera, he lit Traffic! So hes a kind of genius - and he loves actors. And because hes operating [the camera] good film actors only work for the camera and we suffer with these new directors who are preoccupied with the video split and the framing. We suffer because they dont feel it. So The Limey is a film of one takes, because hes got it.

Do you find that refreshing to be able to do that?
I find it a great blessing, because Ive always been like that. My first take is always, invariably, my best. Look, its no accident that Julia Roberts is better [in her Oscar winning role in Erin Brokovich, directed by Soderbergh] than shes ever been its no accident!

Now how come youre in Bondi?
Its just the most wonderful place for an Englishman, or an Anglo-Saxon like myself. Its the best place in the world at this time of the year [April 2001] to be. I was waiting for a job and Id thought Id rather stand by at Bondi than somewhere else. In fact, I got my marching orders the other day, so Im leaving for Vancover tomorrow. Im doing a thing called The Guest, a really broad comedy directed by David Zucker [producer Naked Gun, Airplane!] although I dont know if Ill have to do a lot of comedy. The movie is quite ridiculous.

But you like that sort of extreme change dont you? Youve played an extraordinary variety of roles.
Well, its the only way to have a long career. If I hadnt been dumped in the 70s, if I hadnt had my 10 years in the wilderness, if Id just gone on being Sergeant Troy[Far from the Madding Crowd, 1967] then probably Id have been a kind of cartoon of myself. Id have been wearing a big black wig, having surgery but with ten years out of the business I understood that the way to perpetuate a long career was by just digging deeper. And the way that I dig deeper is by taking on things that I havent done, by addressing things that mean I have to breach the fear barrier.

Published May 3, 2001

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