(Michael Jays’s article appeared in the Guardian,1 /2.)
Actors don’t retire, they just stop getting cast. But while acting may seem an unusually insecure and unpredictable profession, if health and luck hold out then it can extend well beyond your 60s. The opportunities are tantalising, whether it’s Glenda Jackson playing King Lear at the Old Vic last year, Caryl Churchill continuing to write testing plays with older characters, or the upcoming production Lost Without Words, an improvised show for actors in their 70s and 80s created by the National Theatre and Improbable. I met up with three actors who are all still embracing challenging work in their 80s and asked them what kind of career they thought they might have at the start, and how they have survived it.
Siân Phillips, unusually, burst into stardom and is a star still. Timothy West needed age to catch up with his natural air of authority, while Janet Henfrey has from the beginning been a character actor. Each speaks most lovingly of the theatre, though television gave them additional lustre. Phillips, rebuilding her career in the wake of divorce, found acclaim as the poisonous Livia in I, Claudius. West earned respect as historical figures such as Edward VII and Winston Churchill. Henfrey embodied Dennis Potter’s fears as the humiliating schoolteacher in The Singing Detective.
Photos: Wales online (Philips); Alchetron (West and Henfrey).