Thin Ice: A Resting Actor. A Busy day by Alan Ford
One day in the life of Alan the actor
Brad Pitt could not understand one word Cockney actor Alan Ford was saying during the filming of Guy Ritchie's Snatch, writes Dan Carrier Thin Ice: A Resting Actor. A Busy day by Alan Ford. Orion, £9.99 BRAD Pitt didn't understand much of what Alan Ford was going on about - but the Hollywood actor did know he found Ford's portrayal of a London gangster scary.
The Primrose Hill-based actor, whose debut novel Thin Ice is released this week, had landed the role of Brick Top - probably the nastiest character in Snatch, the 2000 caper that was full of unpleasant gangsters doing nasty things to one another.
Pitt was one of three big name American actors who director Guy Ritchie drafted in for his second feature film - he was joined by Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Farina - and they all admitted afterwards that none of them had a clue what Alan Ford was going on about. Pitt would look at Ritchie and his fellow actors before breaking into fits of laughter over the intricacies of the Cockney rhyming slang in the movie. Alan recalls: "Despite that, Brad was a nice enough chap. He was a good actor to work with".
Alan has worked with many big names and he is recognisable from his roles in such films as The Long Good Friday, An American Werewolf In London and numerous TV appearances.
Above: Alan Ford, and below Brad Pitt in Snatch
He has made a living playing hard men "although I have been a vegetarian since 1973" he says. "Under the Saville Row suit, I'm basically a bit of an old hippy. I don't eat meat or fish because I don't like the idea of harming animals." However, as he admits, he has never really made the big time and is often recognised by people in the street who say to him: "You are that man off the telly", without quite knowing which man they are referring to.
And now he has turned his attention to telling the story of the actors who make up 95 per cent of the profession - the supporting roles, not the story of the Brad Pitts.
His novel features a day in the life of a resting actor. Loosely autobiographical, formed from 35 years of heading to auditions and always waiting for a call back, the story is a brilliantly observed tale of what it is really like to be in the acting profession.
Alan says: It is based on real people - and all my friends have been saying they recognise themselves in it - but of course, it is exaggerated. He has never written a book before, but the novel came from a series of short vignettes he performed at dinner parties for friends. They liked it so much they suggested he took it on stage, so he put together a one-act play about the pitfalls of being a little known actor.
He performed it at the Angel's Old Red Lion in 1996, and then at a number of festivals across the UK. An agent working for Orion publishing spotted the show and asked him if they could publish it. He started the book because he enjoys reading the biographies of others in his profession.
"There are plenty of books about the people who made it - Michael Caine, Alec Guinness etc - you never get to read about what the other 95 per cent of the profession are up to, the jobbing actors who just about make ends meet," he says. "I thought it would be the basis for a good story."
Ford is one of those actors who people recognise in the street but are not quite sure where from and when he was chosen for Snatch, it was after an arduous selection process. He recalls: "I went to the audition - along with every other Cockney actor in the country. I really wanted the role of Brick Top - I learnt all the lines before I went, I dressed up and I put in my contact lens." He had already been in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - Ritchie's first hit - but his scenes were cut. Instead he had been the film's narrator. "I was called back four times. By the last time, I thought I can't be bothered with it any more. I was pissed off with the whole thing, so I turned up with my glasses on and Guy Ritchie said: "WeÕll have to get you another pair of bins' - that's how I knew I'd got the part."
Alan's book runs through a day in the life of Charlie Harwood, an actor who is living on the dole, the occasional cheque from re-runs and is still, as he approaches 50, searching for his big break. But Alan never meant to write a book. He says: "I had tried scripts and they were rubbish. Actors usually write film scripts with a great lead role for themselves".
The son of a taxi driver, he was born in 1938 and grew up in Elephant and Castle. He was bombed out during World War II. He adds: "I was hiding in the Anderson shelter and Hitler took the roof off our house." He found respite, as so many of the war generation did, by heading to the cinema. He recalls: "I would go four, five, six times a week. Even as a child, I knew the direction I wanted to go in but I couldn't stand up and say: I want to be an actor. No one would take you seriously. It would be like saying I want to be a space man." He was a performer, doing Sinatra impressions around pianos in pubs, but never thought he would appear in films until a friend told him about work he picked up as an extra. He recalls: "There were lots of films being made in London and so they were always after extras. I thought the extra business was okay but I wanted to make the jump." And it has put him in the perfect place to write a tragi-comedy about the 95 per cent of actors whose names we're not sure of but we know we have seem them on the telly.
Brad Pitt could not understand one word Cockney actor Alan Ford was saying during the filming of Guy Ritchie's Snatch, writes Dan Carrier
It’s not every book reading you go to where the author earns rapturous curtain call style applause just for standing up.
But that’s how actor Alan Ford was greeted when he began his monologue at Waterstone’s in Hampstead last Wednesday. The man whose face who you have seen in everything from Snatch, The Long Good Friday and Minder to little Napoleons and Knowing Me, Knowing you with Alan Partridge was performing an extract from his book Thin Ice.
It’s the tale of mostly out of work actor Charles Harwood who hasn’t had a decent job for years and has just been dumped by his agent And his experiences seemed to ring
more than a few bells with Ford’s audience of friends, colleagues and admirers.
Chaz is your typical East End geezer. A snappily dressed Marlboro smoker, he drives a crappy maroon Ford, gets cash advances on his (maxed out) credit cards at his local pub and buys a scratchheard a day. “I never set out to read a book,” said Ford who lives in Primrose Hill. “It just evolved over 10 or 12 years. At first it was an act for friends at parties, then I expanded it into a stand up show, then it sat on the shelf for five years.” “It’s a day in the life of a jobbing actor on the eve of his 50th birthday and the highlight of the day is an audition for an ice cream
Actor brought his shagging, swearing creation Chaz to life in Hampstead last week, writes Jeni Connibeer
commercial.” Although obviously drawing from his own experiences, the Chaz of Thin Ice is not Ford who, for all his tough guy roles, is actually quite a sensitive type.
The son of a taxi driver, he is a vegetarian who describes himself as a bit of a hippy at heart. But his performance on Wednesday completely his shagging, swearing creation to life, adding vitality to the words on the page which really should be treated like a script.
The glimpse it offers into the netherworld of struggling actors is spot on and hilarious; the character observations too pinpoint not to be based in reality. One old actor is described as having done “a lot of spear carrying at the Royal Shakespeare Company in his time” while another is a “cunning arsehole crawler”. And the description of casting director Sadie Solomon drew massive laughs of recognition. “She was wearing a three quarter lenth purple top with dolman sleeves, big mujahedin-type trousers and gold high heeled sandals Must be putting on a bit of weight, thought Charlie as he said ‘Hello Darling, you look loverly today.’”
Chaz’s camp mate Jago describes a strech of working at the Lyric. “Dead of winter, they had me running around a lion cloth, if you don’t mind. No audiences, we all had the flu, the producer dropped dead during the first week, the dressing rooms got flooded, nobody liked each other. I couldn’t stand it.”
The book ends after Chaz and Jago worm their way into a West End show opening party and Chaz makes it home with the leading lady. After a night of champagne, cocaine and stardom he ends up turfed out on the street and forced to walk home to his tiny flat in Shadwell.
This is the other side of celebrity, the tale of those who trudge along to audition after audition hoping for a bit part in The Bill so their can make the rent or put the car through its MOT.
Ford gives us the classic image of three actors with combined experience tally of around 90 years, standing in a line putting on “mmm delicious” faces in a desperate bid to impress an inexperienced public school director who is wearing odd socks with holes in.
For that picture alone this book is worth a read. As a TV show, it would be unmissable.
∆ Thin Ice by Alan Ford, Orion hardback; £9.99
Charles Harwood, the hero of Alan Ford's debut novel, is not so much an out-of-work actor as just plain out of work.
Although around twenty years younger, this thespian is, like his author who has played parts in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Long Good Friday and EastEnders, a cockney actor who has made a career out of bit parts in movies. He scrapes by on repeat fees and remarkably has managed to avoid a West End stage appearance.
Taking up the theme of the introduction provided by William Hazlitt from In Defence of Actors, Harwood will use his profession as a justification for any excess. After three months out of work, the resting actor, in true soap-opera style, packs in enough action on the final day of his 50th year to make up for the whole of the previous quarter.
He is a Londoner through and through, seems to know everybody in the acting business, and meets most of them on this auspicious day. The book combines the life of an impecunious East Ender with illumination about London and what is like to be an actor, even one who doesn't work all that much. By the end of Thin Ice, such are Ford/Harwood's obsessions that one feels eminently qualified to operate as a high-class menswear salesman or do The Knowledge and become a cabbie.
The real value and the entertainment in Thin Ice is to be found in the affectionate pictures that its author draws of the rogues and vagabonds who make up London's acting profession today. There are the successful, for whom every rival must have the knives out, the pretty of both genders for whom our heroes are eager to get something else out, the raging Queens, the young, the old and, in one sad case, the down-and-out. What all of them have in common is a desperate need for respect (and generally for cash).
There is also a remarkable empathy that shows itself both in attitudes at an audition for a silent part in a TV commercial and on the opening night of the play at the Comedy Theatre. If you have ever been to an opening night this episode will ring true and you will understand why almost every face present is familiar, if not always to the extent of remembering their names.
Ford mixes in the real with the fictitious so that Harwood and his gay chum Jago rub shoulders with Sir Richard Eyre and others whose names had been changed to protect the guilty, although in the case of Evening Standard critic Nicholas de Jongh, dropping the final H may have been more accidental than an attempt to hide his identity.
This is a sensational life in a day that provided welcome comfort to a flu sufferer who was not in the mood for anything overly demanding. It looks at an area of acting life that is rarely covered in print and doesn't worry too much about plot, concentrating on character instead.
While some of the writing, with concentration of its sex and drugs and rock and roll ideas, goes too far over the top, it will provide wry entertainment for anyone in the profession or wannabes. It may also prove a useful cautionary reminder for future Mrs Worthingtons who wish to keep their daughters off the stage.
This is a sensational life in a day. It will provide wry entertainment for anyone in the profession or wannabes. - Philip Fisher
Thin Ice Alan Ford The darkly comic story of a day in the life of an out-of-work actor - by a well-known movie star who has appeared in Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
'Ford memorably captures the squalor of Harwood's life: the casual sex with a pretentious Tufnell Park teacher and an arthritic West End actress that respectively begins and ends the day...Thin Ice is a welcome antidote to the media's trivialisation of actors as "luvvies". It should be required reading for drama students eager to understand the reality of their chosen path.'
Michael Arditti - INDEPENDENT (20.2.06)
An actor’s life... by Bob Orr - Writers’ News
Alan Ford is well known to cinema buffs. Film appearances include, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Fahrenheit 451, The long Good Friday and Snatch. On Television, he has been in Minder, Eastenders and Law and Order.
Born in London, his childhood as spent surviving the Blitz, and he had a variety of jobs before going to drama school for tree years. He had no thought of becoming a writer and concentrated on his career as an actor in repertory and later in television and film. In the 1990s he started to scribble little scenes’ that he used at parties. The scenes started off as semi-autobiographical but soon became a comic and much exaggerated record of life as an actor. Two friends convinced him to put a number of them together to create a show and Alan played them in Fringe theatre in London and Dublin.
The politically incorrect accounts of the life of a heavy-drinking, coke-sniffing contemporary thespian who refused to take other work while ‘resting’ were immensely popular. After a show in Cornwall, an Orion books editor asked Alan who published his work. Of coarse the answer was no one, and Alan was invited to put his ideas together into a book.
Thin Ice, the result of his labour, was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in February. it is the day in the life of a fictional actor.
Alan told me: ‘It was fun writing when I was creating short tales for performance but with a contract to fulfil, writing the book became hard work.
‘The only way of achieving progress was to be disciplined and allot time to writing. Nothing was allowed to invade these allotted times and if I was not able to spend the reserved time on the book, the missing hours had to be replaced from my ‘own’ time.’
There were practical problems. I had no experience of typing and used a ball pen and pad for all my work. When I realised the amount of work this involved I acquired a computer and attempted to learn word-processing. I have some talents, but operating a computer is not one of them and in the end I went back to handwriting and a couple of friends did the typing for me.’
He added; ‘I am amazed at the number of people who have said that they intend one day to write their story. My answer is always the same. You will never write a book by talking about it because it needs commitment and dedication. ‘But when you see the finished product it is all worthwhile.