Michael York on The Actor's Duty
Michael York, OBE is an English actor. An early career with the National Youth Theater, Oxford University Dramatic Society, and University College Players led him to the National Theater in London. After acclaimed roles in Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968), Cabaret (1972) and Jesus of Nazareth (1977), he is more recently known among mainstream audiences for his role as Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers series of comedy films. Classically trained, Michael York wrote a handbook "A Shakespearean Actor Prepares."
Michael York: Well it's interesting you mentioned this because these are the things you long for. For the most part the work you do is entertainment, which is of course of value as I said. But occasionally you can be involved in roles which change the perception of how people think, their cultural shifts. I wasn’t sure that "Cabaret" was one of those. I know that in terms of playing the Christopher Isherwood part that Isherwood was, as he was called in the movie, Brian Roberts you know. He was played as a bi-sexual which was a big step forward from the book, you know, because in the Berlin stories, Isherwood very much-- he was a camera. You found out you know, nothing about him or it was very circumscribed. You had to infer things because you know, culture hadn’t come out of the closet. And it was just doing that when "Cabaret" you know, was made. And I had people said to me, "Well god, well, weren’t you concerned about taking the risk of playing a homosexual? I said what are you talking about? This is, my job is to interpret society. This is-- you can't you know, why would you-- and it was so much more healthy to be able to you know, to depict things as they are. In fact I read later that Chris Isherwood was, he'd wished that we'd really come out of the closet. But you know, I think that was a, you know, that certainly made progress and I think we are all the better off for it.
Question: Should fame be linked to social activism?
Michael York: I've puzzled about this. I think if it can be done responsibly, by people who have something worthwhile to say and do, with whatever, you know, I think if George Clooney you know, going to Darfur, people like this who are using their you know, the qualities of again, fame, I can't think of a better word, you know, for very positive values. Often you hear people you know, who are given the spotlight and a platform and they sort of misuse it. And then you think what a waste. And it's-- you know, you're making our profession look stupid. But no, for the-- I think, as I said, if it can be always with a positive intent, it's no bad thing, because we are after all, if you live in America, you are a citizen, you are expected to do these things.
Some roles change the way people look at important issues. Those should be taken seriously.
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