Back to "In the Press"
Report by Jo Fairley
Pictures by McGee
Hair by Paul Yacomine
The presence with a future.
In olden times, Bruce Payne might have been a storyteller, sitting round a camp fire, telling and retelling tales to a hushed audience which would ultimately pass down into legend. As luck would have it, there is a scarcity of storytellers' jobs in the Sits Vac columns and Bruce became an actor instead.Rather a fine one, as it happens. Since graduating from RADA with five major prizes, for acting, comedy and "physical presence", there have been few lean times in the life and career of 26-year-old Bruce Payne. To date, screen credits include Michael Blakemore's Privates on Parade, Stephen Berkoff's West, and Flicker, the overbearing spivvy racist in Absolute Beginners, viewed by some critics as the film's only redeeming feature.
When you meet Bruce Payne that award for "physical presence" comes as no surprise: he swept into our tea-room rendezvous with floor-length coat-tails flapping, some haste, and a bulging satchel of research. Viking ancestry is apparent in his fair good looks and striking blue eyes, though he seems unaware of their impact. The leather bag on the seat between us looked as if it might be packed for an expedition to Annapurna. In fact, it was full of the details of Bruce's next two roles. "I run around creating a composite character," he explained to me. "I belong to four libraries, but my favorite spot is the Hendon Newspaper Library. When I did Absolute Beginners I was there for weeks, ordering up American and British newspapers of the time from 1955-1961 - The Sketch, The Times… different political backgrounds." For his part as an undercover detective in the TV film Operation Julie, based on the real-life story of a cop trying to crack Britain's LSD rings, Bruce searched high and low for a particular book on the subject, only to be told by the British Museum when he ultimately tracked it down he couldn't withdraw it. "And I wasn't allowed to photocopy it either. So I sat there and wrote out every single page. I also listened to nothing but the music of the period for three months. Non-stop Pink Floyd!" Such devotion to duty verges on fanaticism, but there is a deeper reason for his thirst for knowledge than obsessive professionalism. "I've spent the last few years learning everything I can," he explains. "When I was 15, my education stopped rather abruptly. I don't want to sound dramatic about this, but doctors discovered I had a trace of spina bifida. There was a risk that if I didn't have an operation I might wind up paralysed, so I ended up flat on my back for four months doing my O-levels from a hospital bed. It had a tremendous waking-up effect psychologically: I realised that I was mortal, and it broadened my outlook."
It spelled a bizarre and sudden farewell to childhood. When Bruce emerged, he had not only grown up, but he had physically grown "to the point it felt like everything was 4'000 feet below me". The episode also confirmed what Bruce had known since he was a small boy: that sitting behind a desk was not his chosen destiny. "I've lived all over, I'm pretty nomadic by nature.
He already has a Mel Brooks production under his belt - Solar Babies, to be released in England later this year, a lightweight comedy set in a post-holocaust future, where Bruce plays alongside Alexei Sayle as a drifting bounty hunter with albino dreadlocks and a jaunty weasel on his hat.Forthcoming roles, whose background details, carefully collated, were at that moment spilling out of Bruce's leather bag, include a failed journalist, and a drop-out rich kid, in a BBC Agatha Christie production.
"I'm trying to stay one step ahead and not to do the predictable," says a man whose chiselled jawline makes him an obvious candidate for sinister, heavy roles. When quizzed, he says, "I don't think I'm handsome. I've never gone into a room and had people stop mid-sentence. I usually make such a fool of myself they probably feel sorry for me!"
It's when talking about his work, about acting in general, that Bruce becomes truly animated. If he was a child, he'd be labelled hyperactive; he vibrates with enthusiasm and excitement about directors he's worked with, auditioning for John Huston, actresses who've been an inspiration, his brilliant agent… But despite this thespianspeak, he is refreshingly unactorish. Off-screen you are likely to find him buried in a library with his nose in a book, boning up on Japanese cooking or "cooling out" at a retreat in the Lake District.
It is all magically captivating, the tale he weaves; three pots of tea and several hours later, neither Bruce Payne's energy nor his stories were in danger of running out. Rather like his talent.
These images are from microfiche hence the quality. Better than no image at all :)
Copyright Mail on Sunday 1986 - YOU MAGAZINE