In a life-imitating-art twist, Gillian Anderson has created a TV drama character who has become an instant cult figure. She tells Marion Hume how the effect has been all positive.
Sunday Life | October 2013
This really is bad form. I’m still sitting here, hours later than I expected, and Gillian Anderson, she of that gimlet stare and surly mouth, has no right to have made me feel so uncomfortable in my own skin – especially as she looks so supremely confident in hers.
It is 5am. I’m alone. I’ve just finished watching the complete series of the crime drama The Fall and there’s no way I can sleep now. So I’m sitting up, as the final credits roll, feeling jumpy and angry – the latter with myself, because I perched on this sofa hours ago, just for 10 minutes, to get a sense of the series and be prepped for meeting its lead.
I never intended to watch the whole thing in one sitting, but The Fall gets a grip on you. It’s compelling because it’s unexpected. It’s not “Scandi crime”, especially as Anderson’s character, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, wouldn’t be seen dead in a big ugly jumper. Instead, she is the centre of a universe into which men are invited, often for sex, then dismissed afterwards, followed by an expensive glass of pinot.
It is a mistake, of course, to confuse character with actor, yet Gillian Anderson so utterly inhabits her blisteringly intelligent and fiercely sexy detective that when the series ran on the BBC last June, it provoked an internet meme called “What would Stella do?” What Stella Gibson does when a male colleague comments on her seduction of a policeman is to fire back, “Woman subject, man object, it’s not so comfortable for you, is it?” and you can almost hear the sound of women around the world applauding. But what Stella says to an intrusive reporter is this: “No one knows better than me how important the media is … but really, you should f… off now.”
So it is with some trepidation that I set off to meet Gillian Anderson. She turns out to look rather unlike Stella, as she walks in wearing a floor-length, floral flutter of a sleeveless chiffon maxi dress accessorised by wedge sandals. Stella would be in something slippery, mean stilettos and the peek of a black lace bra.
Fashion, often not quite right on television, is pitch perfect in The Fall, where power dressing means satin in blush pink and a key scene hangs on a wardrobe malfunction at a police press conference. “It’s not fashion, it’s style,” Anderson corrects, relating how she and the costume team booked a VIP suite at a department store, then narrowed down Stella’s look from hundreds of separates hanging on the racks – no pant suits. When the series aired in the UK there was a marked spike in the sale of silk blouses.
We meet at London’s Young Vic theatre. Anderson has the looks of a beautiful woman whom the world thinks is gorgeous (“haughty lips”, “aquiline features”, “pellucid eyes” are among the more cerebral descriptions, while “sexiest woman alive” remains the favoured lads’ mag tag).
From what I have gleaned, Anderson has a reputation as a prickly interviewee – not surprising given she became famous as FBI Special Agent Dana Scully in The X-Files at the age of 24. Thus, at 45, she has spent more than two decades contractually obliged to promote her performances by chatting to the press. Having waded through clippings fatter than a police file, I find myself in sympathy – any sane human would be scratchy when asked, again and again, to reveal the truth about aliens, even though it is more than 10 years since Anderson left Scully behind and changed her hair from red to blonde.
After walking two steps behind David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder from 1993-2002 (although when she found out he was paid double she demanded, and got, wage parity) Anderson surely showed how sane she was by getting away from paranormal sightings in Vancouver and moving to Britain, where she spent the next decade garnering plaudits in television costume dramas such as Bleak House and Great Expectations. She also made movies (The Mighty Celt, Shadow Dancer) and turned down Lady Cora in Downton Abbey.
Today, she’s not prickly at all, instead passionate about The Fall and the relief that the role of DSI Gibson is making her known for being a grown woman – “although I’m not Stella by any stretch”. She senses, she says, her fame level rising again, as people snap pictures on public transport without asking (she takes the train and the London buses). Thankfully, this is nowhere close to what she had to deal with in her 20s, when the paparazzi rammed her car in order that, when she got out to get insurance details, they could grab their shots.
“I feel that Stella has had nothing but a positive effect on how I am in my life. Not to say there weren’t elements before, but I think she’s sharpened my sense of self and femininity,” says Anderson.
What of those feminist ripostes? “Well, I’ve always been the person most likely to say ‘f… off’,” she admits in her crystalline British accent (having spent part of her childhood in the UK, part in the US, she can switch seamlessly). “But the fact Stella is able to say ‘f… off’ with such poise brings her a different level of respect.” As for “What would Stella do?” becoming an online mantra to inspire other women, Anderson has had bumper stickers and fridge magnets made, with the proceeds going to a women’s shelter.
Adding to the mercurial unease of The Fall is its location in the still-scarred city of Belfast. DSI Gibson is the outsider, seconded from London’s Met because the Police Service of Northern Ireland has failed to catch a killer preying on young businesswomen. She does nothing to ingratiate herself.
The writing is whip-smart and female-friendly (although penned by a man, Allan Cubitt). “I think people expect me to be a lot more intelligent than I actually am, because I played Scully and now Gibson. But that’s not a bad thing,” says Anderson. “The majority of the women I’ve been blessed to inhabit are women who I’m flattered to have been able to spend time with, and for people to think I’m even remotely like them is great. Although there have been a few thrown in there that are less appealing,” she deadpans, perhaps referring to the intractable Lady Dedlock and the flinty Miss Havisham.
What’s novel – though it shouldn’t be – is the capacity for female friendship that ripples through The Fall. “That’s really important,” says Anderson, fire-flashing those pale sapphire eyes, “to show adult, mature women – completely different in the experiences they’d been through and the choices that they’d made – bonding through womanhood. Too often, what is portrayed between women is either ‘girly’ and going shopping, or the opposite, the negativity.”
In the show, a female detective and forensic scientist discuss how they balance the dead bodies at work with live ones at home, talking of “doubling”, “compartmentalising”. “I compartmentalise everything,” says Anderson. “It’s useful in the work that I do, but it can be very separating in my personal life.”
That life cannot be entirely personal, given Anderson was thrust into the spotlight virtually straight out of drama school. Then she proved catnip to the tabloids by having her first child, Piper, as the first series of The X-Files reached a cliffhanger close. She married a Canadian, gave birth, returned to work 10 days later, got divorced, married again, divorced, had her sons, now aged seven and five, within a now-defunct long-term partnership – Anderson’s whole adult arc has been documented. Plus, she’s peppered it with all manner of juicy details (“‘I’ve experimented with women’ – X-Files star confesses to lesbian flings”, The Daily Mail) because she does interviews alone, including this one, with no publicist hovering to keep things on message. In high school she was voted “Most Bizarre” and “Most Likely to Be Arrested”.
She says her own judgment has matured, that she sees people beyond the pigeonholes she once put them in. “Human beings are so much more complicated than we often give them credit for. We see someone on the bus and we put them in a box. Then you discover that, actually, that person has been sexting with half of the world – all of that kind of stuff, it’s shocking!” she laughs. As for those buses, “If it gets too intense, I’m pretty good at putting up a wall of ‘Do not stare’. I actually find that, when I’m in America, I’m much more open. I behave more American, and I am more likely to go, ‘Hey, yeah, take a photo.’ I’m much more guarded here, but that’s because I think I’m much more British here.”
Maybe I’m being terribly British because I find I have no desire to ask Anderson if she’s dating or how her young-adult daughter is fairing or how she juggles work as a single mum with two little boys at home. But then I realise this isn’t about nationality, it’s about professional respect. As we talk about her ambitions, about Stella’s wider role as a representation of 21st-century middle-aged womanhood, we are businesslike. Because, after all, acting is Anderson’s business and her accomplishments are evident. And I have entirely forgiven her for my sleepless night.
The Fall starts on BBC UKTV on Foxtel on October 19.
A new film of The Great Gatsby recreates the glamour and decadence of the Prohibition era. Marion Hume meets the director Baz Luhrmann on the set, where — as in the novel — reality and illusion collide.
The Telegraph | April 2013
The Great Gatsby is a slender book. Yet you can be certain of a sweeping epic of a film in May. In F Scott Fitzgerald’s introspective novel, every utterance is weighed. This is not how things work in the world of Baz Luhrmann. You don’t even get through the question, ‘When did you first read the…’ before the 50-year-old director who brought us Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Australia is in full flow.
‘I was on my break after making Moulin Rouge, on the Trans-Siberian, and I don’t want to bag out Mongolia, but it was a bit lonely and that’s when I decided, I have to read The Great Gatsby. It was unbelievable! This was written when jazz was around and parents were arresting their children and putting them in court because they were so out of control. The orgy of money and booze! Only yesterday women were wearing hems down to their ankles and now they were wearing underwear as clothing!’
This, in Luhrmann-land (a magical place to be), counts as a short soundbite. Just as he makes films that seem to draw their megawatt dazzle straight off the mains, so does Luhrmann himself seem powered by an extraordinary voltage.
We are meeting in a mansion on the East Coast of the United States, where a wild party is in full swing, the bandmaster is spinning like a top and louche ladies are lounging on lilos shaped like floating zebras in a floodlit swimming pool. Beyond the garden, stumbling stragglers are enjoying their own inebriated merriment down on the beach. Way out in the distance a green landing light blinks from a dock. ‘What is Gatsby? What is a gangster? Who’s good? Who’s bad? Once you realise that everyone’s living a bit of a lie, then everyone finds it easier to live a very big lie. This…’ Luhrmann says with a vast sweep, ‘is the Prohibition. Just look at those bottles of Moët!’
While the Moët is the real McCoy, we are not, of course, at Jay Gatsby’s sumptuous home. Actually, we’re not even in America, but in Sydney, on one of the biggest sound stages in the world. A few miles across town, smack in the centre of one of the grittiest inner-city neighbourhoods, stands a real mansion (rather than one of putty and paint), called Iona, the headquarters of the global empire that is Bazmark Films. There, alongside those involved with Gatsby, another team is working on the live stage show of Strictly Ballroom, the 1992 film with which Luhrmann did nothing short of change the way more than 40 nations watch Saturday night television. It’s true – the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing (and Dancing with the Stars, as it is known in other markets) was inspired by his love story of a gallumphing girl transformed in the arms of her dance partner.
‘A life lived in fear is a life half-lived,’ was the mantra of that film, which marked its then 29-year-old Australian director as one to watch. It remains the motto of Bazmark, and certainly taking on Gatsby is the act of a fearless man. To Americans it is something of a sacred text: it has been filmed five times before (as a silent movie in 1926; in 1949 starring Alan Ladd; most lusciously with Robert Redford in the lead role in a 1974 version with a script by Francis Ford Coppola; it was filmed for television in 2000 and again, with a modern twist, as G in 2002). Adding to that, Luhrmann is amping up the sexual tension to a hip-hop soundtrack by Jay-Z, and he is filming in 3D.
‘I just hope that we open the door to a new generation and we tell the story well,’ he says. ’3D allows you to see awesome actors in the prime of their career going at each other. For me, it’s about watching actors act.’ He pauses. ‘The special effects look pretty good, too!’
The Great Gatsby follows a young Midwesterner, Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire), as he arrives in Manhattan in the wild spring of 1922, at a time when the bond market is rocketing, bootleggers are thriving and morals are loosening. He rents a house in Long Island, next to the mansion of a mysterious new-money millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the water from the old-moneyed – and unfaithful – Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), married to Carraway’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan). He quickly gets caught up in a world of arrogant privilege and bears witness to its tragic consequences.
To the edge of the party stands the host. On cue he turns to face the camera. ‘I’m Jay Gatsby. I’m sorry, Old Sport, I thought that you knew that,’ DiCaprio says to Tobey Maguire. The pair do take after take. To keep things fresh, Maguire starts feeding deviations on the script to his friend, but with 3D, every possible camera angle is covered, and rudimentary lip-reading reveals his ad libs are rude. (‘Ah,’ Maguire says, chastened, when we meet later, ‘you saw?’) Yet DiCaprio is flawless. He turns, dazzles, holds a beat, then says again, ‘I’m Jay Gatsby.’
The subtitle of the novel, written in 1925, was ‘The tale of a man who built himself an illusion to live by’. As an actor DiCaprio has proved himself a master of the illusion that is movie-making, ever since, as an already-seasoned performer of 18, he almost stole What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? from Johnny Depp. DiCaprio has since become a screen star so consistently outstanding (he has been nominated three times for an Academy Award, for Gilbert Grape, Blood Diamond and The Aviator) that it is beginning to look like bad manners that he has never received an Oscar.
As we learn in the novel, Gatsby, born James Gatz, is a poor boy who has willed himself wealthy to get the girl he has always loved, and is now the subject of endless speculation. In fiction, strangers trade Gatsby stories; outside in the long, hot Australian summer of filming, it is ‘Leo’ who is the fodder. Girls hold vigil where he is alleged to be staying. If he appears in public, there’s a feeding frenzy; if he doesn’t, the paparazzi seek him here, seek him there, perhaps egged on by some sense of entitlement – of a film budget rumoured to be AU$120 million (£82 million), some $50 million is being funded, indirectly, by the Australian public in the form of tax concessions.
Even my silver-haired aunt has a Leo story. Her dreadlocked surfer-dude handyman disappears for weeks, only to come back looking as sleek as an otter because he has landed the job of Leo’s body double. This proves a useful barometer for gauging if the star is on set or has left town: when DiCaprio, a committed environmentalist, headed off to visit the widow of the Crocodile Man, Steve Irwin, Auntie Jean got her lawn mown.
On set, too, it is DiCaprio about whom everyone is curious. Very few international reporters have been allowed access. ‘I wonder if we’ll meet Leo?’ the reporter from Munich whispers. ‘I hope so!’ swoons the one from Spain. Yet as we walk between sound stages, DiCaprio, who, unusually for a film star, is far taller than you’d expect, walks directly towards us. He neither evades nor engages. Extraordinarily, only two of us even register that it is him.
When a novel is loved, the challenge is to make a retelling sizzle. The executive producer, Doug Wick, secured the rights for Luhrmann, who, he believes, will make a story so many people know by heart feel fresh once more. ‘If a young person sees this, they better think it’s a cool party. Baz knows how to throw a party,’ Wick says.
Luhrmann’s given name of Mark was ditched not long after he left Herons Creek, a dot on the map of New South Wales where his father ran the petrol station and the cinema. The boy became the man who maintains an Outback-scaled theatricality. When Baz and his costume and production designer wife, Catherine Martin, married on the stage of the Sydney Opera House in 1997, legend has it that the celebrant descended by zip wire.
An Australian in a beanie hat shuffles up. Joel Edgerton snared the role of the entitled and athletic Tom Buchanan after Ben Affleck pulled out when his passion project Argo got the green light. When Edgerton (recently seen in Zero Dark Thirty) met Luhrmann the director gave him a copy of the book. ‘I’ve never been a big reader in my life. I don’t hold books as precious as a lot of other people do,’ Edgerton says. ‘I dropped it into my bag and went to meet a friend and I was like, “Baz gave me a copy of the book,” and my mate said, “Give me a look at that.” And it was a very, very special copy, which I didn’t understand all that much – you know, when books are printed and what edition they are – and then I felt terrible that I’d shown such ignorance or arrogance.’
Edgerton must project both – as well as the faintest hint of a heart – in the role of a hard-muscled, flinty, white supremacist whose other girl is Myrtle Wilson (played by a fellow-Australian, Isla Fisher), the blousy bride of a garage mechanic. ‘Tom’s socio-economic background is different from mine, although I do plan one day to be as rich as Tom Buchanan,’ Edgerton says, laughing. ‘Working with Baz, he’s basically Wikipedia. He provides you with all the doors and rooms and avenues and pathways to understand the world from etiquette to language to design to everything else.’
Edgerton (of Bankstown, NSW, far removed from posh) has grasped the differences between old money and new wealth. ‘Have you seen my house yet? Make sure you wipe your feet. My house is like the White House. Gatsby’s house is like Disneyland, all about the glitz and glamour, and mine’s all elegant and pure. And then Myrtle’s apartment is like my Nana’s been decorating. On crack. It’s the tackiest little apartment you’ve ever seen. Yes, Tom likes shagging her, but every time he walks in he looks around and goes, “Oh, God, not another ornament.”’
Outside on the lawn, where the air is heady with the scent of roses, a lithe girl in an oyster satin trouser suit is casually swinging a strand of pearls. ‘I have some beautiful rings, too,’ she says, extending her hand by way of a hello. The character is Jordan Baker, a golf pro who has an affair with Carraway; the actress is Elizabeth Debicki, an ingenue straight from drama school. ‘Baz saw me and he asked me,’ she explains with Jordan-like nonchalance.
Scott Fitzgerald was a customer of Tiffany & Co, the most famous jeweller of the Jazz Age. Thus despite it being highly unusual and fraught with risk to use real gems on a film set, Catherine Martin spent months working with the company to reissue a few original 1920s designs and to come up with others with an Art Deco feel. ‘There’s something about knowing that they’re incredibly expensive. It makes you move your hands differently,’ Debicki says.
While the rest of the little press posse goes back to Gatsby’s house, I sneak off to meet Charlie – no other name is given, and when I notice his muscles, I dare not ask. After the double-locked doors, past the CCTV cameras, Charlie opens a safe like a pro, slips on black cotton gloves and starts opening Tiffany-blue boxes. ‘See here, Daisy got this when she was a little girl,’ he says, cradling a silver locket in his enormous hand. I’m rather more taken by what Daisy gets as a grown-up. There’s an exquisite bejewelled brace of feathers on a plaster-pink ribbon. ‘It sits, like this, on her head,’ Charlie says, demonstrating on himself, somewhat incongruously. ‘It is in what will become a famous scene, where she’s standing in the sun, looks across and sees Gatsby.’
Two days later I return to catch up with Catherine Martin. It is now December 22, steaming hot outside and tense indoors because everything must wrap by lunchtime if Carey Mulligan is to make it back to England for Christmas Eve. ‘Fine jewellery is called fine jewellery for a reason,’ Martin starts. ‘Case in point: Daisy’s headpiece. It’s an archival piece that was made in the late teens. And I thought that was perfect, it could almost have belonged to her mother and then she gets it. It has been remade by Tiffany, but we also use genuine pieces.’
One of these is a jabot pin carved from rock crystal embellished with onyx and diamonds. It is among Tiffany & Co’s most treasured artifacts, and it is Charlie’s main job to protect it. Yet when Jordan Baker meets Nick Carraway she shows off the precious pin stuck casually into her hat. Among the many pieces that have been created specially for the film are cufflinks, a signet ring and the silver handle of a cane, each of which carries Gatsby’s monogram of a daisy, his permanent aide memoire for the reason he is so passionate about the trappings of wealth: because he believes the girl he loves requires them.
Martin’s unbreakable rule has been, ‘Never one feather only. This is not a flapper-themed 21st-birthday party. My aim,’ she says, ‘is to express the true nature of the period through an eclectic combination of things that have a real point of reference.’
This does not mean that she is a stickler for historical accuracy. Part of Martin’s genius (she has won two Oscars, after all, one as production designer, the other as costume designer, both for Moulin Rouge) is how she mixes modern pieces that reference the past in order to make that past seem current. ‘You can’t live your life in fear of the fashion police,’ she says as we flick through racks of delicious dresses by Prada.
‘You have to do what’s right to tell the story and what you believe makes an ethereal moment.’ Like those inflatable zebras in the pool, I say, thinking back to how the eye-popping stripes added even more verve to the party scene. She stops in her tracks. ‘Leonardo was saying to me the other day, “Those zebra lilos didn’t exist,” and I said, “Yes, I have a picture of them.” Here it is.’ (I take the photocopy, glad that Leo and I have at least connected somehow.)
As I leave, I spy Carey Mulligan, slumped on a chair as her final scene is set up, wearing a breathtaking crystal-encrusted Prada party dress with a hideous pair of Crocs. The clock is ticking. I ask her if the Tiffany rock on her finger has helped her to ‘find’ the flighty, beautiful Daisy? ‘I do find myself staring at her ring,’ she replies. ‘I mean, I would never spend more than £100. I would never in a million years imagine actually owning this, so it does throw you into that world. Have you met Charlie who follows me around? The whole notion of Tom and Daisy is that Tom seduces her and wraps her in jewellery. He contains her with his money. They have become a couple because she wanted a great sense of wealth and superiority and he ensnared her with these things.’ She twirls the ring on her slender finger. ‘You feel the weight. In the scenes between Daisy and Gatsby, the engagement ring Tom gave her becomes such a weighty thing.’
In the end, Mulligan will catch her plane. DiCaprio will leave town and my aunt will once again have a gorgeous garden. ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,’ is how Scott Fitzgerald ended his finest work. As to how Luhrmann ends what promises to be his – and does so in 3D – remains a mystery until next month.
The Great Gatsby is out on May 16. Tiffany’s Ziegfeld Collection celebrates the company’s collaboration with Warner Bros and Bazmark Films on The Great Gatsby (tiffany.co.uk)
With pop promos, movies and exercise videos, Cindy Crawford redefined ‘supermodel’. But it is her enduring looks, professionalism and Midwest manners that have made her a superstar in front of the camera for more than a quarter of a century.
by Marion Hume
Cindy was never like the other supermodels, although she was certainly super. She never blended in- and not just because of that mole; she never was an all- change chameleon. She was always Cindy and that could be very disconcerting.
You’d be sitting at a show, tapping along to the music (because they played such fun music, and each track all the way through, back in the Nineties) and you’d be caught up in the designer’s vision of wherever he was trying to transport you to.
And then came Cindy. She would storm out of the wings and those black eyes would seem to lock on you like a heat-seeking missile.
Cindy was, then, like no other. She wouldn’t wear high necks (not Cindy). I can’t recall her wearing trousers (well, maybe once, at Armani). She was all woman; none of that striding through life purposefully in flat shoes. this girl was in a heel or else she was in sneakers, running like the wind.
It’s hard to imagine now that something as naff as an exercise video could be exciting, but when Cindy first did them, to fashion people, they were thrilling. We brought them, even though we knew in our heart of hearts we’d never get round to doing those squats. Who buys calendars in an age when everything is on our iPhone? But then, everyone, male and female, brought Cindy’s. She posed for Playboy and, rather than thinking it was unspeakable, we thought it was cool.
What wasn’t cool was Fair Game. a truly dreadful 1995 movie in which she played a lawyer, but a lawyer who always seemed to dress with a white vest between her shirt and her bra, all the easier to strip off the former and dive into a harbour aflame with burning oil.
Cindy, of course, recovered magnificently and kept on running. She’d been married to Richard Gere, posed with him on the cover of US Vogue and then the pair had defended their marriage with a full-page ad in TheTimes, but they still broke up. However, that both have found enduring partnerships since, and have never been rude about each other, doubtless says much about each of them as well-rounded real people as well as celebrities. And hell, while the relationship lasted, they were hot.
I think Cindy and I see the cover of Vanity Fair when, famously she’s in a swimsuit and heels pretending to shave the face of KD Lang. Or she’s emerging like Venus out of a shell. There are all those Helmut Newton images. What Cindy had, perhaps uniquely, was a sizzling appeal to men while girls absolutely adored her too, even though any fool could work out that, no matter how many lunges we did in time to her video, we could never look like her. And then there was the ‘Freedom’ video for George Michael. The excitement was palpable.
Yet while she became and remains unique, Cindy started as ‘the cut-price version’ of another girl. (Fashion is, was and always will be cruel to the young fillies entering the parade ring.) She was first known as ‘Baby Gia’, after Gia Carangi, who broke the blonde mould with her sultry, dark looks but became known for leaving fashion shoots early via the bathroom window in hot pursuit of her drug dealer. ‘Baby Gia’ turned out to be not cut-price at all but a class act.
Cindy Crawford’s reputation, from day one, as for the solid Midwestern values she has brought with her from DeKalb, Illinois (known pre-Cindy as the ‘home of barbed wire’). She turned up on time, well-groomed and well-spoken. But she also took control. She was known for expecting- and quite a reasonable expectation this- that shoots might also end on time, given she was always professional and expected to work, be paid and get on with her life.
That she had endured should be no surprise to anyone. She was born with good bones and she’s worked hard for those good glutes. What I recall is her manners. I was working with a film crew backstage when a phalanx of ‘Cindy and Richard’ security swept through so fast, they knocked me off my feet and into a rail of eveningwear. ‘Oh!’ came a voice belonging to the very famous Ms Crawford. ‘Stop! Is she ok? Are you ok?’ I was, 25m of tulle being terrific cushioning for a fall.
God may have created Cynthia Ann Crawford, but manners maketh the woman, I say.
Tasmania’s provocative Museum of Old and New Art is professional gambler-turned-passionate collector David Walsh’s riskiest bet yet. Marion Hume reports.
Warning: this article contains explicit language-and would contain a lot more if David Walsh were being quoted absolutely fucking verbatim. Listening to some of Walsh’s rants, you’d be inclined to think he’s some foulmouthed comedian. But as it turns out, he’s just Tasmanian. He’s also a multimillionaire, a serious art collector, and, as of this month, the proprietor of the largest private art museum in the southern hemisphere, the Museum of Old and New Art.
MONA, as it is known, will be open to the public on January 22, with free admission. The trick is getting there. First, one must travel to Tasmania, a large and chilly island to the south of mainland Australia, from whence the most famous export is probably Errol Flynn. Next is a 40-minute catamaran ride up the Derwent River from the capital of Hobart, after which visitors enter a 50-year-old modernist house perched on a cliff, descend a spiral staircase, and arrive at MONA’s literally cavernous galleries: 62,000 square feet spread over three subterranean levels.
Walsh made his fortune as a professional gambler-being, as he puts it, the “1-in-200 million who can beat the odds.” During the past 30 years, he has developed a high-tech probability-crunching system that he uses to bet on horse races. How it works exactly, Walsh won’t reveal. In fact, he won’t even admit to being rich: “Some people think a couple hundred million dollars is not a lot of money,” he says.
Some of Walsh’s winnings are invested in a boutique winery called Moorilla; he also owns a beer-brewing enterprise, Moo Brew, and a destination restaurant, The Source, situated on the same peninsula as the museum. For the past two decades, however, his primary passion has been art. He’s amassed a highly individual collection on which he has lavished some $100 million (although how much anyone else would have paid to own Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye’s excrement-producing installation, Cloaca, is open to debate). As the name of his museum suggests, Walsh’s tastes run from the ancient (Roman Empire mosaics and Egyptian sarcopagi) to the cutting-edge (Jenny Saville’s monumental paintings of female flesh and Stephen J Shanabrook’s sculptures of suicide bombers rendered in chocolate). And despite saying he does not have the body for it, Walsh also posed nude for Andreas “Piss Christ” Serrano.
The recurring themes of MONA’s collection are sex (the most overt example being Greg Taylor’s 141 life-size porcelain figures of female genitalia) and death. New Zealand artist Julia deVille has been commissioned to create a vessel for funereal ashes, making it possible for art lovers to remain at MONA for all eternity. And Walsh has purchased the right to film 66-year-old Christian Boltanski in his studio 24 hours a day for the rest of his life. Images will be transmitted to MONA. The longer the Frenchman lives, the more the piece will cost. Walsh, an atheist, wants to encourage exploration of “secular death”. “Why does death have to be seen as a religious event?” he asks. “Whenever I hear the phrase ‘It’s just part of life,’ I want to puke.’”
A few feet from MONA’s cliff-top entrance is a cube about three stories high, which Walsh was forced to build to house an Anselm Kiefer installation. “I had no choice, otherwise he wouldn’t sell it to me,” says Walsh. “What annoys me is that if he were a lesser-known artist, I would have been able to push him around, but because he’s big….” A contrarian to the extreme, he hates having to acknowledge he is part of the art system he despises. “Artists are arseholes, art dealers are arseholes, art collectors are arseholes, because human beings are arseholes,” he says, adding, “very few people buy art to look at it. It’s all about making a statement about yourself.” Even the work in his own collection is not immune from his contempt. Among his holdings is Jake and Dinos Chapman’s sculpture Great Deeds Against the Dead, yet he says of the British brothers; “Anyone who thinks their art is great is a fuckwit. They’re fuckwits who don’t understand they are the victims of their joke and that’s what makes it interesting.”
Walsh’s intent in opening a private museum is not philanthropic-as you might have guessed. “Philanthropy is doing what people want done for them,” he says. “While some might find MONA stupid, offensive, or a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it’s not going to change lives like bowls of rice.” And while contemporary art fans will no doubt be drawn by Walsh’s blue chip holdings-he owns Basquiat’s Skin Flint, a Damien Hirst spin painting, and Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary (best known as the painting over which Rudolph Giuliani sued the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999), cultural education is not his goal, either. His sole aim, he says, is enjoyment. “When kids go to Disneyland, they are not trying to judge the quality of their experience,” he says. “I’m trying to create a sense of wonder so that visitors can allow themselves to have fun rather than trying to be smart.”
To defray some of the museum’s costs, there’s the likelihood of increased sales at Walsh’s
nearby winery, brewery and restaurant. And above ground next to MONA are eight art-filled glass-and-metal accommodations in which visitors willing to spend $950 a night can sleep-or not. “We expect people to do a fair bit of shagging,” says Walsh, who hopes guests will be inspired by the collection’s strong sexual content. “Really, art is about human engagement,” opines Walsh. “It’s about going back to being young, trying to get laid.”
The Vogue fashion photographer Tim Walker has made a dark film, The Lost Explorer, that features 300 canaries
The Telegraph Magazine | 12 Aug 2010
By Marion Hume
My lemon-curd-and-honey vision just got darker,’ Tim Walker, the fashion-photographer-turned-filmmaker says of his first short film, The Lost Explorer. You may know Walker as the creator of Vogue shoots featuring white rabbits, powder-pink Persian kittens or stately homes covered in balloons. Yet for his first film he was drawn to an unsettling story in the 1989 collection Blood and Water and Other Tales by Patrick McGrath, whom Walker calls ‘the apocalyptic Roald Dahl’. The story begins with a child, Evelyn, played by 14-year-old Olympia Campbell, stumbling on a tent among brambles at the bottom of her garden. Inside, an explorer is dying of malaria and clutching a revolver.
The story the adventurer then whispers to Evelyn comes not from McGrath’s book but from Walker’s memory. ‘Ages ago someone told me how, in Victorian times, there were canary clouds over the Atlantic,’ he says, referring to the days when a taste for exotic birds meant that clippers sailed back from Africa loaded with cages. Halfway home, they would release the birds, which would soar over the sea, until, too tiny to reach land, they would drop back down to the ship and a life of captivity.
Walker was determined to capture this on film. ‘It was the toughest scene,’ he says. ‘We could afford only 300 canaries, and at the end, the animal wrangler retrieved 287. He put down nuts and seeds and five more appeared, then another seven. By the time the last one came down, it was dusty brown from being up in the rafters.’
According to Robbie Ryan, the Irish cinematographer who worked on Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, whom Walker employed as director of photography, ’300 canaries can look like three on film.’ He jokes that he had to pay them double to fly round twice. ‘Tim’s a breath of fresh air, though,’ he adds. ‘He’s so open and he was sponging it all up, because his day job is nothing compared to being on a film set.’
While a normal day for Walker might involve staging a shoot in an art deco mansion in India that hasn’t been used since the days of the Raj, the challenges of film proved much greater. ‘I’ve always been about building the story through the visuals, and I had to learn to sacrifice some visuals to tell the story.’ As for his decision to hire someone else to hold the camera, he told me, ‘That was weird, but I knew I needed to see the whole picture. Robbie’s about realism, and when you mix that with the way I view the world, you get magical realism, and we both were so excited by that. My photography can be so sweet and it needed someone to push things the other way.’
Making the 20-minute film seemed like an epic in itself: ‘I wanted to launch straight into a feature film, but friends said, “No, you’ll get drowned,” ‘ Walker says. ‘I was thinking, “I can do big epic fashion shoots, what’s the difference?” But they were so right, in every way.’ The shoot lasted eight days with a cast of six and a crew of more than 40.
The story is simple: disgusted yet fascinated by the Lost Explorer, played by a craggy, dirty-looking Richard Bremmer (Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), Evelyn befriends him, keeping his existence, death and burial a secret from her parents. It is a fairy tale with a gently shocking end but it is filled with elements of Walker’s imagination, from shadows of moths fluttering against the tent to close-ups of Evelyn dreamily playing among the sheets on the washing-line. And, of course, there is the ghost-ship scene with the canaries.
Shona Heath, who has created the sets for many of Walker’s fashion fantasies, worked as his costume and production designer. This meant finding authentic pre-First World War tent canvas, and liberally applying coffee, honey and Marmite to age props. The key difference between working on the film and on a fashion set was, she says, ‘a lot less Sellotape and glue. You can’t improvise on film. There was one job I did with Tim where I made hats out of cakes, which he took on the plane to Ireland, and not one survived, so I made some paper clover hats instead. But being true to a story means you can’t walk too far off the path, so suddenly a kind of discipline appeared while normally in Tim’s photography the crazier the better.’
Walker was born in 1970 on the Devon-Dorset border, ‘among hedgerows and cliff paths, in the world Cath Kidston has channelled into her empire’. His mother is the cookery writer Lorna Walker (Clever with Cream, The Complete Bread Book), who, together with his late father, Colin Walker, renovated old houses, and he and his older brother Rupert grew up baking, making camps and building dams and tunnels. (Rupert is currently the programme sponsor for Network Rail’s multimillion pound refurbishment of Reading station.)
Walker’s early ambition was to make films, ‘but at art school,’ he says, ‘everyone else was making funny, tight little shorts and I made this 20-minute film and everyone laughed when they weren’t meant to.’ He began his career as a photo­grapher after coming third in a photography competition for the Independent. He then spent a year immersed in the Cecil Beaton archive during an internship at the Cond Nast library and completed a photography degree at Exeter University before spending another year assisting Richard Avedon in New York. His first fashion commission, for the Independent, was joyfully radical. In an era when every young snapper wanted to find another waif-like Kate Moss, he chose a silver-haired senior clad in Oxfam finds.
He shot his first story for British Vogue 15 years ago, at the age of 25, and has since become a regular fixture in the American and Italian editions, too. His fashion photographs have a sense of theatre and magic about them, and he gleefully goes against the grain of all those images of skinny girls looking glum. The pictures always have a sense of narrative.
Walker’s fashion images, collected in the 2008 book Pictures, speak of a world of enchantment & watching the bee tapping against the window, the smell of mothballs in the wardrobe, going through it to Narnia,’ as he puts it. He loves rambling country piles ‘where you can trample on the roses, and inside there’s ticking mattresses stacked up and up and up and the dusty badminton set by the door. In London we know where stuff is because we have so little space, but when I shoot in houses in Northumberland, in Suffolk, people say, “I haven’t been in this room for five years…” ‘
Walker’s own home is over several floors of an industrial building in Shoreditch, east London. Inside, the urban edge is softened with gingham and bunting. Every inch is adorned on the bare brick walls posters of John and Yoko rub shoulders with advertisements for village fêtes, geraniums jostle on window sills with pottery toadstools, and puppets hang from joists.
Walker began filming The Lost Explorer in February and has been editing it with Valerio Bonelli, who worked on Ricky Gervais’s Cemetery Junction; he is also collecting a series of film stills for a new edition of the story. While the budget for a one-day advertising shoot can easily top £100,000, that’s chump change for a film, despite the fact that everyone, even actors of the calibre of Toby Stephens and Dexter Fletcher, who have supporting roles, worked for free. ‘But that was the amount I needed,’ Walker says. ‘I went round to people I’ve worked with for years and begged, “Can you help?” and Mulberry was brilliant.’
The quintessentially British brand will host a London Fashion Week screening of The Lost Explorer in September; it made its debut in Locarno, Switzerland, this week, and will be screened on the international film festival circuit. Gela Nash, one half of the Juicy Couture partnership (Walker shoots its advertising campaigns), also gets honourable mention for her support.
Walker’s next plan is for the feature film he dreams of making. Currently in his sights is Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory. ‘It has been in and out of being optioned. I don’t know where it’s at now. But that would be the dream project,’ he says.
Walker’s next plan is for the feature film he dreams of making. Currently in his sights is Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory. ‘It has been in and out of being optioned. I don’t know where it’s at now. But that would be the dream project,’ he says.