BESIDE MYSELF: AN ACTOR’S LIFE, Antony Sher
Nick Hern Books – Reprint of 2001 book, with additional notes
A link to buy the book is below.
A man with an existential headache.
This is a fascinating insight into an actor’s soul. Not his skill nor craft, not even his art – but into his soul. And in the soul lies the man . . . and in the man lies the actor. Reading this auto-biography you sense, although Sher was drawn to acting from an early age, the deep acting, the soul-searching acting has been a long and painful journey of discovery.
Sher’s book is long and detailed, it tells the stories of his privileged childhood in South Africa, of the shock of not finding RADA would want to snap him up. He reveals bit by bit the stages of learning to act post drama school, ending at the high-point (to date) of the RSC MACBETH. We learn, too, of his insecurity (often about his shape or height, or his background); but he shares with us too, the two great loves of his life. (Three, if you count in a relatively recent love-affair with WS.)
Sher’s complete honesty in telling his tale opens up for us moments of pain and great humour, too. He reveals his addiction to cocaine – and his recovery through art. Rehearsing ARTURO UI at the National (which is proving to be a struggle) he reveals: ‘I never saw Simon Callow’s Arturo at the Half Moon (too jealous after reading the reviews) . . . ‘ Petty jealousy? Perhaps. Honest writing – certainly. But it’s much more than this, Sher reveals himself at a deeper level and in doing so mines a truth inside us about ourselves.
So we have a very human story too. Complex, disjointedly jointed, struggling to find a way.
For those of us deeply interested in acting there are many revelations. Whether it’s Sher talking about research, the search for the psychological context of Leontes or on his own revelation about thinking. Rehearsing Macbeth he says: ‘I’ve never played a character who thinks so much. That sounds ridiculous – we all think all the time – but Macbeth is on quite another plane. A man with an existential headache. Thinking, thinking.’
As Greg Doran, AS and the team work towards their remarkable MACBETH in Stratford’s Swan Theatre, you sense that Sher has, having climbed many ladders and slid down many snakes, eventually found himself on the Home stretch.
We learn much from this book. And Sher’s story has a happy ending . . . and perhaps we can learn from that too.
Here’s a link to the book on Amazon: