France, 15th Century. A battlefield. An Army. As the army batters the fortifying walls around the port town of Harfleur, its King urges them to pound again and again, and to rush again and again at the break in the wall, his rousing oratory, an impassioned speech of motivation.
“Once more, unto the breach dear friends, once more! Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility. But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood. Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage. Then lend the eye a terrible aspect – let pry through the portage of the head like the brass cannon. Let the brow overwhelm it as fearfully as doth a galled rock overhang and jutty his confounded base, swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean. Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height. On, on, you noblest English…”
Who wouldn’t be galvanised? I was barely a 10 years old tomboy when my uncle made me watch Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. Blood, sweat, tears and complicated Shakespearean lines, too young to understand but I was already fascinated. From there started my curiosity and ongoing fond love for Shakespeare. I still have the old VHS to this day, one of my most sentimentally valued possessions.
English playwright Charles Bennett said about Sir Laurence Olivier when both met in the late 1920’s that he could speak William Shakespeare’s lines as naturally as if he were “actually thinking them”. I fathomed his words whilst watching Sir Kenneth Branagh’s performance. I saw in him Sir Olivier’s spiritual heir (and years later who else than Branagh could have channelled the great actor’s spirit as he did in My Week With Marilyn), this without belittling in any way the also notable performances of Sir Ralph Richardson and Richard Burton, just to name a few. And it looks like the legacy is assured with one of Britain’s brightest acting talents, Tom Hiddleston, who played alongside Branagh in Ivanov in the West End and the BBC’s Wallander before Branagh cast him as Loki in Thor, his breakthrough role he reprised in The Avengers.
Tom Hiddleston portrayal of Loki reminded me vividly of both Iago and Edmund characters combined, their number of villainous acts throughout the course of respectively Othello and King Lear plays, added to that had Cain and Abel fortunes been reversed before the eyes of God what would have happened… Tragedy indeed, Shakespearean like Biblical, only the latter being a twist of my own, humble perception only. From super villain to Shakespeare, Tom Hiddleston is striking and brilliant in his portrayal of a Prince Hal who has now just assumed the throne as King Henry V, last episode I eagerly look forward to watch. One shall not forget a special mention the The Hollow Crown entire cast, the delivery was superb, from Shakespearean veterans Sir Patrick Stewart, Jeremy Irons, David Suchet, a solid Simon Russell Beale, young blood Ben Wishaw, riveting James Purefoy and Rory Kinnear, as well as the ladies Clémence Poésy and Michelle Dockery, all previously seen in Richard II and Henry IV part 1&2.
- Edward Akrout as French Captain in The Borgias – Photograph|CTV
However Kings, not only burdened with royal duties and responsibilities, they must deal with enemies, traitors, rivalries, opponents and inevitably a war. Henry has laid claim to certain parts of France, based on his distant roots in the French royal family and on a very technical interpretation of ancient land laws. But the young prince Louis, the Dauphin of France shall not hear such… The character is portrayed by a very talented actor yet to be known by the public on a larger scale. From a bohemian drama to a restaurant chef in a TV soap opera, also adding comedy and working in Theatre to his panel, his roles may have been small but for sure his eclecticism in choices of roles and acting altogether were brilliant enough for being noticed and to appear as a Captain in a good handful of episodes in the magnificent TV series The Borgias and now he is starring in BBC’s TheHollow Crown as the French Dauphin. From French Captain to French Prince, I wanted to remove both helmet and armour and discover the person underneath. No blood, no tears but certainly not without sweat that I got onto the breach to finally get hold of him. Thanks to his utter kindness and patience and collaboration, I wholeheartedly enjoyed our conversation and interview over the phone. Here is a close stare at Edward Akrout.
How did the passion for acting came to you? – I grew up with my uncle who was an Artist and a big kid, we use to live and play all day in an imaginary world. My Grandmother was a wonderful story teller and gave me the passion for words and languages. So I grew up in an artistic environment, it sort of naturally happened. What I love about acting is I see it as a collaborative dream. A bunch of people get together and they dream. They play the dream and if it is good enough it will become a dream in other people’s mind.
- Edward Akrout and Lloyd Mosengo in Full Firearms (2011) – Film directed by Emily Wardill – Photograph|Polly Braden
You have travelled and lived in parts of the worlds such as South America and South Eastern Europe. Has your exposure to other cultures influenced your acting approach? – The travelling and life in other countries was actually a personal experience. But whilst living in Romania I had the opportunity to approach the theatrical scene and get involved in [workshops] plays. Romanian actors are among the best I have ever met. Playful and clever, crazy and humble.
Speaking of which are you a methodical actor? – I have had the privilege to enrol at the LAMDA, the oldest drama school in the United Kingdom and one of the most prestigious. The method incorporated technical and creative vocal skills say working on international accents, from Irish to North American and other British Scouse. It also involved movement, body language. The great thing about LAMDA is that they tell you from the beginning no one can learn how to act, and no one can teach you to be an Artist. They give you skills and technics so you can always work even when your instinct has run out of inspiration.
- The Hollow Crown : Henry V – Edward Akrout as Louis The Dauphin – Photograph|BBC
You have worked in The Borgias starring Jeremy Irons. How did you get involved into The Hollow Crown [Jeremy Irons portrays Henry IV] and tell us about Louis the Dauphin, your character? – Getting involved in The Borgias, even with a rather small part like mine was like being part of any family, the only difference being that everyone is good looking and their Godfather is Jeremy Irons.. I haven’t had the chance to play with him whilst working on The Borgias, but I saw him on stage once and was electrefied as soon as he appeared; the man has an amazing talent and charisma. Like in the series his presence on set was always palpable whether he was there or not. I had the privilege to work with Holyday Grainger and Lotte Verbeek, whom are both extremly talented and great fun. I met Tom Hiddleston on our first day reharssal for Henry V. I can’t remember whether he was needed or not but he was there anyway. We felt straight away as part of a team, he is an amazing leading actor but above all a real company leader. The Dauphin and Henry are in direct competition, they are the same age, have more or less the same education and have the same ambition. The only difference being, Henry’s father is dead, Henry is now a King and makes his own decisions whereas the Dauphin still has to deal with “Daddy” which, when close to thirty proves to be sometimes quite difficult. The Dauphin is envious and impatient. An impatience that will have tragic consequences.
You have also played in another Shakespearean play this on stage : King Richard [in Richard III]. Is there a major difference of Shakespearean gravitas between stage and on screen acting? – Indeed there is a difference. Theatre is an actor’s gig, meaning we are in charge of the rhythm and the story telling. Once the rehearsals are finished, an actor has the freedom to continue to search and experiment with both his partners and the audience. Cinema and Television is a director’s gig, say whatever you do, you are not in charge, it’s the camera that tells the story. The great thing though is that the camera sees everything and you can’t cheat with that. All you have to do is to turn up and be REAL. On stage you do it all in one go, but if you have an epiphany once the show is finished you can always try this the next day whereas on set you might have several takes but once it’s in the box it’s there forever and if it’s bad it will haunt you forever. Shakespeare on film is a real challenge ,a risky and beautiful one and it rarely works. Either go crazy or be as close you can to the play but don’t be in the middle. In the “crazy” department, I am a big fan of Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet the transposition of Shakespearean lines in a modern era was like no other. Thea Sharrock and Ben Power did a wonderful work in staying as close as one can to the play and used film to make it real, to tell the emotional story of these characters. Playing Richard III on stage was the most thrilling experience I had. I was directed by Aaron Mullen who is by far the best Theatre director I have ever worked with.
You have finished shooting a totally different genre of film are you keen to tell us a bit more about it? – Of course. I’ve finished shooting an action Western called Dead in Tombstone. Mickey Rourke plays the Devil and it was a child dream to meet him, the man has such a big heart. I play the lead part of Dandy/serial killer. We filmed in Romania actually. It was amazing to interact and work with other great actors like Danny Trejo; he is such a charismatic and down to earth person, very humble, well respected and made everyone very comfortable on the set. Out of the 8 weeks of shooting, 3 were done during night time, 15 hours a day and he never complained once, I mean the man is 68..! If it isn’t dedication and hard work… It was also a good challenge since I had to speak with the US accent and the body movement and language. On a personal note it was also great to go back to Romania, I speak the language and have loads of very close friends there whom I consider like family. Overall an amazing experience.
What and who are your influences (personally and professionally wise)? – There are plenty from literature to cinema, say directors and actors and films… Chekhov, Shakespeare, Christopher Walken, Patrick Dewaere, Gérard Depardieu, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Marcello Mastroianni… I highly recommend you to watch Mephisto, a real masterpiece with the great actor Klaus Maria Brandauer. And there is also Spirits of the Dead (1968) comprising three segments of Edgar Allan Poe short stories. The segment “Toby Dammit” directed by Federico Fellini and starring Terrence Stamp is the best, very powerful. I am also a great admirer of directors Alejandro Innaritu and Paul Thomas Anderson with whom I would love to work with one day. Then again the extend of my influences is quite vast.
Do you eventually think about working in French cinema? – Of course I would definitely love to. I have some projects under development that might definitely come to a French collaboration. We will definitely see.
Could you tell us about those future projects? – I am also a script writer and I have 2 projects under the belt. Also there is a docu-fiction in collaboration with the Franco-German television ARTE, it deals with William the Conqueror. I honestly can say that I am incredibly lucky to have a career that has been going fairly well these past couple of years and working alongside immense and talented actors. For me it’s only the beginning of an amazing adventure.
And finally what do you love to Stare at? – Van Gogh’s “The Church at Auvers”, my dog sleeping on the grass and my girlfriend dancing.
Thank You very much Edward for letting It’s Rude To Stare to catch a genuine glimpse of an insight of your life.
The Hollow Crown: Henry V will be shown on Saturday 21st July at 8pm on BBC Two.