Jim Broadbent ‘‘I remember...’’

Caroline Hutton

Jim Broadbent has warmed our hearts over the years in his diverse roles. These days he's selective about how often he works—and only really works for the good stuff! We asked Jim to recall some of his fondest memories, and what shaped him into the actor he is today.

I Remember...

…the absolute joy of growing up in the Lincolnshire countryside in the fifties

The farms and harvests, the fields and brooks, and the total freedom to run wild without a care in the world.

…our house was filled with my parents’ friends and their laughter and cigarette smoke

Amazing how much everyone smoked in those days. They were all part of a group of conscientious objectors who’d set up a community in Holton-cum-Beckering in Lincolnshire during the war. Many of them had stayed on and remained close to each other, sharing pacifist views.

Jim Broadbent

…I was surrounded by love of the arts 

My parents were instrumental in setting up the local amateur theatre group, and held regular play readings at our house. I’d listen from upstairs after I was meant to have gone to bed. They always seemed to be having a good time! My mother had been a sculptor and my father was a furniture designer. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised how privileged I was to have grown up in that artistic environment.

…watching my parents in the plays, going backstage and the smell of greasepaint 

Aged four, I had my first part, in Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House. It was so exciting to go on stage—I even had a line! The theatre only seated about 80 people and it was always full. Some years later, the building burned down and my father, who’d trained as an architect, helped to convert a nearby former Methodist chapel into the Broadbent Theatre. It’s still going strong.

…being taken to all sorts of unsuitable productions 

The Theatre Royal in Lincoln was a big part of our lives and, rather than organising a babysitter, my parents would simply bring me along with them to see plays by Tennessee Williams and Terence Rattigan. But best of all were the pantomimes. Whenever the dame asked if there were any little children who’d like to join the cast on stage, I was always the first up, jumping up and down in my seat to be noticed. Once, I found myself on stage but desperate to go to the loo. The audience started to laugh at me as I wriggled around. My older sister was hideously embarrassed.

…being terribly disappointed when an usher stopped me going on stage

There was an occasion when I’d got out of my chair and halfway down the aisle to join Al Read when the usher stepped in front of me and told me to sit down. I was usurped by the four-foot-three comedian Jimmy Clitheroe, who’d been planted in the audience as part of the variety show!

…making my mother laugh 

She was a wonderful mother and housewife. She’d been a star pupil at the Royal Academy Schools, but never got back into sculpting after my brother, sister and I were born, as she gave so much to us.

… my need to be funny sometimes veered into the unkind

At primary school I was simply naughty but, when I became a teenager, I’d make jokes at the expense of others for the sake of getting that all-important laugh. I deeply regret that behaviour.

…I spent a lot of time in the art room at school

I wasn’t academic or sporty, and drama wasn’t a big thing in schools then, but I excelled at art. I was rude to Mr Watkins, our teacher, but I realise now he was very good. I went to a private Quaker school outside Reading, but I spent more than we were allowed to in the town, going to the cinema. I was caught drinking in a pub there in my last term and, although I was allowed to sit my exams, they expelled me. My father thought it was ridiculous. I recently came across a letter he wrote to the headmaster, saying it was iniquitous that a person who was legally allowed to drink should be expelled for it. I felt rather proud of him.

…the 60s and early 70s were an exciting time to be young

When the Beatles hit the scene, we all knew it was a turning point for music and society. Comparing school photos of my older brother and I, with six years between us, revealed how much had changed. He and his contemporaries wore tweed jackets and tried to look like their fathers; my friends and I all had long, floppy hair and tried very hard to be different.

…realising that what made me happy was acting

After a year spent travelling and working in a rep theatre in Liverpool, I did an art foundation course in London. But I didn’t spend my weekends in galleries—I spent them at the theatre or cinema. One day, my father took me out for a meal and we sat next to some drama students who were talking very loudly. My father rather pointedly said, “Perhaps you’d be suited to drama school.” With the help of a wonderful woman, Anna Middleton, who was at art school with me, I set my heart on getting into LAMDA. She’d been an actress and coached me.

Jim Broadbent in HArry Potter
Jim alongside Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter

…it was one of the most exciting moments of my life... 

...when, sitting in my flat in Paddington, I opened a letter and learned I’d won a place at LAMDA. When I got there, I knew it was the right place for me. Having a clever, structured way to play the make-believe games I wanted to play was wonderful.

…all those years at boarding school hadn’t given me much confidence with girls 

But there were a lot of things to enjoy in London, such as music and theatre. Meanwhile, I was patient with acting. I gave myself ten years and said, “If I haven’t made it by then, I’ll give up.” There were a lot of very good actors at LAMDA who, once they got into the profession, didn’t like not knowing where the next job was coming from. To succeed, you need the attitude to cope with the uncertainty.

…my father became very ill with cancer during my first job 

I was on tour with the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Company, working up in the North. Every Saturday night, after the show, I’d drive back home to see him. They were difficult journeys, in my old Morris Minor in the dark, tears in my eyes as I made my way across the Midlands. I said to my company manager, “My father is likely to die imminently. Would it be OK if I went home?” He said, “No, this is the profession you’ve chosen. The show must go on.” Nowadays, I’d have told him where to go, but it goes to show the unsentimental attitude of that time.

…being with my father when he died 

The whole family was there. He was 57. I was 23 and only just getting to that stage of life when I was mature enough to appreciate how good he’d been to me. I’d had my childhood with him, but was never to have the adult friendship.

…weeping with laughter when I worked with Patrick Barlow... 

...in the National Theatre of Brent. They were the most hilarious times I ever had. He once suggested he start one of the shows dressed as a bird, announcing, “I am the Bird of Time”. Our humourless stage manager wrote down, “One bird costume required,” as we lay helpless on the floor.

 

PADDINGTON™ and PADDINGTON BEAR™ © Paddington and Company Limited/Studiocanal S.A. 2014. Paddington Bear™, Paddington™ and PB™ are trademarks of Paddington and Company Limited Jim as Mr Grubers in the 2014 Paddington movie

 

…the excitement of having Woody Allen call me 

My agent said, “Woody’s going to ring you up—he wants a word about a part in his next film, Bullets over Broadway [1994].” That was way up there, high on the list of “Things You Dream About as an Actor” —though it was complicated by the fact that I was working with Mia Farrow at the time. She’d come straight from the US law courts with the judge’s transcript of her and Woody’s custody battle practically under her arm. I had to tell her I was going to work with him. She said, “Oh my, that’s surprising news.”

...not taking so many jobs on lately!

One of the more recent ones I’ve done was for only four days, as Horace Slughorn on the final Harry Potter film. I only do things that really appeal. Yet I still remember getting my first part and thinking, I’ve got a job! There’s a chance I might make it in this profession.

Watch Jim Broadbent in action

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