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Jul 28

Help us Alec Guinness, you’re our only hope…

Making the tiniest of contributions to Obi Wan’s legacy of working with young talent, at the Sir Alec Guinness Memorial Award 2014.

alec-guinness-award-2014-michael-wharley

The Alec Guinness Award 2014

In the dim and distant past when I was an actor, one of my heroes was the then-still-going-strong Sir Alec Guinness, whose films – from the Lavender Hill Mob, to Kind Hearts and Coronets, to Bridge on the River Kwai, to Star Wars –  were an inspiration, and whose three-volume autobiography, and Piers Paul-Read-penned biography, I devoured.

It seems like many younger actors aren’t so familiar with him today, but as the briefest summary of his life and work reveals, he really was – and  remains in legacy – one of the greatest, and perhaps least showy, of all British actors.

Coming, as he did, from a less than privileged background, and entering the profession from the outside, he seemed sensitive in later life to the challenge facing actors at the beginning of their careers.

You hear many anecdotes from drama school graduates of my age and a little older, who enjoyed talks from him at drama school, or received advice, when he was in his 70s and 80s, and having enjoyed a degree of international success that might have made others avoid such chores.

So, it’s fitting that the Catholic Stage Guild, of which he was a one time Vice-President, used his bequest to establish the Sir Alec Guinness Memorial Award in 2003, with the aim of equipping one talented young actor each year with support in the 12 months after leaving drama school.

The 2014 Award

This year’s award was announced after an Industry Insight panel for more than 100 students from almost every UK drama school.

Led by legendary casting director Ros Hubbard, and featuring other casting directors, agents like Bill Petrie from BWH, reps from Equity, The Actors Centre and Spotlight, and myself for headshot advice, the night was aimed at answering many of the questions that young soon-to-be-graduates might have, meaning that even those who didn’t secure the prize itself benefited.

RADA graduate Lianne Harvey, winner of the 2014 award

RADA graduate Lianne Harvey, winner of the 2014 award

And as for the award, presented by actress Siân Phillips  – who was able to share anecdotes of working with a rather grand and aloof, yet still mischievous Guinness – it went to RADA 3rd year student  Lianne Harvey.

Lianne, who has now graduated and is represented by Michelle Braidman Associates, received an array of benefits as part of her prize, from Spotlight and The Stage memberships, to Actors Centre vouchers, and much more, least of all, a headshot session with me.

We enjoyed a productive shoot together not long ago, which was mainly enjoyable because I was able to help Lianne as she begins her career. But there was also great deal of pleasure in making the smallest of contributions to the legacy of a man whose life, career and outlook I so much admire.

Good luck Lianne; may the force – and Sir Alec – be with you!

228/09/2014 MW

 

 

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