Spying on Michael Douglas, telling Nic Cage how to play drunk, pretending he was gay to Audrey Hepburn … two giants of cinema remember their hero Albert Finney
The first time I met Albert, he shook my hand and said: “You have a very interesting face,” in that famous Northern lilt of his. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. It was in 1968, on the set of Lindsay Anderson’s If…, which Albert produced and which was my breakthrough. I didn’t tell him then but he was my hero: when I saw him in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, as a young man in Liverpool, it made me realise that I could could be an actor, too.
During that period British films were mainly bourgeois middle-class, middle-of-the-road comedies where you sat on the sofa with a cup of tea. Albert was the most influential actor of his generation because he made it possible for actors from the provinces to make it – indeed, he made it good to be working class.
There had been no leading man before like him: he epitomised what John Osborne was writing about in Look Back in Anger: this “fuck you” attitude to the establishment – which we loved and needed. If you came from the provinces at that time, it was very intimidating to try and make it in London. In music, the path had been softened by the Beatles, but in film and theatre it was still very hard. Albert made it possible – along with his contemporaries, like Tom Courtenay and Alan Bates.
But for me at least, he was the great shining light. He had this mix of boyish northern charm and, just below the surface, a wild, unpredictable danger – devilment, even – which audiences really responded to. You never quite knew what he was going to do next.
He wasn’t really like that in person. He loved his great food and great wines. I remember a four-hour boozy lunch with him in Soho with my dear sister, Gloria, and his then-girlfriend, Pene. It was wonderful. And then he would go off to a fat farm to get ready for the next movie.