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Spotting the wrong ‘uns

January 7, 2022

At the recommendation of a friend, I started watching Crime by Irvine Walsh on BritBox the other night. In episode two this actor turned up as an MSP. 

His name is Derek Riddell. Ah, ha, I thought (and wrote in a message to my friend), the first red herring? Or is it? Because Riddell seems to always plays a wrong ’un. And indeed he was a wrong ’un, just not the wrong ’un.

It got me thinking about another actor who always played the wrong ’un when he was younger. A baby-faced actor who’d clearly decided the only way to avoid being typecast as a Hardy Boy was to play villains. Which he did, over and over. When I was a kid one of the shows my mum and I used to watch was Hawaii 5-0. One week this actor turned up on the show playing the son-in-law of a murdered man. He had a perfect alibi – he was on the mainland at the time of the murder. Still, this actor’s appearance was a sure sign that he must be the murderer. Took my mother and me about five minutes to figure out how he did it. Had some other actor been cast in the role we might have bought the son-in-law’s alibi, but not this actor. And, of course, we were right.

The young actor in question was this guy.

Ramón Estévez – better known to you and me as Martin Sheen, the best President the United States never had.

One April day, many years later, I was invited, during my stint as a show biz reporter in London, to a late morning screening in a West End cinema and luncheon afterwards at the Dorchester for a film called Enigma. It was a Cold War spooks film set in Berlin à la Len Deighton (though nowhere near as good). The mystery of why this midrange thriller was getting the red carpet treatment was solved when I asked the head of European distribution. He told me April was the end of their financial year and, if they didn’t use up all their promotion budget, it would be cut the following year. Enigma was the only film opening that month.

One of the stars was none other than Martin Sheen. More of him anon.

At the Dorchester I had the great good fortune to be seated beside Michael Williams, husband of Judi Dench, who was seated on his other side. (Williams had a plum little role in the film.) We introduced ourselves and had a lovely chat. I don’t remember everything discussed, but I do remember Williams telling me the reason actors always called people “darling” was because they could never remember anyone’s name. 

At one point the conversation was interrupted – by Martin Sheen. (Told you I’d get back to him.) The reason for the interruption? I had a pack of Camels sitting on the table (oh, the good old days!) and he wanted one. I stood up, gave him a cigarette and a light, then told him the story of the Hawaii 5-0 episode and he laughed. Turned out I was right, that playing villains (aside from being more interesting) was a deliberate route out of the gee-whiz characters he was being offered.

When I realised I should probably get back to the office, I said my farewells to Judi and Michael. “Lovely to meet you, darling,” he said. I laughed and so did he. “I’m so sorry,” he apologised, “what was your name?” I told him. He corrected himself, “Lovely to meet you, Anne.”

As I was making my way out of the Dorchester banquet hall, Martin Sheen cornered me again. Instead of one cigarette, I gave him three. (After all, my mum would enjoy hearing that I’d met him.) Finding a light for these cigarettes was his problem.

Many, many years later Mike and I were watching an episode of West Wing. I laughed when Bartlett (for the first, but by no means last time) asked one of his security guards for a cigarette. “That man never buys his own cigarettes,” I said.

Which, in some people’s books, would definitely make him a wrong ’un.

From → Blog

  1. krysross permalink

    Great story. Bet your mum loved it.

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