Anthony Higgins has a fan base that is constantly growing through film, television, DVD sales and the internet across the globe but he has recently become very popular in Russia, from where this unofficial site is transmitting.
The actor became an international icon in cinema by playing the lead in English director Peter Greenaway's breakthrough film, "The Draughtsman's Contract" (1982). However, Higgins' image changes with every role. Seeing him in person, one thinks that he might have just come out of Botticello's painting, "The Resurrection of Christ."
Higgins is still, at heart, a Northamptonshire boy, for the land of writer, H.E. Bates, (Love for Lydia), is where he was born and where he grew up. Higgins was born on May 9, 1947, descending from Irish parents. The actor says, "My father had a wonderful tenor voice and he used to sing with a band in Cork. He went to the States in 1926 and studied singing there for six years but he didn't get anywhere, operatically, so he and my mother went to England. My mother was the organist at the local church and used to accompany him. We grew up in an artistic atmosphere with music all around us. They returned to Britain just in time for the Blitz. My sister and oldest brother were born during the Blitz." With a cynical laugh, he says, "Good timing, eh?" Shortly after that, they settled in Northamptonshire where they were blessed with a large, gregarious and creative family of five sons and one daughter, playing cricket and music and enjoying the countryside together.
The actor lightly reminisces, "My schoolteachers decided that I was educationally subnormal because I wasn't too hot at maths or physics. So, they let me work on the garden behind the school instead of sitting in class. The advantage of being in the lowest stream was that my main subject was gardening. It was great. I love gardening; I am good at it. It's a no-stress situation. Also, you could smoke cigarettes and get away with it at school, so that was great fun." Anthony's younger brother, Adrian, is a witty, weekly columnist and pro-organic garden editor for The Washington Post.
Higgins says, "My chosen profession was journalist. At home, we were very into literature and reading. My mother taught me to read before I even went to school. Drama school came along quite by accident but it felt right." Anthony met actress, Margaretta Scott on a weekend drama course in Northampton. He says, "She took me aside and said, 'You have to become an actor. We'll get you a scholarship.'" She had helped to found Equity, the British Actors' Union, in 1934 and made a brilliant career as a character actress. She lives forever in film and is sometimes seen in the U.S. on cable television in Alexander Korda's "H.G. Wells' Things to Come." She has a unique, cultured voice; Higgins' speech sometimes resembles hers in mannerisms.
So, at age 16, Higgins won a scholarship to the school of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which was one of England's finest venues in the 1960s. Once established at the Birmingham Repertory, he received good notices for his role in Shakespeare's Romeo.
Higgins' first feature film role was in John Huston's 1969 film, "A Walk with Love and Death," with Angelica Huston. He says, "I went to meet John Huston who looked into my eyes and said, 'Where are you from?' I replied, 'From Ireland' and that seemed to clinch it. Higgins recalls his first day in front of the camera, "It was great." (Laughs.) "I was absolutely petrified. I remember an anecdote:
"It was set in 1358. In my first scene, I was wearing medieval armor. It was a beautiful costume, designed by Rotislav Duboujinsky, but it was cutting in everywhere" (touches his left shoulder) "and I had to canter through a wood, in the Viennese Woods, with two soldiers as escorts. I see Angelica step out from behind a tree. She calls to me. I rein in the horse, ride back, park the horse, get off and play a scene with her. Well, horses are hell to work with because they won't stay on a mark. I mean, there are a lot of actors who can't hit their marks but horses©it doesn't mean anything to them unless you nail their hooves down©which, obviously, one can't do. Anyway, we went about three, four, five times and each time-- the same action: ride through the woods, Angelica, rein in, back, get off the horse, play the scene and each time, the horse would start playing up and we'd have to start it all over again.
"John was very patient. He could be very impatient but he was tremendously kind and patient with me. We had a grip on that film: a guy I will always remember, Eddie Byrne, a Dubliner, a real cynical, hard-bitten Dubliner, who, obviously, was thinking about things like focal length and marks that affected his work very much.
"So, after about Take 8©" (laughing), "it still wasn't going right. Eddie cast his eyes to heaven and said," (doing a Dubliner's accent), "'F*** me, we could 'a got Roger Moore for the same money.'" (Repeats). "'We could 'a got Roger Moore for the same money!'" (Laughs). "It could have been hurtful but it was just so funny and so apt that we all laughed.
"So, that was my first day with John Huston. He taught me, on that film, to ride a horse." Higgins' love of horses has never left him. The actor once owned a winning race horse in Ireland and has often been spotted and quoted from the Ascot Races in England by reporters such as David Ashforth, who calls him, "my fashion consultant."
It was while working on his second feature film, "Something for Everyone," (1970), for director Hal Prince in Germany that Higgins met his late wife, German photographer, Heide Lausen. They have one daughter, who was born in 1974, and is a horticulturist.
The last film that he appeared in under the name of Corlan is "Flavia, the Muslim Nun." He used his mother's maiden name, due to a union conflict with another actor, through 1974. "Flavia" is based on a true story in Italy and it has Florinda Balkan (A Brief Vacation) in the title role. Higgins says, good-naturedly, of working in Italy, "You could just say 1, 2, 3 and it didn't matter because the voices would be dubbed in later. We shot some of the scenes at Cinecitta and I worked with Greeks and Romanians as well as Italians. I adore Italy."
Higgins' melancholy made him a perfect choice for Merchant Ivory Productions to cast him in "Quartet" as Stephan, a Polish immigrant to 1927 Paris. Moments such as a light wind blowing on the windows of left-bank hotels during the opening titles and Stephan dreamily gazing out the window onto the street, to be disturbed by reality-- a cat meowing and a prostitute plying her trade-- are startling.
Higgins says, "I based Stephan's accent and mannerisms on those of Roman Polanski." Stephan meets Marya, a waifish young woman, played exquisitely by Isabelle Adjani, who won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance in 1981. Their marriage is destroyed by Stephan's unwise decision to sell a stolen antique; he consequently receives a year's prison sentence. Marya, unable to support herself, becomes the in-house mistress of a married man, who was based on the English writer, Ford Maddox Ford.
After he is released from prison, Stephan is horrified to find Marya trapped with the neurotic couple. He gives two fervent speeches: in a restaurant, he harangues the couple about the morality of the middle-class; Marya walks in on him packing and he threatens to kill her lecherous lover with a gun. Later, he delivers a sorrowful comment about prison, "You never get out" with such wretchedness that it tears into one's heart like an arrow. Higgins gives this role tremendous intensity and the result is haunting.
Higgins' charisma blossomed during the 70s and 80s in television, vampire films with Hammer Productions, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of England but it fully flowered in the gardens of Kent in Peter Greenaway's 1694-period film, "The Draughtsman's Contract" in 1982 opposite a very strong actress, Janet Suzman. The actor says about playing Mr. Neville, "It was very satisfying to do that role. Good writing just sings out to you. You can't mistake it. 'The Draughtsman's Contract' has both great visual and literary aspects but scripts like that are very rare."
The 1982 film was re-released in Britain in 1994. Several eye-catching larger-than-life posters of Higgins' face in his draughtsman's drag went up high over the London tube tracks. His almond-shaped, Levantine eyes seemed to be watching over the rumbling trains and bustling crowds going by. Occasionally, rushing commuters would stop and look up at the posters before continuing on their way.
"Reilly, Ace of Spies" (1983) stars Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, the forerunner of James Bond, who was actually a Ukrainian Jew, Georgi Rosenblum from Odessa, who reinvented himself as a bon vivant in Western Europe. The true story is based on the book of the same name by Bruce Robin Lockhart, an agent who worked with Reilly. Ian Fleming said that he based parts of Bond on Reilly. The series is classy, compelling and essential for students of Russian history.
Higgins plays Trelisser, a ruthless external-KGB officer, who tracks Reilly down and assassinates him. His features are made to look darker and his body language defines his shocking aggressiveness. Dmitri Shostakovich's music, entitled "Romance," composed for the 1955 Soviet film, "The Gadfly," was adapted by Harry Rabinowitz, who did many fine orchestrations for British television dramas. It underscores the end titles and is sweetly expressive of Reilly's romances.
"Lace" was a vivid series in 1984-85. Higgins, as an Arabian prince, is exhilarating in it. The actor says, "I based Abdullah on a guy who was the captain of my cricket team in London, one of the greatest gentlemen I ever met-- perfect natural manners, considerate and intelligent but, obviously, with very set views and who was very rooted in his religion and his background. He was my model along with the captain of the Pakistani cricket team, an amazingly handsome, Oxford-educated Pakistani, who is a bit of a 'ladies man,' as people used to say. That was great fun-- to do that role."
The series was stylistically directed by Billy Hale, who uses shadow shots in later chapters such as Abdullah's face reflected in a silver tray in Part I and, for one second, a similar shot in Part II. There are also many wistful moments in the program, such as the close-ups on Abdullah's regretful face in his helicopter as he follows his forbidden love, Pagan, being driven away from him on the ground.
A particularly dramatic scene is when Pagan, (Brooke Adams), as a guest at Abdullah's palace, cannot sleep at night, wanders into the throne room and sits on the queen's throne, wondering what might have been had she been allowed to marry him. He, too, wanders in. They have a confrontation in which she brings up a new accusation; Higgins explodes but with all of his controlled, classical training coming into play.
Franc Roddam, (Quadrophenia), directed the feature film, "The Bride," (1985); it has been beautifully photographed in Provence. It stars Sting, Jennifer Beals, Clancy Brown and Alexei Sayle. The film is based on a novel by Mary Shelley and the music is by Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia). Higgins shows off his period costumes, extremely long braided wig and upstages Verushka at a ball with his trademark, raised eyebrow.
Higgins admires the paintings of Constable and Turner that reflect the simple beauty and nature of English villages. For many years, he lived in hilly Bavaria and rural Ireland. He has always liked walking and hiking so he was a natural choice for the hiking instructor in the film, "She'll Be Wearing Pink Pajamas" with Julie Walters. He says, "When I feel a bit pessimistic, I take a bloody good walk. I find that a five-mile walk always changes things."
Higgins plays Alexander Watson, an 1886 photographer, in a small-screen gem, "The Shutter Falls," produced by BBC Scotland, which aired in 1987 in the UK. Every frame looks like a Manet painting, with sumptuous sea colors. The cinematography of the fishermen and the timeless shore is somewhat reminiscent of the classic film, "Man of Aran." The actor says, "We filmed up north in Aberdeen." "The Shutter Falls" is similar to the 2009 Swedish film by Jan Troell, "Everlasting Moments," in which a woman's emotional awakening begins through the miracle of photography.
Watson goes to a Gaelic-speaking island north of Scotland to document the daily lives of the female herring packers, emigrated mostly from the Western Isles. His character is fascinated by the women speaking Gaelic. Higgins says, "No, unfortunately, I do not speak Gaelic."
Ironically, the women lived like herrings in a barrel, in conditions that produced tuberculosis. Higgins says, "Herring-packing was extremely hard work." The actor knows much about the lives of fishermen, too, as his grandfather was a salmon fisherman in Cork. It is Watson's tenderness that is impressive when he expresses his fascination with shy Kate, enchantingly played by Emer Gillespie. "Follow your art," is a theme and it remains a testament to Higgins' acting. It just might be his only romantic role on film that does not have cynicism attached to it.
"The Darlings of the Gods" (1989) is a made-for-television film, shot in Melbourne, starring Mel Martin as Vivien Leigh and Higgins as Laurence Olivier. The series is about the first couple of British theater, their turbulent marriage, and their touring company in Australia in 1947. "I did my best," says the actor and he does. The lines might seem kind of dated for modern viewers but, despite mixed reviews, the film found its audience.
Higgins majestically plays Johann Strauss, Sr. in "The Strauss Dynasty" (1991). This 12-hour television mini series was skillfully directed by Marvin Chomsky and expansively shot in Vienna and Budapest. It is very popular on DVD in Europe and is finding an audience in America.
How is it different from previous versions about the life of Strauss? The actor replies, "I hope: in every possible way. This version, about all of the brothers, from about 1820 to almost 1900, is not meant as some kind of chocolate box homage. It tries to make the family situations and the music completely acceptable and current to today's times. There were riots at Strauss concerts. They had to bring in the police and hussars to break up the riots. It would be like going to some of the Stones' concerts in the 60s. He was outrageous. The idea of waltzing in physical contact with each other was regarded as totally decadent.
"At one point, he and his son were not speaking at all. They had rival orchestras and rival factions following them around, rather like football hooligans today, smashing each other over the head. Strauss, Sr. played at Queen Victoria's wedding. His music was identified with the whole political thing happening with Prince Metternich, who is brilliantly played by Edward Fox.
"I just hope that in this version, you can smell the people and see that they are not just statues in the park. This guy started out as a ragonass Jew with no money. He happened to make a huge success and work himself to death in the process.
"It was one of the most satisfying experiences I ever had-- to work with director Marvin Chomsky, who is a wonderful 'old school' director. I was on the set most days so I was able to watch him work. He approached every actor in a different way, which I found fascinating. He was able to read the personality, the psychological makeup, of an actor instinctively and direct that actor accordingly to get what he wanted. With some actors, they needed a kick up the ass; with others, they needed a hug and a pat on the back; Marvin was able to supply that."
"It was a major experience to play this role. It really was. I learnt so much. I got to conduct orchestras in Vienna, the home of orchestras! Can you imagine? That is really one of the nicest pluses of being an actor, to live out fantasies that most people don't get a chance to. I am a frustrated muso." (He plays the flugelhorn.) "It was a wonderful thrill, a dream come true to play this role."
In 1996, Higgins returned to the London stage, which he had wanted to do for a long time, "to sharpen my tools," to play the title role in "Max Klapper: A Life in Pictures," a play with film by David Farr, opposite Oscar-winner, Emily Lloyd, (Wish You Were Here). Klapper is a brutal auteur and a German expatriot, who believes that actors should be treated like cattle. In 1996, when film is a hundred years old, he is wheelchair-bound and the play flashes back to 1947 Hollywood.
Higgins says about working in "Max, Mon Amour," for director Nagisa Oshima, "I am very proud to have done this film. On anyone's scale, Ohsima has to count as one of the most interesting and egocentric directors around." The inimitable gifts of Oshima (Realm of the Senses) and talented screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carriere (Unbearable Lightness of Being) combined to create this comedy in 1986, which was far ahead of its time in treading new ground.
It has a distinct premise: an affluent Parisian wife, Margaret, played by Charlotte Rampling, bored with her husband, a cultured diplomat, Peter, decides to keep a chimpanzee as her lover, naming him Max. Peter suggests that she bring Max home to stay with them. He sees that Margaret really cares for Max and becomes jealous.
Higgins is inspired in this film as Peter. The actor is dynamic in showing how Peter evolves in his philosophy of life. He infuses his character with nuances such as straightening his tie before knocking on his wife's door and her, as-yet-unknown-to-him, lover. His comic timing is impeccable, especially when he begins speaking to Max as if he were human. The scene with Peter driving his family through Paris with the chimp on the roof of the car in front of L'Arc de Triomphe is truly triumphant. Peter leaves us as a happier, wiser man but one who is still in awe of his unpredictable wife.
Higgins calls "Sweet Killing," (1992), a "dark, dark comedy." He is clever as Adam Cross, who is losing patience with his wife. The actor expresses a range for comedy as Adam, a quiet, hen-pecked husband who, after a hard day as an investment banker, sits in his home office reading comic books and fantasizing about murdering his wife. It is his vulnerability that Higgins plays so well that makes viewers want him to get away with his crime. Suzanne Girard, the film's producer says, "We wanted Higgins as Adam because he has that Gregory Peck style."
Higgins says about Montreal, "What struck me is the mixture of French and North American cultures. You could be in a restaurant with everyone speaking French, in a totally Parisian atmosphere, believe that you are in Paris, step outside to see a road of North American cars and experience real culture shock. It is a very civilized place with great restaurants. The whole time I was there, I can't remember hearing anyone use the car horn. It is very calm. I think it is about the calmest big city I have ever been in."
What would happen if Sherlock Holmes were to return from the past to contemporary San Francisco asks Kenneth Johnson, (The Incredible Hulk; V), who was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for his script of "1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns." A lot of writers have created modern versions of Holmes but Johnson dares to imagine: How would Holmes look, standing on a cable car or riding across the Golden Gate Bridge? How would he handle challenges like Latino gangs, modern spyware and operating a microwave oven? The results are funny and fascinating.
James De Pasquale's upbeat soundtrack opens the program to photography of San Francisco at night. The film is very optimistic and American in style. A lot of Sherlock fans take the character very seriously and found issues to argue about after seeing this but it is a light comedy. Deborah Farentino is perfect as Winslow, a feminist doctor who is not so strident that she would lose her feminine allure.
Higgins brings a youthful charm to the title role. In 1993, he told The Los Angeles Times, "I have always loved Sherlock since I was a boy." The actor played him onstage in, "The White Glove," and also played Moriarity in the film, "Young Sherlock Holmes". Besides Orson Welles, he is the only actor to have played both characters.
Higgins displays, again, impeccable comic timing, as Sherlock reacting to stress, other characters, and in repeatedly delivering elaborate details after being in a room for only a few minutes. His tone is just right for the screenplay that makes no pretense to be a BBC drama. Johnson says, "Anthony did a wonderful job."
It is a shame that this pilot for a television series was not given a chance to grow in more episodes. It was beautifully filmed, well-written and directed about technology and people that Sherlock would have had to figure out. All of the supporting actors are interesting, especially Mark Adair-Rios as Zapper, a street kid with a future. Also, it would have been interesting to watch the sparks fly between Winslow and Holmes.
"The Fifth Province," (1997), was directed by Frank Stapleton and written by him and author Nina Fitzpatrick, (Fables of the Irish Intelligensia). "The Fifth Province," which is the Ireland of the mind, won Best First Irish Feature Film Award at the 97 Galway Film Fleadh and the Grand Prize of European Fantasy Film in Silver in 1998 from Fantasporto. The film shows how the desire to write a screenplay has replaced the quest to write a novel and it spoofs Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Stapleton told The Times (London) that he went to a script-writing conference and it struck him as funny so it inspired him to write this screenplay.
Higgins plays Marcel, a Hungarian archeologist who sometimes becomes Spanish. He becomes manic as he illustrates a battle of the Spanish Civil War, using red wine on a tablecloth for blood, to Timmy, the protagonist, played by Brian F. O'Byrne, (Amongst Women), a dreaming soul-searcher. Higgins' accent changes again as an Italian film director in sunglasses in a satirical scene. Marcel becomes contemplative when playing the violin. It is the third time the actor plays a character who plays the violin, after Strauss and Sherlock.
The actor works again with the late, great Ian Richardson, (House of Cards), the two having worked together in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "Danton." Richardson plays Timmy's psychiatrist, working out of a caravan. Marcel, now beautifully outfitted in a white linen suit, lavender shirt and green tie, evocative of the Irish countryside colors, tells him, "I just want to help the boy."
That Higgins appears in the beginning of "Bandyta" in 1997 shows good social consciousness, the film being an award-winner about the desperate situation of Romanian orphans.
In the late 1990s, Higgins, in keeping with the times, adroitly moved on to even more daring dark-horse roles, some created by Lynda LaPlante (Prime Suspect). He has said that he always looks for works that are different. LaPlante's view of slums, jails and courts is bleak but more truthful than the glossy world of "Law and Order." Her chilling crime-writings are based on first-hand research with police and she gets the details exactly right.
Higgins is superb in "The Governor" (1997), playing convict Norman Jones. He has retained the ability to make viewers wonder what happened to his character after he has left the story. Like Stephan in "Quartet," Norman is sensitive, has frustrated yearnings to do things and his departure from the screenplay is impactful.
"Law and Order: UK: Buried" (2009): Higgins shows that he still has the ability to play an innocent victim wrongly accused and make the viewer feel his pain. It wasn't the murdered boy who was buried-- it was the dignity of his character, Connor. Connor is dapperly dressed. While his appearance may capture your eyes, it is his character that arrests your heart.
Higgins has travelled from classical repertory theater to several decades of unique international work on television, onstage and in film. All of his roles reflect his passion for life and his new portrayals are always surprising and entertaining. Sometimes, he can be found playing the flugelhorn as a guest with brass bands in England. Higgins says, "I'm coming back! In my next incarnation, I'm coming back as an opera singer, if I can fix it. That must be the ultimate form of art-- to sing and to act well." He goes on to say, "I know this sounds terribly middle-aged but I love opera. I get the same kind of buzz from listening to Mozart's operas that I used to get from listening to the Beatles or the Stones." So, perhaps, it was a stretch to play the rocker, Franco, in the Series 3 episode, "Counter-Culture Blues" of "Lewis," a mystery series that aired in Britain and Belgium in March, 2009. Franco's electric guitar loudly sounds discordant rock.
When asked why he has kept a low public profile, the actor replies, "It's not that I have actually chosen to avoid publicity. I just don't seek it. It's not that I have made a decision to say, 'No interviews.' I always do things if I think it's going to help a project. I do interesting work all the time and I'm well-paid for it©I don't need celebrity exposure. I don't need to live my life between the covers of magazines and if, I think, touch wood, that my career is really at the point that I want©Why would I want to go on chat shows and tell the same old stories over and over again?" (He pauses to think.) "I think some people are very good at it. An awful lot of people make a career just out of being celebrities rather than doing work. Well, good luck to them. It's 'horses for courses.' I don't think that I am particularly good at publicizing myself. It's as simple as that."
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