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In Depth

People In Film | Samuel West

Samuel West: A Regal Collaborator

For Samuel West, who plays King George VI in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, acting in Roger Michell's film gave the British thesp his most high-profile onscreen role of recent years –– not to mention the opportunity to play opposite a true cinematic legend. Says West, “Getting to do a long two-hander scene with Bill Murray? Thank you very much indeed, that is one for the grandchildren. Bill was wonderful and generous; we did full run-throughs of the whole scene.” The extended scene finds the two great men, sequestered behind closed doors, finding out who they are. And in the process, they discover that it’s their perceived handicaps – Roosevelt’s polio, King George VI’s stammer – that provide them the opportunity to be even greater human beings. As West comments, “exploring what these public figures were like in private. Don’t presidents and kings make mistakes or have minor triumphs, at dinner parties or in their bedrooms, like us?” West had previously collaborated with director Michell on his adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion and the Julia Roberts-Hugh Grant rom com Notting Hill. “This was the fourth time I’d worked with Roger. He is so attentive, and he makes things un-scary,” recounts West. “Roger would have, for our scenes together, Bill [Murray] play with responses and words slightly so that I would be slightly surprised and be able to react to what was happening in front of me.” This special approach to the scenes with Murray created a richness to HYDE PARK ON HUDSON that critics have widely celebrated. Wrote Eric D. Snider of Movies.com, “Samuel West, a busy British actor mostly unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, plays the king with dignified yet down-to-earth honesty. I could watch Murray and West as Franklin and Bertie all day long.”

Samuel West: Acting Royalty

For a number of reasons, the casting of Samuel West in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON as King George VI makes complete sense. First off, West is no stranger to playing members of the British royal family. He’d previously played George VI's great uncle, Prince Albert Victor Edward, not once, but twice. In 1997, he took on the role in the TV movie The Ripper, while as an eight year old he'd made his acting debut playing Albert Victor “Eddy” in the 1975 miniseries Edward the King. Of course, West is also royalty of a sort –– acting royalty. He is the son of the great British actor Timothy West (who played the title part in Edward the King, among countless other roles) and the equally estimable Prunella Scales, another legend of stage and screen, arguably best known for playing Sybil in John Cleese's classic sitcom Fawlty Towers. Unlike some children of actors, West was never conflicted about following in his parents' footsteps, and he says growing up in the acting world made him “very realistic about the business and the real possibility of unemployment; on the other hand I thought, 'Well, my parents are good… and they work’. So it [made] acting for a living seem entirely possible’.” And West has not just figuratively followed in his folks' footsteps, but also done so very literally, working with both of them a number of times. He has appeared with Scales in the films Howard's End and Stiff Upper Lips, while he has played on stage opposite his father in several productions. The West men have played the same characters (in different stages of life) in both the 1996 TV movie Over Here and the 2001 Iris Murdoch biopic Iris.

Samuel West: A Touch of Class

As the son of two classically trained actors and a product of Oxford University, it's probably no surprise that Samuel West –– with his rich RP voice and classically British good looks –– has played many an old-school English gentleman on the big and small screens. Ironically, in his movie debut, Reunion (1989), he actually played a member of the German landed classes, Count Konradin von Lohenburg, but it was as the tragic Leonard Bast in Merchant-Ivory's 1992 adaptation of E.M. Forster's Howard's End that he made his breakthrough, earning a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor. A natural fit for biopics and period pieces, West subsequently appeared in Roger Michell's acclaimed take on Persuasion as well as Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 version of Jane Eyre, while he played the writer Gerald Brenan in the acclaimed Bloomsbury movie Carrington, starring Emma Thompson and Jonathan Pryce, and took the role of Romantic poet Robert Southey in Pandaemonium (2000), a portrait of Wordsworth and Coleridge's relationship. As he demonstrates in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, West also has a fine sense of humor and poked fun at his plummy image in the 1998 costume drama spoof Stiff Upper Lips and had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek while playing Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the hammy horror pic Van Helsing (2004). On British television, he is incredibly prolific, but has achieved particular prominence with major roles in 2003's Cambridge Spies, playing the traitorous Anthony Blunt, the 2010 miniseries Any Human Heart (adapted from William Boyd's best-selling novel of the same name), and the 2012 fantasy drama series Eternal Law.

Samuel West: A True Renaissance Man

U.S. audiences watching Samuel West in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON may find themselves wondering why they are not more familiar with this fine actor who, despite his young looks, is already 45 years old. Well, the reason is that, after his initial success in Howard's End, West chose not to take the Hollywood route, opting instead to stay in Britain. Asked in 2012 by The Independent whether he regrets this decision, West responded, "Only in so far as one regrets the things one hasn't done just because one hasn't done them. When people say, 'If I had my life over again I wouldn't do anything different', well, I'd do everything differently just for the variety'." In West's career, variety has been, in many ways, the defining motivation for everything he has done, as he is a true renaissance man. In addition to his extensive work in film and television, West has been a staple on stage in London's West End for close to a quarter of a century. For two seasons he graced the Royal Shakespeare Company (where he is now an Associate Artist), and over the years he's played everything from the Bard to the most contemporary of works, such as ENRON, the 2010 play about the infamous financial scandal, for which he was nominated for Best Actor at the Olivier Awards. A stage director since 2002, West has received Olivier nominations for directing both theater and opera productions. With his cultured voice, West has also been a narrator of TV documentaries, voiced numerous audio books, sung as part of the Choir of London, been a reciter for all of the U.K.'s principal orchestras, and been a frequent voice actor in radio dramas, which he also recently began directing. Oh, and he's a council member for the British acting union Equity and vice-chair of the National Campaign for the Arts too. A highly prolific and seemingly unstoppable creative force, West noted recently that he's already achieved his three major career goals – "to be in Doctor Who, play Hamlet and read the shipping forecast." But one senses there's a whole lot more to come from Samuel West in the future.

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