A few months ago in the Saint Thomas the Apostle church on Hollywood Boulevard, the British actor Julian Sands gave a reading of Harold Pinter's poetry. Firstly, this is not the sort of event that happens very often in LA. Second, the Room With a View actor was at it once again last month. This time, Sands' presence on the boulevard was for the premiere of his all-singing, all-dancing television production Bollywood Hero.
It doesn't sound much like high art but as the night progressed it emerged that Hollywood had a connoisseur in its midst. Sands burst into the room with a fresh, bright energy like a walker returning from a bracing mountain hike. But when I approached him later on, he sat like a dejected string puppet, void of life until the mention of the word acting. He rebounded instantly from what turned out to be a jet-lagged pause from events.
He began a near soliloquy that is a must-hear for anyone interested in acting as an art form. It sounded strangely out of place in Hollywood. "Being an actor is a way of life," he said. "It is a philosophy. It is not about being on the top of your career. It is a state of being. If you are an actor you are in it for the long haul. "A wandering actor I, a thing of shreds and patches, of ballads, songs and snatches," he continued, paraphrasing a verse from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.
Sands' ability to rebound might have something to do with a level of physical fitness he applies to his craft: lots of walking, running and yoga. "Acting is like a pinball machine," he continued. "One has to be prepared to be tossed around." This physicality is something that was famously embodied by Sir Laurence Olivier, whom Sands played in 2005 in the British television drama about the critic Kenneth Tynan. "What Olivier embodied for me, and what I would call it, is the martial actor - which is not in any way like Arnold Schwarzenegger but an athletic approach to being an actor - which gave him the depth and range," he said. "There is nothing complicated about it. Fit body. Fit mind.
"That's my thought about being an actor and acting work for me," he said. "But I make no claim for an exclusive truth about either. It is an individual thing and no one is less legitimate for being less philosophical. If someone makes a living working on a soap and calls themselves an actor, I wouldn't argue with them." One of the reasons that Sands became an actor was Malcolm McDowell, with whom he worked for the first time in the upcoming Golf in the Kingdom, an adaptation of Michael Murphy's book about the philosophical lessons of golf. Sands' next film will be a feature about Ataturk, in which he plays a British colonial type. For this, he will leave Bollywood for Istanbul.
Going from a Harold Pinter reading to Bollywood Hero, meanwhile (by way of Ocean's Thirteen), is something he sees as a matter of course. "It is important to stay open to whatever comes to you," he said. "It is important to believe in providence and to embrace opportunities. It shouldn't be a contradiction to go from Pinter to Bollywood Hero." Several days later, the compelling sound of Sands' voice wafts out across the Californian desert. It is a recording of his Pinter reading, which he had sent on the week before.
"There are no more words to be said. All we have left are the bombs, which burst out of our head."