This is the first of a four part interview with the legendary Nickolas Grace.
From playing Albert Einstein in Dr Who to the Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca. The versatile actor and director is probably most loved and remembered for his roles as the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham Robert de Rainault and the flamboyant Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited.
Nickolas shares some of his memorable achievements to date with the readers of Public Description in his own honest, humble and warm hearted style.
Where It All Began
“I’m one of those boring people that knew I always wanted to be an actor right from when I was little. Some background quickly. All my family are from Liverpool. Liverpudlian. So I love to pretend I’m Liverpudlian. But I’m not. Paul McCartney calls me a ‘Plastic Scouser’ because I was born posh. Which means over the water. I was born on the Wirral which is across the Mersey. But all my family are from Liverpool so I like to think of myself as Liverpudlian and I love going back up there.”
“As a kid my parents would take me to pantomimes, and I learned to read with Thomas The Tank Engine, books so I remember thinking ‘oh I want to be an engine driver’.
“Then they took me to pantomimes. I used to love those pantomime people.
I remember ‘Cinderella’ and Buttons. Buttons was wearing this beautiful blue suit.
“Then when I was 8, I was taken to Stratford upon Avon to see my first Shakespeare and it was Sir Michael Redgrave (Vanessa Redgrave’s dad) playing Hamlet. I just thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Apparently I got up and said to my elocution teacher ‘That’s smashing’ and she went ‘SSHHH!!!!!’ That was the combination that made me want to act.
“My mum and dad always encouraged me. My dad when we were living in Chester built me a small theatre at the top of the house and wrote me plays. My two passions at school were rowing and acting.”
“I do have a connection with the film business. My great grandfather, on my father’s side, built some of the first cinemas in Liverpool. The cinema chain was called Empress Cinemas. No longer there sadly. Thomas Halliwell Hughes was his name and my dad idolised him. I can vaguely remember him as a little boy though, just this shadowy figure.”
“When I performed Bernstein’s ‘Candide’ with the Liverpool Philharmonic, someone in the chorus came up to me and said ‘I used to know your great grandfather, I worked for him in one of his cinemas’. I was very proud.”
First Lesson in Fighting
“When we moved down to Essex the only school that would accept my scholarship was called Forest in Snaresbrook, and they wouldn’t let me be in the school play, because I was a day boy and only boarders could be in the play. I felt it was ridiculous. That was my first lesson in fighting really. I remember saying to dad, well I can’t stay here because I’m not allowed to act, and he said well you have to start your own group then don’t t you. I thought of course I have.”
“So I started a group for the day boys. I went to the Headmaster and asked him and he said, yes. Then I wrote to Sir Michael Redgrave and asked if I could start
The Redgrave Society. No reply. After about fifteen letters I eventually got a reply written in red biro, saying:
‘Dear Nickolas Grace,
I suppose I am head of the clan. Yes I give you permission to start the Redgrave Society’.
“Then I went straight to Vanessa, because I was secretly in love with her, and said:
Your dad has given me permission to start the Redgrave Society, will you please be Patron, and she said I would love to be. When can I come and work with you at school?’
“I went back to the headmaster and told him that Sir Michael Redgrave had given me permission to start The Redgrave Society. He looked very surprised, and said ‘oh good’.
“I put up a notice on the school notice board saying, The Redgrave Society, patrons, Sir Michael Redgrave and Vanessa Redgrave. We probably had about 20 members at 15p a time to start with.
“When Vanessa said she would come and work with the society, I put up a notice on the board, saying ‘Vanessa Redgrave talks to The Redgrave Society’. Members only, please sign underneath. Overnight we had 500 boys, including boarders. If they wanted to join, I let them. I didn’t mind.
“I got girls in as well even though it was a boys school, I didn’t want boys playing girls parts, so I asked if I could write to all the headmistresses of all the local schools in Essex. Woodford, Loughton, Leyton, I wrote to them all.
“They all asked me to go and see them. Some of them were a little bit protective of their girls. In the first play we did, in the first year, we got one girl from Leyton County and the next year we got four or five and the year I left we got about five or six. So of course the guys wanted to join because there were girls in the society. A lot of the school masters were upset that I had brought girls into the school. I had broken the rules. Hooray!
“Years later when I told Sir Cameron Mackintosh, he said: ‘You should have been a fucking producer, Grace, not an actor!’”