Star of stage, screen and television, and one of only two people to be awarded two Knighthoods, Sir Derek Jacobi is one of Britain’s most distinguished actors. ‘If you want to be an actor, don’t. If you need to be an actor, do.’
The world of theatre could not have been further from Derek’s childhood: an only child, born in Leytonstone, London. With his father a department store manager father and his mother a secretary, his was very much a working class background. But nonetheless Derek always knew he was going to be an actor, and he remembers clearly the first time he was in costume - draping himself in his mother’s glorious wedding veil as he paraded up and down the Essex Road with his friends.
A few short years later, at the age of seven, Derek made his acting debut, playing both lead roles in a local library production of The Prince and the Swineherd. During his final year at school the National Youth Theatre cast Derek as Hamlet (his most famed role) for the first time. Shortly after this he won a scholarship to Cambridge, where he studied and acted alongside other future acting greats including Ian McKellen.
His talent was quickly recognised and in 1963 he was invited to become one of the first members of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre. Often admired for his willingness to grapple with even the most dislikeable of characters, Derek Jacobi has worked continuously throughout his career, starring in roles ranging from the lead in I, Claudius to Hitler in Inside the Third Reich and Francis Bacon in the controversial Love Is The Devil. But it is his numerous Shakespearean roles that have gained him worldwide recognition.
This book is, however, much more than a career record. Funny, warm and honest, Jacobi brings us his insider’s view on the world of acting. From a simple childhood in the East End to the height of fame on stage and screen, Derek recalls his journey in full: from the beginnings of his childhood dreams to the legendary productions, the renowned stars and the intimate off-stage moments.
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A career in the Classical Theatre
I found the earlier parts of his autobiography much more interesting: as he was growing up, finding his acting feet, and learning the ropes at the hands of a wild variety of directors. After that, though, I felt it often became a mere roll-call of his illustrious roles, with analysis of how he tackled particularly significant productions. I guess 60 years of acting at the National etc would tend to produce such an approach but it became more than a tad boring, to be honest.
I'd have preferred him to have come off the stage more, and talk about his life in general! For example, he's only one of two people ever to have been twice-knighted, so I was shocked that the only reference to this considerable honour was a throw-away along the lines of: "After I was knighted...". One of the Amazon reviewers mentions that the text was transcribed from interviews with Mr Jacobi, which were possibly intended as background material for a fully-researched biography by Garry O'Connor, and it certainly reads like that.
No question, he's got a beautiful voice, very easy to listen to, even when he's angsting on.
If you're a classical theatre buff and you want to explore how a talented actor approaches his roles, yes it's well worth your time. Personally I found it interesting only in his early years. If you're after insights into his well-known TV series ('I, Claudius' and 'Cadfael'), these are discussed only briefly.
It didn't help that I came to this recording fresh from listening again to Michael Caine's wonderfully relaxed, amusing, generous, open and entertaining autobiography 'The Elephant to Hollywood'. Now, THERE's a man who can really tell a story!
Derek Jacobi by Derek Jacobi
Yes I love listening to other peoples lives and this was a gentle life story and a comfortable read
Learning about his lifetime friendships and how hard it was to be gay in a time when it was against the law
A feel good listen
- J. Baldwin