As I get off at the fourth stop to London and ascend the exit stairs, I freeze in my tracks. The clouds have begun to spew rain since I entered the Underground twenty minutes ago. And of course I didn’t bring along an umbrella. Or a hat. Or anything that would be even remotely useful. I attempt to maneuver my pea coat so that it covers the top of my just-washed blonde hair, to no avail. For a split second, I ponder using my papers and notebook as a sort of shield, before realizing that those documents would then become drenched. How unprofessional that would look to my interviewee! In the battle between looking presentable and looking prepared, I am not about to let some rain derail my first proper interview for this new job. I rush through the torrential onslaught as fast as I can, looking downwards as I go.
Speed walking to the hotel, the intended meeting spot, a sense of dread suddenly pours over me. What if I forget all my questions? Will he provide interesting answers? Do I have a pen? Have I remembered my tape recorder? Am I sure that today is the correct day? What if I’m complete rubbish? I shake the water droplets and the intrusive thoughts from my head.
Lucky for me, the hotel that we’re supposed to meet at is just a few blocks away from the Tube. The High Holborn. I reach its front doors in exactly eight minutes. From the outside, it appears unimpressive. The bricks are an array of poorly mismatched shades, and the rain isn’t helping with the overall dreary look. It was my assumption that these actor types liked staying in more lavish and prominent hotels. I figure that William James Bradshaw is known more for his stage work right now, so perhaps this is all he can afford.
I present my ID card from the newspaper I work for and am shown into the lobby by a woman whose wrinkles seem to imitate a confluence of streams. The waiting area is enclosed within the rest of the building, and furnished with your run-of-the-mill cream-coloured cotton furniture and small wooden tables. Looking over the setting, I wonder if I should order some tea for our chat. Would that be too presumptuous? I sit down on one of the overly large chairs and groan when I sink a couple inches into its crevices. After spending a minute testing the other chairs, I conclude that Mr. Bradshaw, being the man of the hour, deserves the least cavernous one. I settle back into my original seat and check the time. 11:40. Five minutes more. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a figure enter the room with noiseless steps. It must be him.
The first thing I notice about William Bradshaw is that he is somehow more attractive in real life. Based on the publicity photos the Tribune gave me beforehand, I already think he looks fetching, though not quite my type. But here he is in front of me now, and that full head of brown hair somehow looks more tousled, that boyish face somehow looks more angelic, that almost feminine body somehow looks leaner. He’s the lad who will still look 24 when he’s in his 50’s.
The second thing I notice is that Mr. Bradshaw is in the clothes I wish I were wearing right now. A loose-fitting blue t-shirt and skinny jeans look far more comfortable than my current attire of a grey skirt-suit and high heels. I stand to greet him as my most professional smile reflexively grows on my face. His smile in return is timid, yet seems equally as practiced.
“Mr. Bradshaw, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” I extend my hand. His grip is somewhere in-between firm and stroking a kitten.
“Yes, nice to meet you, too, Ms…”
“Shae Robbins, of The Islington Tribune.” A shrill voice in my head chastises me: good job on forgetting your name, that’s off to a great start!
“That’s a lovely name.” His voice is precise but delicate, as if it might be crushed at any moment. He seems to choose his words carefully as he talks. “Would you mind my calling you Shae? Sorry, it’s just that last names always comes off as a bit formal.” The way he says my name, it sounds like singing. I have no objections to this arrangement.
“No, of course not, anything you like, Mr. Bradshaw.” Was that too forced? Probably.
“So… shall we sit down?” He motions to the man-eating chairs. I nod and find myself steadying my hands as I reach into my purse to grab my pen and tape recorder.
“You’ll have to forgive me, Mr. Bradshaw,” I say as I fidget around with my belongings, trying to find the right page in my notes.
“Oh, take your time! Truth be told, you’re the first proper newspaper that’s wanted to interview me.” He also squirms, albeit more subtly. His legs shake to an invisible pulse and his hands are crossed in his lap. His fingers remind me of a pianist’s, they’re so long and skinny.
“Right, here we go.” Everything looks to be in order. I press record on my tape recorder. One last glance at my questions. Pen in hand, ready for the second he starts talking. Breathe in. Breathe out. And… start. “Mr. Bradshaw, you’ve just finished shooting your first feature after performing in a number of plays around London. What would you say is the biggest difference between the cinema and the stage?” He stares downward and seems to mull over his answer.
“Well, the stage has always been a second home to me. It’s certainly strange going from having to know your lines every single day to learning the lines for just the day you’re shooting. There’s also something to be said about the permanence of film and the transience of the stage. Both require acting, but one is far less ethereal than the other.”
As he speaks, a singular thought sprints through my brain: Jesus, what in the hell is he saying? I commend the boy for how intelligent and passionate he sounds. But if this is how he’ll answer every single question, I may as well hand in my resignation to the Tribune now.
“That’s all quite insightful, Mr. Bradshaw…” I trail off in thought.
“Sorry, that must’ve sounded like nonsense.” His shoulders tense, his legs bounce more.
“Oh, no, no, no! It’s just, well, you know how ignorant we non-acting folk can be when it comes to really ‘getting’ the craft, right?” I plaster on my most sympathetic look, raising my eyebrows and widening my grin. It must look so fake.
“Yes, of course, I understand.” He shoots back that same practiced smile from earlier and visibly relaxes his shoulders. There must be a way to save face and this interview. Well, Mr. Bradshaw seems more than interested in talking about his work. I spot a question on my paper that might be a good segue into the answers I assume the Tribune really wants.
“The Coward’s Holiday, your first feature, stars not only yourself but a wide array of some of Britain’s most notable stars. Any stories about working with them on the set?”
“Nothing in particular. Everyone was quite lovely and helpful. I would love the chance to work with them all again.” Short and sweet. Not good enough. I press further.
“Anyone that you took a fancy to?”
“Well, Marcus Amison, who plays my brother in the film, is such a beautiful and warm person. He helped me tremendously on the first few days when I was nervous about acting in front of the camera. There’s Keyla Pearse, another co-star, we still keep in touch since we live close to each other. Oh, and Rupert Camm, our wonderful director, he always—.”
“Sorry, my mistake, I meant was there anyone you fancied, like, you’d ever ask for a night out?” Whoever coined the phrase “as hard as pulling teeth” obviously talked to this boy.
“Oh, sorry, I misunderstood. But, no, I’m afraid I’m already taken.” He darts his hazel eyes back and forth every once in a while as he speaks.
“Anyone we’d know?”
“No, and…” So this is what a deer caught in headlights must look like. “Sorry, but if you don’t mind, I’d rather not discuss this here.”
“Not at all, Mr. Bradshaw. Not at all.” I hope he doesn’t hear the emphasis I place on the last three syllables. That’s one line of questioning that’s off-limits. Damn. I rack my brain for anything noteworthy. “What does your family think of your career? They must be quite proud.”
“Yes, well, my mum and dad have always been supportive, ever since I started acting in secondary school.” Despite my assumptions that this would be an easier topic to broach, Mr. Bradshaw seems more uncomfortable than ever. He runs his fingers through his wavy, gravity-defying hair and sighs audibly.
“Can you tell us anything at all about your family?” He bites his lip before answering.
“There’s not much to tell. Mum is a primary school teacher, dad is a travelling salesman. And my brother Theo does something with computer programming, but I don’t quite know what it is. I’m afraid I’m hopeless when it comes to technology.” The six-year-old cell phone model—not even a Smartphone!—sticking out of his side jean pocket could have told me as much. “No other artists in the family so far as I can tell. Growing up was fairly normal. I lived in South Cambridgeshire until I attended LAMBDA.”
“Yes, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. What was your time like there?”
“Informative, to say the least. Plenty of learning opportunities. Yes, it was quite an experience for me, having never been to London before then.” His voice is getting softer now.
“And you burst onto the acting scene after graduating three years ago, playing what many critics called the best modern rendition of the lead role in Henry V. How did that feel, knowing your talents were so well-received?” There has to be something useful he can say. Right?
“I heard that people liked my performance, but I never really read any reviews.” Nope.
“Really? Never even looked yourself up on the Web to see what everyone said?”
“No, sorry.” His innocent face seems genuinely apologetic. It’s adorable in an enraging sort of way. “My mum’s got a book full of news clippings about the plays I’ve been in. But I don’t really see the point in reading reviews of my work. There’s no need to make a celebrity out of someone as insignificant as me.” Something in me snaps, and I lean in towards Mr. Bradshaw.
“Insignificant? Really? You’re telling me you have no lofty ambitions? No desire for a BAFTA or an Olivier Award? Nothing interesting you could possibly tell me about yourself? Because, forgive me, but you’re a bloody actor! Your type is supposed to be a surefire ego-trip, the easiest material an interviewer could ever get. And apparently you didn’t get the memo that people want to hear you talk about yourself. Or is that just too much out of your obviously introverted comfort zone?” The more I whisper-yell, the more the heat rises in my cheeks. I’m sure I look utterly ridiculous. I don’t care. “They said you’d be easy. Why else would they give you to a new employee like me? The Tribune laid it all out, that you were an up-and-coming star and that they figured there’d be something worthwhile in you. Jesus, how wrong they were!” I sit back in my chair and stare up at the ceiling. The colours are dreary even up top, too, just like the outside. It looks like the ceiling is covered in smoke. What I wouldn’t give for a fag about now.
Will Bradshaw has been silent this whole time. I don’t sense him moving or even breathing across from me. What feels like an eternity passes. How I’d love to be able to know what he’s thinking right now. In an instant, it dawns on me that the words hit me harder than they do for him. And as much as I want to, I can’t bring myself to pull my head down and stare at him directly. This is embarrassing. This is another job gone. This is not supposed to happen.
“Shae? Ms. Robbins?” It still sounds like singing when he says my name. I refuse to face him out of shame. “I’m genuinely sorry if I’ve caused you any trouble. I guess it’s my fault. There is some truth to what you said. I’m not a very sociable person by nature. Never have been.” It sounds like he’s chuckling slightly to himself as he talks. “But, in a way, that’s why I love acting, and why I don’t understand the attention that you, and I guess the rest of society, seem to think I deserve. You see, I…” He’s struggling again, but something about his fragile voice seems different this time. For the first time since our conversation began, Will Bradshaw is speaking naturally, unforced. I bring my head down to see his swan-like neck craning to the left.
“Go on.” I don’t grab for my pen or my notes. He continues to look away from me, but settles his wiry limbs in a different position in the chair before continuing.
“Well, acting gives me so many chances to be other people. You get to pretend for a time that you’re not you, that you can be anything and do anything. It’s something I’ve cherished since I discovered the theatre when I was eleven. And, if this makes sense, I’ve never figured out why I’d be rewarded for doing something that I enjoy so deeply. I’m just doing what I love.” He looks directly at me. There is an air of confidence surrounding him. “And I suppose that’s what you were doing today.” A moment passes. I contemplate the boy, no, man, in front of me. How he looks, how he speaks, how he carries himself. This isn’t jealousy that I feel, but rather hope.
“Mr. Bradshaw.” I exhale loudly and cover my face, “I am ashamed and embarrassed and I want you to know that none of this was your fault. This was highly unprofessional, and I—”
“There’s no need, Shae.” He interrupts me with kindness. He stands and offers me a hand up from my seat. I oblige. He says in a whisper, “Everything is okay.” I tell myself not to blush.
“For what it’s worth, I wish you all the best with the film. I haven’t seen it, but talking to you has convinced me to give it a go.” He laughs as we shake hands goodbye. The grip is much more self-assured now.
“I appreciate it, thank you.” I stare at the beautiful features on his face for a bit too long, considering that marvelous brain behind it. We let go our hands and walk in opposite directions.
When I leave the Hotel Holborn on that rainy afternoon to head back to my one-bedroom flat in Islington, I do not know that I will leave the Tribune the next week after listening to the contents of my tape recorder and breaking down crying. I do not know that Will Bradshaw will receive rave reviews for The Coward’s Holiday, which he will most likely refuse to read, and that the film will see a tremendous surge in his popularity. I do not know that I will start a blog in a few months on a whim, tired with dealing with the journalistic world and choosing to find people who believe in the news I find interesting. I do not know that in the next several years Will Bradshaw will not only become known for his reluctance to discuss his private life as opposed to the focus he places on his craft, but also highly respected for that trait. I do not know that I will be asked to travel around the world when interest grows in my blog and speak to people who are inspired by what I do. I do not know that Will Bradshaw will star in some of the most iconic films and groundbreaking plays in the next forty years, and be deemed the finest actor of his generation upon acceptance of his lifetime achievement awards at both the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards. I do not know that throughout my life I will connect with many people who love what I have to say, and be offered a multitude of job opportunities that will lead to me becoming a proper journalist on my own terms. I do not know that nearly sixty years from now I will meet Will Bradshaw again for what will turn out to be his final interview before his death. I do not know that we will both smile genuine heartfelt smiles when we meet the last time.What I do know is that nothing is ever certain or expected. Because that is when our job is done.