Jim Broadbent – still enjoying new roles

Words by:
Tim Saunders
Featured in:
November 2017

The next film that the internationally acclaimed Oscar-winning film star Jim Broadbent will appear in is Night in Hatton Garden, due for release in 2018.
Born in the village of Holton cum Beckering in 1949, Jim Broadbent still lives in the county and is now considered one of Britain’s leading actors. For an upcoming film he is thought to be playing 75-year-old John Collins, who acted as a lookout for the gang who stole £25m of jewellery in the audacious Hatton Garden robbery in 2015.

The Working Title production, directed by James Marsh, also stars Michael Caine, Ray Winstone and Paul Whitehouse. Clad in Hi-Vis jacket and hard hat Jim’s character acts as lookout while the gang drill through the vault that holds millions of pounds worth of jewels.

To make this particular scene as convincing and realistic as possible it was filmed at night and on location outside the Hatton Garden safe deposit box where the original robbery took place. Many passersby believed them to be attempting a second heist in the area. “I did a real double take when I saw them there in the middle of Hatton Garden,” an onlooker told the Daily Mirror newspaper. “They looked like the men we saw in CCTV images of the robbery.”

A seventh thief, known only as Basil, has never been found, while £10m worth of the gems is believed to still be missing. The criminals were inspired by two crimes, which two of the robbers had been involved in – the infamous £26 million Brink’s Mat robbery at Heathrow Airport and the £6m Security Express cash robbery in London. Both took place in 1983.

An actor for more than four decades Jim Broadbent has rarely been off our screens since his first foray into the world of film in 1971 with an uncredited role as a spectator at a cricket match. He graduated from drama school a year later. Although both his parents were sculptors they were also keen amateur actors and clearly theirs was a positive influence. In fact, The Broadbent Theatre in Wickenby, a converted Lincolnshire church, with its regular schedule of productions, is named after his dad, Roy, who died when Jim was 22. Jim is the theatre’s honorary president.

“I’ve always been deliberately open to new experiences,” he told the Daily Telegraph. This appetite for a challenge has seen him enjoy a plethora of different roles throughout his forty-five-year career including taking to the stage in The Government Inspector at the Royal National Theatre.

In the 1980s he was approached to play wheeler-dealer Derek Trotter in the hit BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses, but he couldn’t commit to it and so the role went to David Jason. “I like to say it was my big contribution to British culture,” he told the Guardian. “I would have done one series and it wouldn’t have been particularly successful. And even if it had been successful, I’d have wanted to do something else. And then the world would never have known Only Fools and Horses.”

Copious amounts of television work followed such as The Peter Principle and The Street while demand for him to take increasingly major roles in films grew. “I went from playing the friend of the lead to the father or grandfather of the lead, without the romantic interlude in between,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “So I haven’t had the normal trajectory. There’s never been one show or film or play where I’ve been discovered. But that’s all right, I enjoy the slow incremental progression. I have no wish to explode or implode.”

By the ‘90s he was starring in blockbusters and his contribution clearly helped turn them into such successes. His role in the 1997 film The Borrowers alongside John Goodman and Hugh Laurie saw the film gross $54m at the box office. Interestingly, this Working Title film is one of a series that Jim has starred in. Others include Bridget Jones’s Diary and Hot Fuzz as well as this latest one. His role as Professor Slughorn helped Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince generate a $934m revenue.

This down to earth Lincolnshire actor, who has a reputation for being easy to work with, has starred alongside a great many famous names including Dame Judi Dench, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry. He has also appeared in four episodes of the hugely popular TV show Game of Thrones.

Despite his heady success and uncanny ability to play loud extroverts such as the ringmaster in Moulin Rouge, it is heartening to know that privately Jim Broadbent remains shy. He is one for keeping his feet firmly on the ground. What makes him happiest is to indulge in his hobby of wood sculpting. His parents would be proud.

“Making people out of wood,” Jim told the Guardian, “it’s just another way of inventing characters, it’s all part of the same process. Stick on clothes and hair and paint the faces.” He is also a keen golfer. “I go to cheap public courses,” he said. “I’m a very bad golfer and the guys I play with are really bad and we like to be able to play badly without the disapproval of the members.”

In 2002 he turned down an OBE after his Oscar win for playing John Bayley, Iris Murdoch’s husband in the biopic Iris. At the time, he said such awards should go to people who help others. “Oh, I think I’ve been entirely selfish with my career,” he told the Telegraph. “I’ve done what I wanted to do, and not put myself out for anyone else particularly. I don’t think those sorts of awards would suit me, really. Nailing your colours to the mast of that sort of inherited wealth, what sort of club are you joining?” He added that often those receiving such awards say ‘I accepted it for my parents’ but he turned down his for his dad particularly, who was an anarchic spirit.

In 1987 Jim married painter and former theatre set designer Anastasia Lewis, who has two sons. In 1995 his mother died from Alzheimer’s.

Jim attended Leighton Park School, a single sex Quaker boarding school in Reading but was expelled for drinking. “I was told I had to leave immediately after sitting my A-levels, which wasn’t a great hardship. Except I didn’t get to do the leavers’ play,” he told the Telegraph. “I suppose I am very aware that I am not academic at all, that university was never an option.”

Quickly discounting a career in theatre design in favour of acting he was introduced to writer and director Mike Leigh who created challenging roles for him to play. “When I started working with Mike,” he told the Guardian, “you have to engage so much with the character that I found myself getting rather muddled by it all.” He has since learnt to separate work from the rest of his life. “Generally I do things because I would like to be in the audience,” he added. “So it would be perverse to do that and then not actually see it. And if you get it right, you get to laugh at your own jokes.”

For more information about The Broadbent Theatre visit: www.broadbenttheatre.org

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