Sir John Hurt

The legend

Photo courtesy of Louisa Mellor

Sir John. I met Sir John when I was invited to participate in a lab for directors at The Gate Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. John had a long association with The Gate and was a true champion of the theatre and, specifically, Irish theatre. Of course, I was aware of the legend of the man. Aliens, Harry Potter, OMG, Olivier’s Fool! I had dreamt of meeting the man and being able to pick his brain about the theatre and acting for camera. I longed for his stories and tips on acting from many years of his working with legends and being a legend. My dream had come true!

Sir John did not disappoint. Humble in his career and wanting to give as much as possible, he did.

After hearing him speak to a young group of directors, I approached him on our break to ask him very specific questions about acting. Of course, he was taken aback by my accent. We were at The Gate in Dublin, Ireland, and my Canadian accent is quite strong and noticeable! He immediately tuned in that I was Canadian (and not American), and asked about the Canadian theatre. He was genuinely interested in what we were doing and said, “Canadians have an important voice in this world.” I never asked him exactly what he meant, but I think I knew. We are a democracy that has been around for generations now, and we have some perspective on what that means. Our conversation quickly moved to acting, and I really wanted to know how he saw the theatre today and in the future.

Sir John paused initially and said, “That’s a great question.” I think he was expecting me to ask about working on said film or what it was like to work with so and so. I could care less about that, as I always do, and am always more interested in the craft and the “lessons passed down from great actor to actor”. His response surprised me.

Sir John said, and I quote, “I want you, the next generation, to never forget the lessons of the past, and to move forward with the empathy and call to action that my generation has missed.” I, of course, asked, “What have you missed?” His response was clear and direct. “My generation fought for us; you need to fight for the next generation. It’s a terrible thing to expect of you. “ It took me a few minutes to understand what he was saying. Each generation fights for a better life for themselves. In a world filled with low salaries, high inequality, high inflation, high priced goods and services, and young people not being able to afford a roof over their heads, Sir John had recognized his generation let us all down. They fought for them after the great world wars. They never fought for the future of humanity. What a brave and brilliant admission to the next generation of theatre artists. After all, hasn’t it been us who have always changed the world? It was not the acting nugget I was looking for. It was not the secret to my career exploding or the key to becoming the next John Hurt. It was much bigger, deeper, and more meaningful than that. It was a call to action and the subtext and foundation of every project I would participate in moving forward. It was advice that would inspire me to change the world. It solidified my purpose and was a pact between me and the theatre gods to make the world a better place. It was a blood oath to those who came before me who entered the theatre, against all practical, familial, and financial odds, to continue the important work some of us on this earth are lucky enough to find.

The theatre and our purpose are bigger than ourselves and bigger than the society within which we live. It is a pursuit to get closer to the gods and to make human beings and the earth the leaders of the universe. We are not just protectors of ourselves, but of everything God created. Inspiration for other countries? Not at all. Inspiration for creation itself. Thank you, Sir John. Rest in peace.

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This journal brings together performing artists and their audiences, seeing the life lessons learned in the craft. Self-exploration and creativity are central to our mission, but we also look at theater, television, and film for sources of inspiration.

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Lee Samuel Wilson

Lee Samuel Wilson

Lee holds Canadian, British & Irish citizenship. He is an actor, director, dramaturg, professor, and artistic director.

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