Last month I had the absolute delight of visiting the legendary Shepperton Studios. I was attending an audition for a very interesting project, and shortlisted for a brilliant character part. Anyone remotely interested in film, or indeed film comedy, must surely view Shepperton Studios as one of the must-visit locations, so I count myself very lucky indeed to have made it through those gates. It was an exciting experience driving up to the security hut, a tingle of anticipation ran through my entire body as I gazed ahead at the complex of studios, theatres and workshops. Yes, I’ve had auditions before, and I’ve spent many hours in front of studio microphones, but the setting for this particular audition made it an occasion that generated its very own tingle factor. My mind was filled with happy memories of classic comedy movies like I’m Alright Jack and Two Way Stretch as I drove through the studio road system towards the car park. As I turned my car into Peter Sellers Way this moment suddenly felt totally right.
Richard Henry (Peter) Sellers was born in Southsea in 1925 and had probably just completed filming his role as The March Hare in William Sterling’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when I was born in 1972, appropriately enough in March! Sellers is one of my great heroes, the only Goon I never met. I read most of the early biographies of this chameleon like performer and found in him a sort of kindred spirit. I collected a large proportion of his fifty plus movies on VHS, watching his work dozens of times. He is a fascinating actor to study, and an equally intriguing man to try and understand through the research and memories of others. It is perhaps unwise to emulate the inimitable, but I did find myself aspiring to be a voice talent and my own original line of comedy and comedic characters soon began to veer towards the Goonish. The more I created (in my own small way) an array of vocal guises to entertain, the more I felt I might understand Sellers – probably wishful thinking on my part.
Meantime folks, back at Shepperton… (FX – Whoosh!) As part of the preparation for my audition I was sent a link to a YouTube video of some behind-the-scenes footage of an animated film. It was a comfortable feeling watching great artistes at work in a setting I’m very familiar with, and it transposed well to the reality of my experience during the audition itself. I had a ponder after the forty five minutes of vocal testing – all of which was immensely satisfying – and considered that if Peter Sellers had lived beyond his fifty four years he’d surely be doing this sort of thing right now. He’d probably be the powerhouse behind hundreds of animated features.
I have a feeling that that Tuesday in February won’t be my only visit to Shepperton Studios, or at least I certainly hope not! It would be an amazing achievement to one day do something – and to drive along once more – the Peter Sellers Way.
Doing Things the Peter Sellers Way by Richard A. Usher
Doing Things the Peter Sellers Way © 2014 Richard A. Usher