NewsOnline.co.za - 31st May, 2012
by Gisele Turner
Richard E Grant - MTN Bushfire 2012
Pic by : Gisele Turner
Richard E. Grant returned to Swaziland, the place of his birth, to play out his role as the MTN Bushfire Festival’s Patron. He chatted with old friend Cas Mamba about his life and times, his creative works, past and present and seduced his audience with warmth, candour and laughter. Gisele Turner was there.
Richard E Grant and Cas Mamba @ MTN Bushfire Festival 2012
Pics by: Gisele Turner
Cas Mamba gave Richard E. Grant an affectionate and eloquent introduction, recalling a friendship with many of the Swaziland stalwarts that spanned the 25 years he had spent there. She asked him if his role as patron of the Bushfire Festival was as a figurehead or if he intended being 'hands-on', indicating that he could possibly offer workshops. Richard's response was surprising; he said that people could not be taught to act; that if he did get involved it would be to make documentaries or involve people in performance projects.
When asked his opinion on the cultural boycott Richard responded that he has been out of the country for 30 years and that while Swaziland still held a very special place in his heart he was in no position to interfere with the status quo. "I don’t feel it my place to involve myself with political change," he said. "Is the artist the mouthpiece of social protest, or is he simply there to express himself?" persisted Cas. Richard indicated that for him both are applicable. "But beware the disillusionment that you as an artist will change history!" he warned.
With the subject very much in the news Cas asked Richard his opinion of the furore around 'The Spear', the painting of Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed. "I believe in freedom of expression as a basic human right," said Richard, "and I defend the right for you to have your opinion."
The conversation turned personal with Cas wanting to know what it was about Swaziland that Richard loved. "It’s a homing pigeon instinct," he responded, "and being with people who have known you from the get-go. I feel most authentically myself when I am here."
In 1987 Richard sprung into the limelight with the cult film Withnail and I. Cas was keen to know if this history was a burden. "On the contrary, it continues to be a source of conversation and discussion for like-minded people and I am very grateful for that," he replied.
Richard then moved onto his more recent projects, including his role as Michael Heseltine in The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep as Maggie Thatcher. "She is the best of the best," he enthused. "Her research is incredible and she can gossip a gig with the best of them. She would be walking down the corridors in full Iron Lady make up and costume and she would suddenly break into an ABBA medley that had us all in stitches."
Less successful has been Richard's lead role in First Knight, a romantic comedy with an operatic background that did not pan out the way it was supposed to. "What can you do?" said Richard with a disarming smile. "It ‘s like a relationship, you go into thinking that it has all the right ingredients and discover to your dismay, and too late, that it is not working. I am very embarrassed by my involvement with this film and will happily refund anyone who saw it – you can see me at the back of the barn after this session. It was a disaster, and thank you for mentioning it."
Richard was happier to discuss his latest work as documenter. "I was asked to do an historical documentary on safaris in Key-na before it became Ken-ya. This has sparked off a slew of documentaries so my new job is asking people questions. So Cas, tell me, how did you come here?"
Questions from the floor included one regarding Wah-Wah, the movie which he scripted and directed which recalled his childhood in Swaziland and the shocking experience of waking up in the car as a nine-year-old to find his mother making love to another man. "Is your mother still alive and does she know what you have done?"
"I had a rapprochement with my mother and cleared the air, she read the script and had the grace to say that she thought it was pretty accurate of what had happened," was Richard's response.
Richard was asked if he had a 'wish-list' for Bushfire, an artist that he would love to see being part of the festival. "Absolutely," he replied with enthusiasm. "I would love to see Annie Lennox come to Swaziland; she is an AIDS activist as well as an extraordinary performer."
As the interview came to an end Richard thanked everyone for coming and for having him at the festival. Anyone who attended that entertaining and openhearted interview could only have two words to say: My pleasure!