“Larger than life,” is a phrase that in doing more than justice to someone, does less than the desired effect intended, for it implies that life itself is small. “As large as life can be,” might be a greater compliment! I would say it of my friend, much loved as a man and a mentor, the late, great, Jeremy Brett. Flamboyant, charismatic, talented, warm, extrovert, kind. If you knew him to be this in performance, you discovered it be true in person!
As a boy I had admired him as an actor. As a man I got to call him my friend. Or rather he called me this and he made it happen. A student, me, sitting in his dressing room, introduced to his son, David, arriving to visit his father, “David let me introduce you to my friend, Lorenzo!” It meant a lot to a twenty one year old who had met him as a fan.
A few months earlier I had written him a letter, expressing my admiration for him as an actor of rare individuality and excitement. He was returning to the stage after an absence. In those few years of absence, he had, on television, become the greatest interpreter of Victorian drama, with such a degree of elan, and the finest Sherlock Holmes ever, never to be bettered. It, that part, and his work ethic, with it, plus one even more significant factor too, had triggered the manic depression that his complicated nature and personality had probably always contained within. He had lost his wife, Joan, and becoming a widower had contributed to a nervous breakdown. I knew all this, as he had recently revealed it all, bravely and with dignity, in written interviews. Similarly he broadcast later, in fundraising for support of charities dealing with mental health. I imagined him to be a terrific human being. I was to get to know, I had imagined correctly, in getting to know the man.
As I waited at the stage door, of the Richmond Theatre, the nearest outer London venue in which he was performing the new play, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, before a West end run, I was excited to meet him. I had met very many great stars over very many of my, then, twenty one years, since early on I had wanted to become a performer, no, indeed, in school, college, at home, I was one! I had been taken to see many of the finest, by my mother. Living in London in the seventies and eighties, theatre was cheaper than many realise, and as a student, it was then for me. Often a visit to a play or show, was followed by a meeting at a stage door. With few exceptions, “stars,” were friendly. None but Jeremy Brett, had yet, become my friend.
Waiting for the several fans to get an autograph, and say a few words, first, I took my time. Then I spoke to him, complimented him before he then said, “Is it Lorenzo?” Not only had he read my letter, he had remembered my name! A letter left before the show had been read during its interval ?! He could recall its author, this fan?! When I then asked him if I might have a signed photo sent to me, a frequent request stars hear and respond to with one sent, his response was different. ” Signed photo? when are we going to discuss your career?!” That week it turned out! For he asked me to come to see him between matinee and evening performances on Saturday. And so we did that on many occasions afterwards. Advice, insights, anecdotes, laughter, getting to know this man, getting to meet his son. In an era when many have a me too, moment recalled, in the performing arts, men as well as women, not me. I met a man who there was much of, and none of it was ever nasty. This bi-polar man who was bi-sexual too, was both of these and more because he was a bigger personality than most. “Larger than life,” you could call him, but for me, thirty odd years ago, he was all that a life that was theatrical meant, and for an aspiring actor, it meant so much. He and it were real, to me, and more real, than much else.
Jeremy Brett, passed away with heart failure twenty five years ago this month, and so many years before he should have. I attended his beautiful memorial with my wife who I had recently married. She had been a fan and admirer too, but had not yet got to meet him. She is as ever a fan and admirer. As am I. But my personal recollections shall not pass even as I pay homage because of the anniversary of his passing.