Giles Foreman is a working man from Essex, but I met up with him in Berlin half an hour ago. He’s on a stopover to his current casting project for a Sigmund Freud movie in Vienna but he’ll return to Berlin in a couple of weeks to work on the second series of “4 Blocks” an award winning German television drama about an Arabic crime family in Neukölln. Cultural integration and fluid identity is something Europeans like Giles, were born and bred to facilitate.
He is one of today’s leading acting coaches in Europe, working day in and day out at helping folk understand humanity’s core motivations, their fundamental needs. According to John Major’s recent speech, vocational qualifications such as Giles’ and those of his many European students who want to learn acting in English, risk no longer being recognised once Britain leaves Europe. As he teaches in London, Paris, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain among many other hubs, Britain’s measures leave his beloved studio in Soho and his students–who want an EU valid qualification–out in the cold. Britain is inhospitable. Even from abroad, without the colour of our worldwide visitors I already feel a chill. It’ll be a lonely future.
Giles is slouched in front of me in the chair opposite, wearing a dirty Icelandic hoodie, frowning with the effort of rolling his crumpled-but-precious last paper into a cigarette telling me about the time he went to a cockney clairvoyant recommended by his aunt.
“She talked like this,” he says ignoring the restaurant patrons around us and loudly affecting a Barbara Windsor falsetto, “–‘Oh my god darlin’, there’s several forms around you, all around you sweetheart. You’ll start in front of the camera but you’ll end up being very well known standin’ behind the camera. You’re gonna go to this drama school which is run by two men, one of them wears a Saint Christopher and the other one is like, a dancer. They’re a bit weird but they belong in that world, dun they?”
His stories of myth and memoir are entertaining. From his formative years in Holland, back to comprehensive school and hiding out from bullies behind The Palace Theatre in Essex to his love affair with German realism when thanks to his clairvoyant, from whom he still seeks regular advice, he decided against university and ended up pursuing a vocational career in drama at the Drama Centre, London which was co-founded through another successful international collaboration: The celebrated Yat Malmgren–a Swedish dancer renowned for his method of inner character development through movement–and British Christopher Fettes who’s now 88, occasionally teaches at Giles’ own studio in London… and still wears a Saint Christopher around his neck.
Perhaps for those who hold a stereotypical view of working class folk, Giles’ life may seem the stuff of posh fantasy, his fascination and expertise of European theatre a far cry from a life of meat and potatoes. His friendship with Björk, his past coaching work with the actors in X-Men First Class and his insight into his teacher Reuven’s old classmate–Marilyn Monroe–a ‘substantively creative being who was brilliant at contract law.’ But where there is fantasy, there must also be sacrifice. Giles is a gifted connector, one of society’s hinges–or as Malcolm Gladwell once described them, “a handful of people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” But to be as great a connector as he is, also means he has to say goodbye. Often.
Open borders allowed him to choose a calling which necessitates closeness with his students for a predetermined duration but then they must leave him, to forge their own path. Giles has made automated connection into an art form and it doesn’t stop at his professional persona. His last relationship was twelve years ago. “When I’ve attempted romantic relationships, they’ve always been disastrous and affected my career. I didn’t grow up with a feeling of relationship intimacy, of letting someone in.”
His mutability, his impermanence, his impulse to explore, his compulsion to shapeshift, it’s all a result of growing up European. “I know myself,” he shrugs, “If someone is looking for domesticity I’m not the one–I can’t. And it’s not like I don’t have plenty of intimacy in my line of work.” He works with his clients according to Rudolf Laban’s dance theories which analyse the motivations of a character through movement. Once you can read body language, you can slip into most anybody’s skin. So what do bodies physically tell you about their owners’ deepest, most private desires? “Most people,” he says “go after someone replete in an area of their own makeup that’s deficient to obtain a sense of psychological equilibrium. There’s something Darwinian in it.”
And now there’s a further risk to his work in the modern world. Assuming others’ identity seems primal, private and questionably consensual, especially where marginalized experience might be appropriated for profit–as it is likely to be by definition in Hollywood. The ability to slip into someone else’s skin is a great power, and with it comes great ethical responsibility. How does he, as a European white man, justify it?
“Often it’s hard for the hero to tell his own story so it’s ok for someone else to interpret the story. But they have to do it well, with integrity and justice and I think they have to be willing to let go of their own ego sufficiently, to dissolve themselves in the theme, the philosophical idea being told in the story. Sometimes you need a slight distance to give a brilliant interpretation because people themselves have denial about their own experiences.”
Giles endeavours to train people to let go of the ego to remain faithful to the emotional truth of the protagonists, but admits that not everyone wants to, or is able to. For many it’s a precarious balance; losing your identity after living in another can undermine your own sense of self. Some actors need a type of exoskeleton. Some kind of earth to ground them amid their shifting energy. To continue the work he so clearly adores, Giles will have to move to Paris and shut the London studio down as any new freedom of labour and capital agreements are likely to make staying in Britain cost prohibitive for him and his students.
These are the people we need to focus on nurturing as geographical and technological mobility create a growing crisis of clashing moral standards and integration of cultural opposites. He is the type of ambassador I want out in the field demonstrating the best of what it means to be European Brit. A nomad.
“I like being in Cairo,” he says. “I like running off to L.A. and New York. I like doing movies here, there and everywhere. I like being able to go to the Borneo jungle tomorrow.” After Vienna, he’s off to catch a flight to Indonesia in order to work with the Penan people, one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes in the world.
Instead of concentrating on differences, Giles looks at our universal identity from an anthropological angle “I think the mask is just a veneer. People are very, very similar once you start communicating without language you realise that it’s not what you say, it’s the energy with which you say it; it’s not the movement, it’s the energy behind the movement that really speaks.” And then he teaches that understanding to hundreds if not thousands of students. It’s not a life I could live, but it is a life well-lived.
Giles Foreman gets up to go. I miss him already. Then he says, “one last thing my clairvoyant said was as I get old I’ll start acting in movies again. I was really very excited, like, really, me?
And she goes, ‘yeah, horror movies darlin’, you got the face for it.'”