SCUM 1979 WIKI: THE ANNA SCHER INTERVIEW
In January 2013, we arranged a telephone interview with Anna Scher, a renowned acting teacher from Islington, London. Her drop-in classes have run since 1968, and many of the young cast from Scum were taught by her; in 1976, Anna’s reputation drew the attention of Alan Clarke who visited the class one evening scouting for actors – and the rest, as they say, is history!
SCUM WIKI: It’s a great pleasure today to be interviewing a key person responsible for a lot of the young talent that featured in Scum, and that person is the famous London-based acting guru, Anna Scher! Anna, thanks so much for answering our questions here today!
ANNA SCHER: Pleasure, a pleasure.
SCUM WIKI: Now, it must have been around 1976 when the director Alan Clarke first approached your company as the screenplay was completed in 1977…what was the initial contact, did he just drop by the class one evening or was it an arranged visit?
ANNA SCHER: I can’t remember exactly, but a lot of people used our agency for acting jobs, and his was one of many that actually run up, and he probably made an appointment to see the class. I do remember him giving me the script of Scum to read through beforehand, and I thought it was an amazing and very powerful piece of work.
SCUM WIKI: What were your first impressions of the man upon meeting him?
ANNA SCHER: Well, ‘Clarkey’ as he was fondly known, was a great personality, I believe he was from Liverpool, he had a strong accent. I took to him straight away and he took to me, and we got on famously, he was a very talented director. The feeling all round was excitement on such a strong project as Scum.
SCUM WIKI: What questions did he ask to the youth performers and to yourself?
ANNA SCHER: What most directors do is, they give me a brief on the script and I offer improvisations sort of based around it, and they would sit and watch at the back and then pick out the people that fit from the group and then saw them privately in another room.
ANNA SCHER: Oh John’s great, a gentle giant is John; he was keen as mustard. A local actor, David King - who has since passed away - talked about actors having ‘The Three Hums’: Humanity, Humility and Humour, and John Blundell has all three - and is very talented to boot.
ANNA SCHER: Phil is absolutely fantastic. He was of course the lead in Quadrophenia (1979) and in those days, everything Phil went up for he got – a highly successful actor. Sadly, his wife Jan died recently and my heart goes out to him.
ANNA SCHER: Oh, Ray is great and he is very very funny, a terrific actor, very witty; I do have a thing about ‘corpsing’ (laughing inappropriately in a performance) because if you ‘corpse’ you kill off the character – but with Ray around you just couldn’t help laughing, he was great fun with tremendous chutzpah – do you know that word? It’s a Hebrew word for ‘feisty’, and Ray has that and always gets away with it!
ANNA SCHER: Perry is lovely, a wily chap and very believable, one of our chief characteristics in class is believability – if a character is believable then it has of course worked – and Perry has that believability and immerses himself completely in the part.
ANNA SCHER: Oh I’m very fond of Herbie, he had tremendous presence, and was the lead in a film by Horace Ové (Pressure, 1976 BFI); wonderful, wonderful presence he had.
SCUM WIKI: Tony London? (‘Woods’ in the 1977 screenplay)
ANNA SCHER: Well, Tony was an amazing and very emotional actor, and I used to worry that he would do so much that he would become emotionally drained; people like Herbie and Perry always put themselves in the part, but Tony was completely the character – I was worried as I said, as in another play that he did by Tennesee Williams he completely got into it and didn’t, in a way, leave anything of himself – and that could be a bit dangerous; method actors like Daniel-Day Lewis do that, they get utterly immersed in the part, and you just have to be careful with that. When I was at drama school I did that as well, and I remember in one particular part I played I had to spent 10 minutes offstage afterwards having to simmer down after giving so much of myself. You have to let the technique do something as well, it’s great putting yourself in the part, but you do have to be careful of yourself emotionally as well.
ANNA SCHER: Martin is lovely, he’s a drama teacher in Dublin now and he came to see me recently and joined in the class; it was his father John Phillips, an artist, who made our logo design for the Anna Scher Theatre. Martin was a lovely person, beautiful manners, just a really lovely guy with a nice sensitivity about him – a sensitive actor.
SCUM WIKI: Alan Clarke of course returned to this story again with the version most people know about – the remade 1979 film version, X-rated at the time – did he visit the class a second time for this casting?
ANNA SCHER: Alan used to come up quite a bit, and that’s how we would run auditions on many occasions; Alan loved watching the class, he was very at home with us and we were very at home with him.
SCUM WIKI: What was your verdict on the film as a whole?
ANNA SCHER: It was very violent – but it was very real. Alan definitely made his mark.
SCUM WIKI: Your students often speak well of you and your teachings; do any of the members of the cast visit the classes from time to time?
ANNA SCHER: Martin Phillips did as I said before, and John Blundell and Herbie Norville also have recently, whenever you bump into them it is always lovely to see them; we have the 45th birthday of the Anna Scher Theatre coming up soon on Friday January 25th 2013, and would love to have some of the Scum cast drop by again.
SCUM WIKI: Can you explain to our readers your method for teaching students, and what is expected of them?
ANNA SCHER: Well, our staple is improvisation and I have five boxes or pointers for a credible improvisation – believability above all, listening, sharing with the audience and engaging them, keeping focus and projection – and of course, film and television technique is different to theatre technique, as ‘less is more’ when onscreen. Having said that, I think ‘Clarkey’ would have wanted more in an extreme film like Scum, and developed the actors to give it their absolute last drop of blood in a performance! (laughs)
SCUM WIKI: What are you currently working on personally at the moment, or what project would you like to see take shape?
ANNA SCHER: I’m now thinking in terms of the upcoming 45th birthday of the school at the moment, and just putting together samples of what it's about.
SCUM WIKI: You are well-known for your dedicated hard work, but what does Anna Scher do to relax and unwind, and what hobbies or pastimes do you have?
ANNA SCHER: Well, it is my life – some people live to work and some people work to live – and I live to work. But I do love radio, the radio is my friend, especially LBC Talk.
SCUM WIKI: Anna, thanks so very much for sharing your thoughts and memories today, and we wish you well on all your current and future endeavours, and thank you for your part in preparing the young talent in our favourite movie here at Scum Wiki!
ANNA SCHER: Thank you very much.
UPDATE: In October 2013, Anna Scher was awarded the honour of MBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace for her services to The Arts and community - our heartfelt congratulations from all here at Scum Wiki!