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Richard Griffiths: 'I've always hated the way I look' | Stage | The Observer

… ‘That’s not girth,’ he says. ‘That’s a para-umbilical hernia. I don’t like it. Here are two pretty boys [he points to Stott and Hurt]. He’s pretty, and he’s pretty. I’m not. I’m ugly.’

‘But this is how you are,’ I say. ‘It’s great.’

‘It’s a vanity thing. I’m vain enough not to want to appear in stills.’ He quotes an old Jewish proverb: everybody hates the way they look, but no one complains about their brains. ‘And that’s true. I’ve always hated the way I looked, and I’ve never complained about my brains.’

At 58, Griffiths’ brain appears to contain more synapses than most. A question will seldom elicit a simple answer, but spark a vast amount of detours and studious explanations. I asked about his childhood and his straight answer was accompanied by detailed descriptions of the double-shifts a neighbour had to work to pay for his planned emigration to Australia. And it was a delight to hear it, because his love of language and accents and the bigness of life is such that almost every sentence is a performance. It was a constant battle to rein this in, but it made it easy to ask him about the one part in which his loquacity secured his reputation as one of Britain’s great character actors.

Despite his contributions to many fine pieces of work, including, most recently, Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, it is still very difficult for those who have seen Withnail & I to see Richard Griffiths as anyone but Uncle Monty, the lascivious homosexual aesthete who desires to have his way in an isolated farmhouse with a young actor played by Paul McGann. ‘That was almost 20 years ago,’ he says, delighted and distressed. The photographer, Richard Saker, had asked him to preface an autograph with the line ‘As a youth I used to weep in butchers’ shops’, one of the many absurd phrases in Bruce Robinson’s screenplay that have become as familiar to fans of the film as their own address….

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