BA Roberston discusses his first acting role in Living Apart Together
The 1982 film, soon to be given a new lease of life, is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival
Glasgow Film Festival annually revives a classic film made in Scotland, with previous galas including Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl and Bertrand Tavernier’s Death Watch. This year it’s writer/director Charlie Gormley’s 1982 film Living Apart Together that will be given a new lease of life, starring singer-songwriter BA Robertson.
Living Apart Together is the story of Ritchie Hannah, a Scottish pop star whose relationship with his children suffers due to a painful separation from his wife Amy (Barbara Kellerman). ‘It wasn’t the story of my life, it’s not something that’s even semi-autobiographical; at that point, I didn’t have any children,’ says Robertson. ‘I think it was more about Charlie’s life than mine.’
Robertson came to Living Apart Together as a chart sensation, whereas Charlie Gormley, like Bill Forsyth, had worked his way up through the film industry since the late 60s through shorts and documentaries. Robertson remembers their collaboration with affection.
‘In these days I was in my pomp, I was pretty arrogant and full of myself; I wasn’t dismissive, but I didn’t know anything about Charlie, and was quite disbelieving about the whole Scottish film business,’ says Robertson. ‘He was a first time (feature) director, we had a very tight budget, we were shooting on Super 16 so we had tonnes of technical problems. It seemed like an absolute racing certainty that Charlie and I would come to blows at some point, but we didn’t.’
‘A lot of the crew were quite suspicious of me, and rightly so. I didn’t have a scooby what I was doing! I knew my lines, but I’m not like Dolly Parton. On 9 to 5, she not only knew her lines, she knew everyone else’s lines as well. At that point, my only experience of acting was appearing on The Kenny Everett Show, lying in bed with Cleo Rocos…’
With minimal experience of acting, Robertson admits that he was anxious about taking the lead role in a feature, nerves that came to the fore when the shoot began.
‘Apart from (a cameo in 1981 horror film) The Monster Club, I didn’t really know what a film set was like. I’d never worked on a film. I’ve worked in Hollywood since then, I had offices on the lot at Disney in Burbank for three years in the 90s, and been around movie people since then, but the autumn of 1982 was the first time for me.’
‘We ran the first scene a couple of times. Charlie said “You have to find your light,” and I was like a dog being shown elementary calculus. He said, “Don’t worry about it…” and we discovered I was able to do it. Don’t ask me how, just luck, or maybe a good hunch call from Charlie. He was adamant I wasn’t to have any coaching, or acting classes, before the shoot. I guess he must have been pretty arrogant too, believing his own judgment, that I’d have the chops.’
‘It’s true I may not be Scotland’s greatest acting export, but I can recall from being on set - for virtually every shot - that I was OK enough not to completely piss off pros like Dave Anderson and Barbara Kellerman. Charlie put a lot of really good people around me, and created a fantastic atmosphere.’
Living Apart Together was well received during a cinema run and was subsequently seen by millions on newly created broadcaster Channel 4. Since then, it’s been a hard film to locate, but distributors Park Circus have restored it with a glowing new print.
‘It’ll be great to see the film back on the big screen. I really couldn’t find anything bad to say about Charlie and if I was to be more emotional about it, I feel that Charlie deserved to be more recognized than he was. I suspect Charlie was a one-man film business, I think he could have made more films.’ (Gormley only made one more feature, Heavenly Pursuits, before he died, although his son Tommy has a highly successful Hollywood career, currently co-producing and assistant-directing JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness.)
‘Who would have guessed that Charlie was making a fore-runner of (Oscar-winning drama) Once, twenty five years before the Irish even thought about it,' muses Robertson, 'even down to casting an unlikely leading man who also wrote the score?’
Living Apart Together screens at the Glasgow Film Festival on Sun 24 Feb, and will be re-released by Park Circus in March.