Terence Stamp talks accents and music for ‘Unfinished Song’

Terrence Stamp plays a grouchy wouldbe crooner in "Unfinished Song." Credit: Nick Wall
Terrence Stamp plays a grouchy would-be crooner in “Unfinished Song.”
Credit: Nick Wall

British actor Terence Stamp has just about perfected cranky, whether it’s General Zod in “Superman 2,” “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” or “The Limey.” In his latest, “Unfinished Song,” he puts all that practice to good use playing the misanthropic but devoted husband of the sunny and cheerful terminally ill Marion (Vanessa Redgrave).

The film was originally released as “Song for Marion.” Why the title change?
Just Harvey [Weinstein], I think. I mean, he’s a law unto himself, but he really seems to know what he’s doing. He also recut the movie, and the director agreed that Harvey’s take on it was better. I think “Unfinished Song” is rather nice, rather romantic. I haven’t spoken to Harvey directly, but it was his idea.

How easy does it make your job when Vanessa Redgrave is playing your wife?
It’s not easy, it’s just a great blessing, really. A lot of people have remarked that the fact that we’re this couple who’ve been together for 30 years is just kind of a given. It’s not spoken about, you know? The thing about Vanessa is that after the first few days, between action and cut it was hard to really discern where my energy stopped and hers started. There was an absolute kind of unity of feeling, which I think only happens when artists are really in touch with the best part of themselves.

Also, having you and Christopher Eccleston play father and son is inspired casting.
Yeah. When he was cast, I knew of him but I hadn’t seen him recently, and my question to the director was, “How’s his voice?” — meaning, “What’s his dialect?” Because in England your dialect is a kind of class system, really, how you speak. Anyway, afterward I discovered that he was told that. So apparently what he did was he downloaded both of my Desert Island Discs episodes and he listened to my voice, which is so astute. Because it’s not me performing, it’s me being myself talking about the music that I like. So when he rucked up on the set, he had my voice down pat.

In an interview last year, director Terence Davies complained about young English actors all trying to sound like they’re from South London nowadays.
That’s funny because that was what I had to lose. I thought, “I’m never going to be able to play Hamlet, I’m never going to be able to play Macbeth talking like that.” I’m always amazed by the workings of the universe. It’s like a wheel, isn’t it? Everything turns round.

Has your Desert Island Discs lineup changed much since your last appearance?
Oh yeah. The only thing that’s really changed in my life that’s been affected by technology is I have an iPod that my — well, she was my future ex-wife at the time — bought me and loaded up, you know? So that’s the only thing I have that connects me with the modern world. I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t have a computer, but I have this thing that I travel with, and I’ve noticed that most times when I turn it on, I just want to listen to classics, really. Occasionally I want to listen to Nat King Cole or Frank [Sinatra] or Paul Desmond. This last year I’ve been rediscovering Elgar. I don’t know what that says about me. Not much, I’m afraid. [Laughs] As my brother discovered The Who and he was the first guy ever to record Hendrix, it doesn’t say a lot about my heritage.


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