Den Of Geek first saw the episode of Kingdom we’ve reviewed today at the tail end of April, when we were presented with a tanned, slim line Stephen Fry who looked very different from the on-screen man we now see in front of us.
Fry was never what you’d call fat, yet he has shed an incredible five and a half stone between November last year and our meeting a month or so ago. He appears before us svelte and very tanned indeed.
“I grew up in Norfolk and I absolutely adore being back there,” Fry commented in the accompanying press notes for the screening. “It is a beautiful place. It has a strange and mysterious beauty and one that is not similar to the beauty of any other county.”
“Acting is not about putting on a mask, it is about taking off a mask. There is part of me that is like Jeeves and a part of me that is like Peter Kingdom, and part of me that is like Oscar Wilde, and a part of me like General Melchett,” he added, clearly in a nod to the comparisons people will draw between Fry the actor and Fry the person.
He added, “They are all absolutely natural for me to play because that is part of me – it is a bit like saying which part of your body will you show. If I say my knees, they are not different from my hands, but they are still me. The different characters are not transformations. They are different parts of me… It is much easier to play a character like General Melchett who is barking and unpredictable and scary because you just don’t know where he s coming from next’ order your death or give you an Èclair. It is great to play a character where you don’t know if he is going to kiss you or kill you. But I like playing kind characters too.”
Fry was in fine form – his usual articulate and engaging self – during the after screening press conference. In fact, during the screening itself, you could occasionally hear his distinctive voice as he was interviewed in the next room.
“We made sure the details were as accurate as we could make them,” said Fry of the Iraq soldier topic. “We wanted it to show a realistic quandary… At the time we recorded it, this was a real issue faced by real soldiers.”
Of what Kingdom is: “It’s not Cracker or Nil By Mouth,’ according to Fry, presumably pre-empting any Sunday night telly jibes. “It is unashamedly and purposely not a steak, it’s a soufflé and even a soufflé should be made of good ingredients,” he said.
The talk soon turned to Fry’s love of gadgetry. He’s a well-known Mac fan (he bought the second Mac in the UK after Douglas Adams bought the first) and a more than active Twitterer.
“I’ve always been an early adopter of things technical and I’ve always just loved toys of various kinds and their use and even their uselessness,” claimed Fry, who later went on to claim he had a Sony Vaio, which angeredhim so much that he “throw it out of a window.”
He said he doesn’t always like technology because it’s useful and recalled trying to convince the BBC many years ago why it needed to have a website and enable emails to be transmitted beyond inter-office.
“It’s because no-one saw the point of it. And I’m not saying I did. I just loved it and thought it was a great game. It’s like when you’re a kid and you’ve got a walkie-talkie. The fact that they may make mountaineering safe was not why they were fun to me,” he said.
“There were all kinds of uses developed for email and we now know it’s so useful there’s actually a problem of dependency. If there were a power cut for two weeks our economy would crumble even further than it already has. But it’s not that long ago when people couldn’t see the point [of email and the Internet]. Twitter, much the same… What’s the point of that? Except when you try it a lot of people become hopelessly addicted and find it useful.”
He talked about his love of Twitter, but his frustration at followers asking questions about things he’s already clearly referenced in his tweets – or just asking “dumb” things.
Many regard Fry as somewhat of a national treasure. While he’s clearly flattered by this, he also seems a little embarrassed at the attention, saying: “It’s charming… It would be wrong of me to attempt to explain it… If people think of me fondly, how can I be anything other than touched by it?”
Fry also responded to questions about a recent MySpace poll that suggested he should replace St George as patron saint of England.
“I think we can safely say if he did slay a dragon it was probably some Turkish wife or a large salamander… My feeling about a National English Day, it just seems so right to me is that it happens also to be not only the birth day but also the death day of William Shakespeare, who was English, not Scottish, not Welsh or Irish as far as I know, genuinely English. He could not sum up Britain better in terms of art, glory, history, complexity, charm, every single aspect of what it is to be English is there if you want celebrate Englishness.”
He went on: “I think to be a saint you have to be dead and not just dead, but well dead. You have to be attested by the Pope who I think would look into my bedroom manners and find much to dislike in my choice of gender partner. So there are all kinds of obstacles… I couldn’t even make it to beatification let alone to sanctity. If we wanted a humanist saint I don’t think we need look any further than William Shakespeare.”
After the conference was over, I got in the lift with Fry. I couldn’t resist making the somewhat predictable quip about being nervous given ‘lift gate’ earlier in the year. He joked that at least we could be assured a quick rescue if we did get stuck.
We had clearly bonded (I jest) in the lift, so I grabbed my photo opportunity. He had to show an ITV representative how to use my iPhone camera to do so. And with that, off he popped into the back of a black cab. Apparently, he was his way to collect his own new Hackney Carriage that afternoon.
It is indeed interesting how much you can learn about a person by following their tweets. Many years ago, the term used was ‘stalking’ but nowadays it’s perfectly acceptable to follow people. On Twitter that is…