02.24.88 YOU MAGAZINE
Erstwhile teacher turned pop musician Sting spent a week writhing naked on a bed with Kathleen Turner for his new film Julia and Julia. His verdict? "Not arousing in the least." And the critics' verdict on the film? "Hopelessly silly, third-rate." But Sting isn't out for Hollywood stardom. He just wants to be a better actor.
Sting likes stripping off. The 36-year-old Geordie who made his name and fortune with The Police may have an image as one of rock's more cerebral stars - he alludes to Shakespeare, Brecht and Jung in his songs - but he's never underestimated his beefcake quota.
In a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden earlier this month he stripped off his shirt, to the screams and whoops of 20,000 fans, and gyrated and writhed like a seasonal burlesque dancer. "I think people get a thrill. They seem to. Once you've made the decision to strip off, then you're talking about sexuality, eroticism if you like."
And in the newly opened film 'Julia and Julia' he is stripping off again. He spent a whole week gyrating and writhing, totally naked "whenever necessary", in bed with Kathleen Turner. Whether she whooped and screamed too is doubtful. As Sting says, "It's not arousing in the least. You're acting. It's hard work. You're thinking, what is the function of my character? What am I doing here?
"You can never give yourself totally to the scene. You have to think about it constantly. Then there are certain things you can't do in bed with a woman if you're acting with her. I mean ... she's a married woman!"
This married woman, one of Hollywood's most bankable female leads, was a fan of Sting's music and acquainted with his films. He in turn was attracted to the project because of the skill she showed in 'Body Heat' and 'Peggy Sue Got Married'. He now describes her as "a film star in the true sense. She's larger than life and she's incredibly vivacious. Everything works around Kathleen."
In his management office on Broadway, Sting is fully clothed in a black rollneck, brown chamois-leather jacket and grey jeans, with his girlfriend Trudie Styler and two-year-old son Jake in tow. Sting and Trudie also have a daughter, Mickey, who's three, and Sting has two other children, Joe, eleven, and Kate, seven, who live with their mother Frances Tomelty in North London.
He casually picks up a copy of People magazine where the movie reviewer refers to his character in 'Julia and Julia' as that of "a hyper-intense photographer", concluding that no one will notice that it is the first film shot on high-definition videotape, "because they will be too busy scratching their heads and just trying to figure out what's going on". The star gives out a chuckle and lets the magazine drop on to a nearby sofa.
The daily papers are similarly confused by the tale of a woman who lives in two parallel realities, one as a childless widow and the other as a two-timing wife and mother. "A surreal, hopelessly silly concoction" (Daily News), "Third-rate fiction" (The New York Times) and "Perversely entertaining" (New York Post). The closest to an evaluation of Sting's performance is Vincent Canby's "creditable" in the New York Times. His face may be selling the product, but is anyone noticing the craft?
He undeniably looks good. His hair may be receding fast but his body is as lean and fit as it was as a teenager when he was the 100-yards County Champion. He's proud of his background and his achievements. "No one gave me a silver spoon. I'm a guttersnipe."
The lad who thought he'd get found out for attending the ABC Minors Club (his local cinema's children's matinee) because his dad was a milkman - "I thought you had to be a miner's son" - is now worth ¬£20 million. He lives in a Georgian mansion in London's Highgate Village (the house used to belong to Yehudi Menuhin) and he owns a loft in New York and a house in Malibu which he bought from Barbra Streisand.
String remains unfazed by the reaction to Julia and Julia, if only because his own review of the finished cut is every bit as harsh as the professionals. "It was boring," he says, matter-of-factly. "I thought it was a very good story which wasn't realised in a very good way in the film.
"Because of who we are the film will get labelled Sting's film or Kathleen Turner's film but it's not. It's the director's film. The director [Peter Del Monte] has made the decisions. Your performance is on the cutting-room floor. He's not famous enough to take the flak. But you are.
"So, if you're in a flop - whether you're in it for five minutes or fifty minutes - it becomes known as Sting's flop. I say, I turned up for the shooting, I did my job, I did the best I could - it's not my failure at all. I haven't failed. I did a good job."
The translation of rock stardom into film stardom has proved notoriously difficult. Some of the most influential and charismatic rock performers including Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Madonna and Bob Dylan have tried, with disastrously uneven results. But Sting has shown remarkable persistence.
Since his minor role as a bleached-blond mod in 'Quadrophenia' (1979) he appeared in nine dramatic roles (including two as yet unreleased films) and the documentary 'Bring On The Night'. He's played opposite Meryl Streep in 'Plenty' (1985), starred in Dennis Potter's controversial 'Brimstone and Treacle' (1982) and was even described as "spellbinding" by the celebrated New York critic Pauline Kael for his brief appearance in Dune (1984).
"I think it's amazing how someone without any training can do it," says Sting. Not only has he received no training, he didn't even make it into the school play. He entered the big screen almost haphazardly, as the result of a script sent him by the agent of his then wife Frances Tomelty. "I became an actor by accident," he admits. "I was in Quadrophenia briefly enough to make an impact and not long enough to blow it. And so I got offered another one and then another one."
So, is Sting doing something right or is he simply looking right? "I think that if you're famous anyway it helps," he concedes. "But at the same time these people know that I do the work, that I understand that my job as an actor is to tell a story and not to look pretty. I've been in good films, bad films and indifferent films. I've performed well, badly and indifferently. But the people in the industry are aware that there is a seriousness about my work. They know that I'm not just cashing in on fame."
His good films, he reckons, were 'Brimstone and Treacle' ("I was the George Michael of 1981 and doing a film that shocking was not expected") and 'Plenty' ("the classiest film I've ever made"). His indifferent films include Dune ("Reasonably happy. Much more impressive on TV") and 'Artemis' ("Unintelligible") and his bad films 'The Bride' (1985) ("An interesting idea which didn't really come off") and now 'Julia and Julia'.
Doggedness is one of Sting's greatest qualities. He is amused by a scathing review of his recent album 'Nothing Like The Sun'. It calls him a "fake", a man "living in the shadow of his ego". His great delight in life has always been to determine his own path regardless of criticism. His amusement has been justified now that the album has been voted Best British LP in the recent British Rock Industry Awards.
He talks proudly of recent achievements in wind-surfing and tennis and how he can now play passable Mozart on the piano. His music is pop but he flits casually from jazz to pre-war popular music to Jimi Hendrix tributes. In concert he noticeably doesn't play 'Every Breath You Take', his best-known and most played song.
It's this attitude more than public demand that has kept him in front of the cameras. "I've been willing to put down the mantle of star and work," he agrees. "I think that's the only way you can learn. Mick Jagger has only done two films so how can he be expected to know how to act?
"I think it's really hard for us [rock stars] to learn how to act. I really find it refreshing to put myself in a situation where I have to learn new things, where I have to look foolish. I'm a serious apprentice and I'm determined to learn from everyone I work with."
The poor New York reception for 'Julia and Julia' is unlikely to stop him in his tracks. "My career is not dependent on the success or failure of this movie," he asserts. Two or three scripts are sent to him each week and his only problem is fitting filming in between recording, writing and touring. He recently, and regretfully, turned down the role eventually taken by Peter O'Toole in 'The Last Emperor' after director Bertolucci saw him in 'Bring On The Night'. He's optimistic about his next release, 'Stormy Monday', which was set in his home city of Newcastle.
"It's going to be really good," he enthuses. "It stars Melanie Griffith and Tommy Lee Jones and it's like a sequel to 'Get Carter'. I thought the music was great, the atmosphere was special and it's unusual for a British film to look like this."
But Hollywood stardom? Forget it, says Sting. "I have enough ego massage for one person in another area of my life. The thing about film for me is that it brings me back down to earth. It makes me the new boy on the block again. That is very important, otherwise I can get wound up in being the centre of everything."
© You by Steve Turner, 1988
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