MS LONDONApril 17, 1996
Who's Queen Bee Now? - Actress/producer Trudie Styler cast Sting in her new movie. (And there's nothing like hiring the old man to keep within the budget.)
At the age of 44, Sting looks... well, like Sting ought to look. Cheeky and hard. Sure, there are bags under his eyes as sunlight pours in through the huge hotel windows, but what strikes you about Sting is his air of mockery. It's mostly self-mockery, but you suspect there's more in there to spare for anyone else involved in the whole daft publicity process. Still, it makes him professionally willing and able to answer any question you throw.
How does he fell about starring in a film produced by his wife?
"It's nice to see her running the show. She's really become empowered, she's very straight and very forceful - and it's good to be bossed around every now and then."
The film, called 'The Grotesque', is a black comedy romp with an extraordinary cast of actors including Alan Bates, Theresa Russell, Anna Massey and Maria Aitkin. And, of course, Sting and Trudie Styler. In addition to producing the film, Styler also plays the downtrodden wife, Doris, to Sting's menacing butler, Fledge. A butler who gradually takes over the whole eccentric household.
"It's very quirky. Not standard fare. On one side it's social commentary on the end of an empire, and on the other it's just a romp. A laff," says Sting, the short northern 'a' very obvious in his voice.
The characters in 'The Grotesque' more than justify the film's title, with aristocratic decadence pushed to the point of cannibalism, the odd hint of incest and a house where reptiles roam free. But then says Sting: "Our neighbours in Wiltshire had a python that got loose in the house the whole winter." (The neighbour was Kanga, Lady Tryon, adds Trudie quietly.)
"You've got to have faith in your own judgement," Sting continues. "If something intrigues you, that's enough. We think the story's funny - but that may just be an indication of our sick senses of humour."
His character is an outsider. "I think I'm like that anyway. I feel marginalised a lot of the time, both because of my personality and my life. I don't really feel I belong anywhere, to a social group."
Fledge's amoral manipulation goes much further than that. "We're all capable of doing terrible things," says Sting. Fledge doesn't hesitate to make use of his sexuality on anyone, male or female, who comes his way. How does Sting feel about playing such a manipulator?
"Sex is a weapon for Fledge. He's quiet asexual really. He doesn't care about the people he's making love to. But I'm playing a part, and it makes sense in the context of the film. I'm not afraid of 'damaging my image'."
He puts the last words in fastidious quote marks. "I don't have this macho image," he says proudly. (No Bruce Willis here.) In one fantasy scene, Alan Bates makes love to Doris (Styler) who then turns into Fledge..." "Did you recognise my behind?" asks Trudie cheerfully. "I hope I was looking good that day."
In contrast to her husband, Trudie Styler seems soft and approachable, in denim overalls. Pale and full-mouthed, she's already the producer of several successful documentaries but this, she says, was 'scary'. "I blanched with chock the first day I saw all the caravans, the little village we'd created, and the 109 people on the payroll."
The script came to them through a friend who is the writer's agent, but they were actively happy to have found a project they could embark on together.
"Sting any myself don't get to work together very much, because he's often on the road and I'm doing what I do. It's been great to concentrate a period of time together - all together, as it fell on the kids' Easter holidays."
"It's a great opportunity for a relationship," says Sting. "To keep you focused together on the same thing. The only other things we've focused on jointly have been our family and the rainforest, but this is something else."
Make or break time?
"We knew it wouldn't be break," he says firmly.
Come to that, didn't we all. Well, all of us who'd even heard about the South Bank Show which displayed Sting and Trudie (not to mention the six children) in all their domestic glory. It's even been hinted over the years that his tough sounding name is a lie. That's he's too nice to be a 'proper' pop star, too much of a regular guy.
But pop music itself, he points out, is changing, as so many of the leading musicians grow older. Maybe it's time to put to rest the old stereotype of the rock musician who makes a desperate bid ti turn actor as his curls start to go grey.
"I make my living as a musician, and I have this enjoyable hobby which is occasionally making a movie if the script is fun or I learn something. On my passport it says musician and that's the way it's going to stay."
Sting jokes that he didn't get paid on this movie. ("I'm cheap, that's why they cast me.") But seriously, hasn't the experience of nine films taught him that, in England, stepping out of the first pigeonhole is bound to draw hostility?
"You get criticised in England for getting out of bed! But you can't really allow that to affect you. Your job as a celebrity is just to focus attention on yourself or whatever you're doing, and you've got to accept that, in the nature of things, at least 50% of that attention will be negative. Once you understand that, you can just roll with the punches and carry on."
His latest album 'Mercury Falling' is, he says, in some ways about accepting situations that will not go away. "All my works are contemplative. I work by myself. I write about the mood I'm in, at a particular time. You have to wait for inspiration, but the record company trusts me to produce the goods... eventually. I'm quite happy at the moment. Very happy, actually."
© Ms London by Louise West