06.10.96 THE TIMES


Martyn Palmer discovers why Sting, no stranger to celluloid failure, is proud to call 'The Grotesque' his own.

The rock star who steps out as an actor has, traditionally, been tantamount to a First World War squaddie sticking his head up above the trenches and poking his tongue at the enemy. Sting, who has chosen to face the critics' sniping more than most, knows this only too well. But this time, he is prepared to accept full responsibility for his actions.

After all, 'The Grotesque', which is his tenth film, is a family affair it was produced by his wife, Trudie Styler. They called up a few friends, who worked for virtually nothing, and got the whole project on to the screen for just $3 million.

We were in charge and, unlike some other films where actors simply aren't to blame, we are," Sting says. And I like that because I've been in crap films and got the blame and it's been nothing to do with me, so this time I'm quite proud to own up.

As far as I'm concerned it's already been a success. It was great fun to do and everything else is the icing on the cake. You don't get any awards for making a film on a small budget, but it is an achievement. It's a very dark English film, an art house picture that some people might like and others might wonder what the hell it is, but that is the kind of film I want to make."

Shot over six weeks on location in Norfolk a year ago, The Grotesque is described by its author, Patrick McGrath (who adapted his own 1988 novel into the screenplay), as a comedy of errors and a rattling good yarn". Set in 1949, it features Sting as an enigmatic butler, Fledge, who arrives with his wife (Styler) at the crumbling seat of eccentric aristocrat Sir Hugo Coal (Alan Bates) and proceeds to create havoc as a villainous cuckoo in the nest.

A friend of mine was the agent for the book, which I'd read and liked, and thought I'd make a very good Fledge," Sting says. I could see that because Fledge doesn't say much, he just sort of emotes with a lot of menace.

Then Trudie got involved as a producer and she thought that I would be very cheap because I'm married to her. She was right because I got zero money. And although I'm not box office I think having me there gives the film a certain profile.

But the main role is Sir Hugo and there is a very short list of greats you would want in that part and Alan Bates is one of them. We sent him the script and thankfully he loved it."

The sex scenes (Sting's character gets to bed Lady Harriet Coal, played by Theresa Russell, and her potential son-in-law, played by Steven Mackintosh) he shrugs off. As a non-actor, getting paid for making love to Theresa Russell all day is my idea of a good job. The fact that I wasn't paid is neither here nor there. The gay scene was interesting. I'd never kissed a man before, and nor had Steven, so we did it in one take and tried to make it passionate and real. And, you know, I've kissed uglier women in my time ..."

Sting's film career began with 1979's Quadrophenia and he has consistently returned to cinema work with a mixed bag of offerings including 'Plenty' with Meryl Streep, 'Stormy Monday', 'The Bride', 'Dune' and Dennis Potter's 'Brimstone and Treacle', in which he played a sinister young man who worms his way into the home of a writer and his family.

Fledge is very similar to the character I played in 'Brimstone'; in fact he is almost a grown-up version. He falls in love with the idea of himself as a gentleman owning the manor and everything that goes with it. He wants the wife, the house, and the land and will do almost anything to get it. That kind of obsession interests me.

I don't know how much of me there is in these characters. I do sympathise with characters like Fledge in the sense that I do feel marginalised a lot of the time, and I always have done. Success does tend to marginalise you and people don't treat you in a normal way."

Sting will continue to make films whenever his schedule permits which is not often and if the subject interests him. All the films I've made have been learning experiences," he says. I've never trained as an actor maybe I should have. I sort of fell into it by accident."

Films will not, he says, interfere with the day job. Sting is currently three months into a world tour that will take him through to next May. His last album, 'Mercury Falling', was critically acclaimed and he is as content, both on a personal and a professional level, as he has ever been in his 44 years. It would be ridiculous if I wasn't," he says. I'm blessed with so many things and I can hardly sit here crying into my beer. I've had enough successes, money and rewards and very nice it's been too."

His occasional forays into tabloid territory his statements have provided great copy on everything from rainforests to advocating recently that the drug Ecstasy should be legalised have left him bemused more than wounded. It doesn't make me more guarded," he says. But maybe I am too honest sometimes. I'm quite candid and it gets me into all sorts of trouble. But I would rather be candid than just strategically saying the right thing all the time."

© The Times by Martyn Palmer
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