It was a daunting day for Sir Derek Jacobi when producer John Maybury had gathered a
dozen of the late and greatly admired English painter Francis Bacons’s friends to
meet the man who would be portraying Bacon on the screen in Love is The Devil, a snapshot
of Bacon’s life. "One lady threw herself at me and hugged me and kissed me and
called out, ‘Francis! Francis!’" says Jacobi. He pauses before adding,
"She was pissed, but it helped my confidence no end!"
"I tried to capture the tone..."
The episode nonetheless confirms what Jacobi himself discovered – not entirely to
his joy: "I was surprised at how quickly I could be made up to look like him, with
his very distinctive hairstyle." It was easy for the purpose of the craft, but as he
points out, Francis Bacon "was not a looker."
Still, Jacobi was not too concerned, an actor whose many and varied characterisations
have earned him awards and accolades on stage and screen. Ironically, Maybury and Jacobi
had decided that an exact mimic of Bacon’s character would be inappropriate and
detracting. Jacobi says he certainly couldn’t mimic the voice itself, " so I
tried to capture the tone. But we did want to make me look a lot like him and get the
feeling of the man through what he said and what he did. John gave me a batch of videos on
bacon – so I had plenty to go on."
Maybury’s screenplay is based on the late Daniel Farson’s biography, The
Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon; before his death in late 1997, Farson acted as
consultant on the film. Bacon is best known for his paintings of the human figure at
moments of extreme emotional tension, many drawn from episodes in his own life.
"It helps, particularly when you are playing a real
Jacobi’s performance has prompted praise: "ferociously played by Derek
Jacobi," wrote David Rooney in Variety, when reviewing the film ahead of its 1998
Cannes film festival premiere in Un Certain Regard. The film also won two top awards at
the 1998 Edinburgh Film Festival: Best New British Feature and the Performance Award to
Jacobi and Daniel Craig, whom plays Bacon’s lover and muse, George Dyer.
And as Rooney notes, the film shows Bacon as both a monster and a tragic figure.
("It's a pretty nasty little film," Maybury admitted to Paul Fischer. "I
wanted it to be truly malevolent, so it would keep on creeping back into your head -- a
tribute to Bacon, since his paintings have much the same effect."
Jacobi says the easy physical transformation was useful: "It helps, particularly
when you are playing a real person. A lot of people who knew him are still around –
Bacon died just a few years ago, in 1992. And a lot of his drinking buddies are in the
film. Maybury cunningly asked them to be in for authenticity and to get them on
side!" Hence that daunting day….
"I’d never done a strip on film before – that was a bit confronting,"
Another daunting day came when in the course of the film Jacobi has to shed his
clothes: "I’d never done a strip on film before – that was a bit
confronting," he says.
All in all, the work never gets and easier, he says, never mind how much experience you
have had. "It even gets harder…with the reputation you have. But I do want to do
more film. I’ve done a huge amount of stage and television and now I’m into my
third act, ready to do many more films."
Jacobi recently completed a tv series for UK television called Cadfael, all shot in
Budapest, then went on to make Up At The Villa, a film shot in Florence with Christin
Scott Thomas and Sean Penn, before heading to Hawaii to play a priest in Father Damien
(not the lead role, that was played by Australia’s David Wenham). There, he made an
"eternal" friendship with Australian director Paul Cox.
"Ready for a stage ‘fix’"
His last stage appearance was over two years ago, and he says – despite being keen
to work in film - he is now ready for a stage ‘fix’.