Simon Callow is labouring under no illusion as to which is the best known – and loved – film in his extensive back catalogue of credits, and he says it’s ‘wonderful’ that younger people are still discovering it today.
He also admits the star-studded cast felt it would be entirely their fault if the film wasn’t an ‘enormous success’ given its quality.
We are, of course, talking about Mike Newell and Richard Curtis’ seminal 1994 British rom-com, Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which Callow appeared alongside Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Kristin Scott Thomas and John Hannah, who played his character Gareth’s partner Matthew.
Revealing that ‘there’s no question’ about which film people come up and talk to him about most on the street, he told Metro.co.uk: ‘I’m amazed that young people discover it and fall in love with it immediately, and people still watch it. The number of people who say to me, “If I’m feeling a bit blue, I’ll pull out Four Weddings and a Funeral and watch it and I feel immediately better afterwards” – which is wonderful, except that I point out that I died in it!’
Chuckling at the thought, the Bafta nominee also reveals that he always felt it was his character that would be killed off.
‘When I was given the script, knowing nothing at all about it, I said, “I bet I’m the funeral” and so I was! But it’s lovely to be associated with a character of such breadth and generosity and fun.’
Callow admits he probably wouldn’t like the attention as much if he was remembered for playing the villain of the piece. He’s also full of praise for how ‘incredibly bold’ writer Curtis was ‘to have a death right in the middle of the film and indeed right in the middle of the title’.
‘That’s part of why when I read the screenplay – and I think when all of us who are in it read the screenplay – we just thought, this is just absolutely wonderful. And if this film isn’t an enormous success, it’ll be our fault, nobody else’s, because the writing is just fantastic.’
Callow has previously spoken about how crucial he felt it was to have Gareth, as a gay man in the early 1990s, depicted as dying from something other than AIDS.
‘We had just had Philadelphia and other extremely understandably, and in many ways, correctly, tragic stories, but to have a story about a gay man who is in a wonderful relationship with a younger man, and who died from Scottish dancing – nothing else – that was a great thing, and I think very important.’
The recent buzz surrounding Julia Roberts’ return to rom-coms with Ticket To Paradise – her first lead role in the genre in 20 years, and a reunion with George Clooney – has had many fans clamouring for a return to the glory days of the genre.
Bar the odd notable exception, like 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, we seem to have been starved in recent years of the quality of rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral.
However, Callow is confident on why this film in particular has stood the test of time.
‘Like many of the great comedies it’s set in this slight Never Neverland. This world of rather lovely people who are going around to weddings and looking for love and some of them finding it and some of them not.’
Calling it a ‘chocolate box world’ that ‘wasn’t of its own time’, he adds: ‘It’s a slight fantasy world, but it’s a fantasy world which nonetheless manages to tell a lot of truth about human relationships and that’s what rom-coms do at their best, I think. And it’s wonderful that it’s so funny and the jokes have stood up.
‘Clearly we’re living in a time where we require to be distracted from pretty well everything that’s happening in the world at the moment, and that’s one of the great benefits – boons – of Four Weddings was that it managed to do that, but I’ve been lucky to be in a number of films which have really touched a nerve with people.’
The 73-year-old mentions A Room With A View, Amadeus and Phantom of the Opera as other films of his that provide ‘uplift’ to fans and that he had found out ‘people just really get off on’.
However, it’s certainly not all past glories for the productive thespian, as within the past year, Callow has appeared in one of Netflix’s biggest-ever shows – The Witcher – and made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with an appearance in Disney Plus series Hawkeye.
He’s already experienced the reach of both shows via audience members who watched him in Anything Goes at the Barbican Theatre this summer, despite what he calls his ‘tangential’ relationship with the series.
‘It’s introduced me to a whole new lot of fans who I don’t think particularly were aware of me. And they say, “God, I think your work in The Witcher was the best thing you’ve ever done” – and it’s two days filming! But it’s great.’
Callow muses on the fact that he dies in both of them, agreeing that he might be having his own ‘Sean Bean moment’, after the actor who is perhaps best known for the breadth and quantity of his on-screen deaths (one of the more recent shocks being Game of Thrones).
‘I think I am actually! There seems to be no limit to the appetite of the British public to seeing me dead! Who am I to quarrel with that?’ he laughs.
On a more sombre note, the Shakespeare in Love star is here to raise awareness over the threat of online scams with NatWest, ahead of Halloween.
The actor has been recruited to read real-life scam horror stories, adding his usual dramatic flair, in a bid to help get the message across for people to be vigilant.
New research has revealed that 73% of the British public have been targeted by scammers and 60% have been approached on social media, with an average of £350.50 stolen per victim.
Three of the most prevalent scams – romance, cryptocurrency investment and invoice direction – have been turned into tales for Callow to narrate.
‘The trick I was trying to pull off was [matching how] you can get drawn in by a ghost story, even though you don’t believe in ghosts, if it’s well enough told and if it’s a bit of a cliff-hanger. I hope, because it’s almost like a sort of a public information broadcast, that although you’ll get pleasure from listening to it and even though, yes, there’s humour in it, the end of each of the stories really, really should make you think.’
Callow himself was almost the victim of a scam, praising his ‘ever-vigilant’ husband Sebastian for saving him from it ‘in the nick of time’ before he shared details with what he thought was his bank.
‘I was just about to give the number [on the card reader] because they were very plausible, and Sebastian snatched the phone out of my head and said could he call you back on this, please? And they just hung up instantly. But it was scary because they would have had access to everything that I possess in the world financially.’
Before we part, I’m keen to see what Callow’s take is on the recent drama surrounding The Crown, following the surprise intervention of his old acting chum Dame Judi Dench, whose open letter to Netflix saw the streamer finally agree to add a disclaimer ahead of its upcoming fifth series, describing the show as a ‘fictional dramatisation’.
He understands her worry, conceding that many who watch the show ‘probably don’t know the actual facts very well’.
For a real-life example, he uses the 1st Earl of Snowdon, Antony Armstrong-Jones, who he was ‘quite close to’ in real life, knowing his ex-wife, Princess Margaret, ‘less well’ but interacting with her and other members of the Royal Family over the course of his career through events and galas.
Callow shares: ‘The depiction of Lord Snowdon was so different from the Tony that I knew that I just wonder… and probably very few people now know exactly who Lord Snowdon was, he’s just a name vaguely from the past. So there is an issue about television and film and indeed theatre and saying well, is this actually, factually, true?’
‘I think Judi’s point was that now we’re coming into the time that even quite young people could remember these episodes [of The Crown], it does trouble me a little bit that people won’t go beyond the fiction and wonder what actually happened.
‘Nobody from the programme has even for a second suggested that these things did happen, they’re just saying, well what if they had happened, wouldn’t that be interesting? Which is one of the ways in which art works, but as long as it’s absolutely clear that it’s art.’
Simon Callow partners with NatWest to narrate frightening tales rooted in real-life scam case studies, based on three of the top ten most prevalent scams people have been targeted by. The series is available to watch here and storybook can be downloaded at scammer-house-of-horrors (natwest.com).