Venus Premiere

Whittaker and O'Toole brave the cold

Venus Premiere

by Willow Green |
Published on

Tonight Peter O’Toole is in London for the premiere of new film Venus, which marks his first leading screen role after a self-imposed, two-decade hiatus. As a bona-fide legend of stage and screen, O’Toole’s entrance into the King’s Road restaurant that tonight doubles for the cinema foyer, is a fairly muted, low-key affair. But after a lifetime of defiant debauchery at the bar with the two Richard’s (Burton and Harris), the Lawrence of Arabia star (now 74) can be forgiven for not lolloping through the building, pint of Guinness and smoke in hand.

Along with director Roger Michel, writer Hanif Kureshi and co-stars Leslie Phillips, Richard Griffiths and Jodie Whittaker, O’Toole has been on the Venus promotional trail since the beginning of the year, having recently returned from the States where talk of the Academy Awards is inescapable. In fact, as you read this it is quite possible O’Toole has nabbed an eighth Oscar nod to put alongside his recent BAFTA nomination. Having been nominated seven times in his long career and leaving empty handed every time, O’Toole is no stranger to the peculiar rumours and expectations that spread through the industry at this time of year. On receiving an honorary Oscar in 2003, he famously insisted that he still wanted to “win the bugger outright”, and with the recent wave of British success at the Golden Globes still fresh in everyone’s minds, could 2007 finally be his year?

“I really hope so”, reveals director Roger Michel (Notting Hill, Enduring Love). “I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t [get a nomination]. He’s been hotly tipped in America for months and months, so it’s going to be a very scary moment because I so want him to get one”. And Michel knows all too well that an Oscar for Peter O’Toole would cause interest in Venus to sky-rocket: “Yes, receiving a nomination or an Oscar really does make a difference, particularly to a small film like ours, because it means that we can go on making films like this well into the future”.

Venus tells the tale of Maurice (O’Toole) and Ian (Phillips), two aging thesps whose daily routine of theatrical reminiscing and bawdy banter is interrupted by the arrival of Ian’s niece Jessie (Whittaker). A hard-edged Northern girl, Jessie appears to have nothing in common with these doddering actors, until an unexpected relationship develops with O’Toole’s Maurice. A complex set of feelings arise and his world is changed forever. Whittaker, O’Toole’s 24-year old co-star and newcomer to the big screen, unsurprisingly had nothing but praise for her towering leading man: “This is my first feature, and to be involved with such an amazing cast is fantastic”, she explained. “Ninety percent of my scenes were with Peter, and if you’re going to learn from someone early on in your career, you can only dream that it’ll be someone like him. He was unconditionally supportive and completely un-patronising.”

Standing with Whittaker, O’Toole comments: “Jodie learned daily – by the minute, by the hour – that what we do on film is exactly the same as what we do on stage. It’s just a question of scale.” Then with perfect comic timing, the actor leans in and adds: “Now that was a very, very poncey thing to say” [cue laughter from all quarters].

And his thoughts on those little gold statues that have eluded him throughout his five decades in the business? “Are they [the nominations] tomorrow?”, he asks, “Oh well, I better start getting excited then…well…if I win the fucker”.

*Venus is released in cinemas nationwide from Friday (January 26th). The Academy Award nominations will be announced at 1:30pm GMT today (Tuesday, January 23rd). *

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