Steerpike by Jonathan Rhys Meyers
From The Art of Gormenghast by Estelle Daniel
What can I do that has never been done to Gormenghast in all its years? Seventy-seven earls and it has never had this happen? I think it could have done with it a couple of hundred years beforehand.
I’m not trying to complicate it. I have been reading a little bit of Samuel Beckett, just for myself because I like him. He hates to colour things. You just have to say it. If it is there, it is there. You know, that was my fear–how am I going to do this? How am I actually going to please everyone in this? And then I decided to please no one. Just do it. It has been difficult. Because I have this huge doubt and insecurity. There hasn’t been one take that I have done on this that I’ve not actually felt could have been better.
Steerpike is myself, he can’t be anyone else. If I tried to make him somebody else, and tried to change myself totally, it would be a disaster. I don’t think I could actually do it at all. The evil in him comes from loneliness, and rejection. That’s something I feel. I feel this rage. Steerpike is just rejected. When you are rejected you can’t accept love, and you most certainly can’t give it. And if you can’t give love then there is nothing really else worth it, you know? All this climbing the ladder of Gormenghast, essentially all he wants is love and respect, and this is what it brings. He thinks, ‘If I am the king of this castle, everyone will love me.’ So it is about wanting to be cuddled more than anything else. My childhood was one of rejection and this is what it was about. It has had its strongest effect on me. But I’ve gone into a career which has a lot of rejection in it, and plus I’ have got into my head that I want to be a great actor, which is the last thing I should have done. I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be great. Like Steerpike I would rather die than fail, and that’s honest. I would rather die than fail.
It is not a very healthy way of living. And there is sexual frustration. I’m feeling huge sexual frustration. This is another part of Steerpike, because he has never actually had sex. All this sexual frustration, all this doubt, all this insecurity, all this fear, all this anger and rejection is hopefully what you are getting. I hope it makes people feel something. I would rather be called extremely bad or even extremely good, but never just ‘all right’. If somebody is really truly, truly awful, then it is fascinating to look at. If someone is extremely, extremely good, there is also joy in that. But when people are kind of good-ish, perfectly adequate, then I think that’s the worst. Mediocre. To be mediocre at anything is like pouring a bottle of water into the sea. You are just the same as every other wave.
I tell you what. I really don’t know what Steerpike is, I only know myself now. I’ve kind of lost that part of it. Maybe for the first two weeks, I was like Johnny, Steerpike, Johnny, Steerpike, Johnny, Steerpike. And now it is really inseparable. I just can’t take it off.
There are not really many things in life I want. I don’t desire a car, or friends or clothes or clubbing or parties. There is a space that you can get into sometimes–and you get one or two moments during a job that you do or a script that you do, where the world just disappears and it is nothingness and it is emptiness and it is fantastic. And it is almost like you are elevated off the ground a couple of inches, and you can’t feel the clothes you are wearing, you can’t even feel yourself.
Emptiness is probably the highest level that you can reach, because if you are empty you are like water and it can go right through you and right back out of you and it filters, but when you have all these things inside knocking then…that’s Steerpike. Steerpike can’t take something in and just let it flow out again. He takes it in and it rocks all his cages and little pieces stay in this cage, and that cage, and this cage, and that cage, and slowly it is like water going into wood, slowly it begins to rot and rot and rot and rot. Because he’s not just letting it flow through at all. It’s the same for me.
–Jonathan Rhys Meyers had no formal training as an actor. He came to international prominence when he was cast by Neil Jordan in Michael Collins. He has starred in eleven films, including Velvet Goldmine.
Special thanks to Laura for transcribing this article.