Saturday, 18 August 2012

I'd sit in the park, glueys on one side, spliff smokers on the other, and I’d read Jane Austen. 'Weirdo,' they said.

Russell Kane won the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2010, and is one of the best known stand-ups in Britain. His comedy schtick is very much his tough upbringing in Enfield, his surly father, the bleakness of his surroundings. When I heard, like many comics before him, he had written a novel, I was pretty skeptical.  But when I started reading The Humorist, I was impressed, so I approached him for an interview.  This is what he said about how he discovered books.  

“Part of it was to try to piss my dad off,” he reckons. “Some people did drugs or got involved in crime or slept around.  I wanted to be different.   I thought ‘I’m  going to read everything just to show I  can.’

“I used to sit in the park, glueys on one side, spliff smokers on the other.  I had my own gear, my own spliff, waiting for my friends, and I’d read Jane Austen, just to make people say, ‘What are you doing, weirdo?’    Accidently it fell from rebellion into love.”

At first, it was a torrid affair and grew into something beautiful only because Kane was incorrigible.    He read slowly  and when he could,  kept a dictionary and an encyclopaedia by his side.  “Pride and Prejudice was the first proper book I read,” he recalls. “Every word I encountered that I didn’t know got its own index card with a meaning written on it, then I’d put it in a pack, which I carried around in a bag.   I went through it again and again  until I had expanded my vocabulary.”

He was, he says, 14 when he started creating his portable dictionary, but then corrects himself. “I’m exaggerating, because I’m ashamed.  I was about 17. I’m ashamed  I did it that artificially, that late in life.   But eventually ‘impudent’ became a word I  was comfortable with. That was the first word: impudent. The first word I ever wrote down on a card.”

He collected 3,500 cards over the years.  “I would pick a pack up, and I would go along the street, and I would say, ‘Oxymoron – what does that mean?’   The card was discarded when I felt the word naturally occur to me,  when I could use it without thinking.  I thought, ‘I now own that word, I know what oxymoron means, I’ll never forget it.’ And I never forgot any of them.”

You can read more about Russell at The Times website.  The photograph is by James Glossop

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Lasseter on Jobs: "I get to work with Dad today"

John Lasseter is the creative genius behind Pixar. He achieved worldwide fame as director of Toy Story, and is now chief creative officer for Disney and Pixar.  He has a long connection to Scotland, first visiting on a Eurorail pass when he was a student. I interviewed him when he returned in June to promote Brave ahead of its US premiere. 

The interview was set up as part of the "junket", the huge publicity splurge around the film, that brought 150 journalists over from the states. Disney had hired a couple of floors of the Balmoral Hotel to service the hacks, and  reaching Lasseter, was like getting into Fort Knox.  I got a military 45 minutes with the Big Fellow, in which time I got to ask about eight questions. This is what  he said about Steve Jobs, who co-founded Pixar, and bankrolled it for ten years before Toy Story was released. 

Jobs  became his sounding board, a confidante, a decision maker,  both a father figure and “like a brother” .  Jobs’ death from pancreatic cancer last October was a desperate loss.  Life must be difficult without him?

“It is,” says Lasseter carefully. “I miss him a lot.  The way I describe Steve,  he’s like I was with my sons, learning to ride a bike.  You run alongside and you hold on to the handlebars,  then   you let go and they wobble and you’re still running beside them. But pretty soon they are riding by themselves and you stand  and watch them.  Steve was like that with us. He had no desire to ride the bike,  but he wanted to be there to help.”

Jobs contribution is built into Pixar’s bricks and mortar. Its headquarters at Emeryville near San Francisco has been dubbed  “Steve’s movie” because Jobs spent  four years designing the perfect Californian office space to house what he called "a community of collaborative filmmakers''. 

And he was a creative influence.  “He wasn’t  there  crafting the stories, but he was my fresh set of eyes that I’d show to all the time,” say Lasseter. “I’d get a note from him and I was  always like: ‘I didn’t even think of that.  Wow!’   Or he’d simply say, ‘I just don’t get this, right here.’  I’d  been too close to something,  but he’s the one who makes me look at it from a distance and say, ‘Man, he’s right.”

A year after Toy Story was released, Jobs returned to Apple – “I was so proud of him” says Lasseter -  but he never dropped his connection with  Pixar. Six years ago, when  the two  animation giants merged  Jobs became Disney’s biggest individual shareholder, and Lasseter its driving creative force.

The two men remained close.   “I would go down and visit him (at Apple) all the time,” says Lasseter.   “It was like ‘I get to go to work with Dad today’. It was really special.  We used to talk all the time. I miss him.”

Read the 2000-word interview at The Times Review cover story. Picture shows Lasseter with Julie Fowlis, the singer