What's My Motivation?
By Michael Simkins
Published by Ebury Press
Dateline: 29th February, 2004
What's My Motivation? is bound to prove itself one of the funniest
theatre books of the year. With several moments that will make almost
any reader laugh out loud, it is a real pleasure. That is not all that
this book has to offer, as it also, on occasion, achieves moments of
great pathos as it explores a mode of life that is rarely brought into
Michael Simkins is an actor but he also writes An Actor's Life,
the column in the Guardian that rather quirkily looks at the profession.
This means that he is able to write well and his chosen topic in this
book is his own life and career, with special emphasis on the disasters
and low points of being an actor.
Commencing with his obsession with Gilbert and Sullivan, it follows
his career through work in a toyshop in Brighton and thence to RADA.
His description of his first meeting there with Timothy Spall is probably
worth the price of the book alone. This might be just as well as, arguably,
it does not represent good value for money since once you pick it up,
the likelihood is that you will have finished it within 48 hours having
ignored the phone and forgotten to feed the cat. It is that kind of
After RADA, Simkins spent many years working in rep and collecting
funny stories. These cover life on the stage but also first and last
night parties and that ubiquitous peril, the landlady.
The balance between a desire to act, the need to make money and charming
the opposite sex never proves easy. While Simkins was rarely out of
work, he did spend much of his time earning Equity minimum wage. This,
together with a new agent, drove him to try his luck in the wonderful
world of TV advertising. After many false starts, this proved something
of a financial salvation.
The front cover shows Simkins dressed as a chicken, which thankfully,
is not a professional experience that is related in the book. However,
he did manage various other humiliations perhaps reaching their zenith
when he became the smelliest Cowardly Lion that the Wizard of Oz has
The interesting thing about What's My Motivation? is that Michael
Simkins has had a very successful career on both stage and screen, much
of which is largely ignored in his efforts to portray the life of a
typical jobbing actor. That is, a man or woman who is forced to live
from hand to mouth and will rarely spend two consecutive months in the
There are stories about life with Mike Leigh and John Malkovich, Juliet
Stevenson and Sir Alan Ayckbourn, so star spotters will not be completely
bereft. There is also a sad tale of filming with Anthony Perkins.
If you are a Mrs Worthington who is about to put her daughter on the
stage, you should read this homage to the acting profession and, in
particular, bear in mind the statistic that at any one time, 90 per
cent of all actors will not be working. You probably still won't put
your daughter off but at least you will have read an engrossing and
often hilarious book.
Read Philip's interview
with Michael Simkins
You can buy What's
My Motivation? from our Bookstore at £7.99. It is due to be
published on 5th March
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