Actors? A Lot of Them Are a Little Bit Thick; HIT FILM DIRECTOR DELIVERS DRAM MATIC: VERDICT ON BRITAIN'S 90,000 THESPIANS: Stars Still Fight to Be in Mike Leigh's Movies

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Byline: DONNA WHITE

MOST film-makers spend their career struggling to get one incredible actor to star in their movie.

But legendary director Mike Leigh has no idea how that would feel - because his biggest problem is deciding which award-winning performers to leave out.

The Life Is Sweet and Happy-Go-Lucky creator regularly works with so many top actors, such as Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton and Jim Broadbent, that he can never fit all of his favourites into his latest indie films.

The Bafta-winner's latest offering, Another Year, hits cinemas this week.

It is a moving look at a group of friends' and relatives' lives over the course of four seasons, which Mike says is more real-life than any reality TV programme.

The director says he is proud to work with the best actors in the country.

Mike, 67, said: "It's my privilege to work with extremely clever, talented and emotionally mature, focused actors. 'It to learn "These guys don't just do acting - they're bright, sharp character actors who are versatile and can dig into emotions.

"My problem is there are too many good actors. There are people I have worked with who are getting the hump because they've not done it in a while.

"When I sit down to cast, it's a problem who not to cast. If we can only afford 12, I go nuts tearing my hair out because yet again someone has to get rejected."

But although he has worked with the best in the business, Mike does not view all actors in such glowing terms.

He said: "Let's be honest, there are maybe up to 90,000 members of Equity, which means there are a lot of actors out there.

"But a lot of actors are thick. They don't know what they're doing, aren't versatile, can't do real people and their acting is the kind where the characters behave like actors. It's as much as they can do to learn the lines and not fall over the furniture.

"But in this country we are also blessed with a lot of very talented actors who really are serious creative types."

In Another Year, hailed as one of his best works by audiences at film festivals around the world, Mike has brought together another high-quality company of actors, with regulars like Staunton, Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville. Staunton, Oscar-nominated for Leigh's film Vera Drake, was due for a bigger part but scheduling conflicts with the latest series of Cranford meant she could only appear in a brief cameo as a counselling patient.

It's Manville who has been getting all the early awards buzz for her stunning role as middle-aged lonely heart Mary.

In the story, about family togetherness contrasted with loneliness, Mary is the central figure who just about struggles to keep it together with the help of friendly couple Broadbent and Sheen.

Renowned for having movies with consistently great acting, one of the reasons behind that is Mike's famed rehearsal process, where he and his cast hole up for months to put the film together. Starting without a script or characters, he turns his ideas and themes into a working film with direct contribution from his actors, who collaborate to create the characters and bring them to life.

Mike said: "Lesley is a fantastic actress. This is the ninth time we have worked together. She is a sharp, bright, intelligent, creative, adventurous and dangerous sort of actor. …