Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

You're Never Too Old

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

You're Never Too Old

Article excerpt

Byline: By Jane Hall

Alun Armstrong is puckering up for his biggest acting challenge ( his first on-screen gay kiss. Jane Hall found out more.

With a face that looks like the craters of the moon and a string of gritty parts to his name, Alun Armstrong wouldn't seem to be the obvious choice to play a gay Latin teacher.

But that is the challenge the veteran actor is taking on in a new BBC Two drama, When I'm 64.

Alun, who is two years short of his 60th birthday and whose stage, screen and TV credits include the Tyneside-based gangland thriller Get Carter, A Bridge Too Far, Our Friends in the North and more recently the vampire thriller, Van Helsing, admits to being more than a little nervous as to how his latest role will be received.

He plays the hitherto repressed Jim in When I'm 64, part of a series of BBC programmes celebrating the experiences and opportunities of the 50-plus generation.

Jim has never explored his sexuality, but after his enforced retirement as a public school teacher he decides it is time to live a little. Jim, who was in his 20s when the Beatles had their famous hit about growing old, resolves to challenge the perceptions of old age and fall in love and travel the world.

Paul Freeman, recently seen as Susan Hampshire's love interest in Monarch of the Glen, plays Ray, the taxi driver Jim books to carry him to his new life. On the way, the two men become friends then head off into uncharted territory.

Alun describes his character as a "bit of an innocent. It's like he is leaving school for the first time, in his mid-60s. Jim has never had a strong affection for anyone.

"He's always been cut off and institutionalised. He's so terribly, terribly shy that he's completely socially disabled."

When I'm 64 asks if it is ever too late to make changes in your life and follow the dreams of youth, and whether being retired marks not the end but just the beginning.

Alun is the first to admit that the one-off drama has certainly marked a change of direction for him ( but facing up to the gay kiss was no easy task.

In real life a happily married father of three grown-up sons, he says he had qualms about accepting the part. "The taboos are so ingrained in us. A lot of actors can't do it. I've always liked the idea of scandalising people, but then you start to think, `What will people make of it? What do they think it will say about me? Will they think I'm a closet homosexual?'

"But when I read the script I thought, `It's a lovely story. It's such a good idea, with great twists in it and, all right, so they turn out to be gay.' I didn't even think about it being a problem, but then when you come to do it, all these things start to play in your head.

"I'd tell my mates about it ( some of whom are actors and some not ( and some would suck through their teeth and go, `Oh. …

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