By Lisa Lyons
Actor Julian Sands burst onto the scene in the mid-1980s lighting up the big screen as George Emerson, a deeply thoughtful young man who sweeps impressionable Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) off her feet during a trip to Florence, Italy in the Merchant-Ivory drama “A Room with a View.” The film went on to win several Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Costume Design as well as nominations for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for actor Denholm Elliott’s portrayal of George’s father, Mr. Emerson.
In a satisfying turn of events, Julian Sands is now portraying the senior Mr. Emerson in the LA Theatre Works (LATW) radio dramatization of “A Room with a View” based on the original novel by E.M. Forster and adapted and directed by Kate McAll, an award-winning writer/producer for BBC4 Radio. Sands is delighted that this classic love story will be reaching new eyes and ears in this LATW production which will record four performances Mar 1-3. This time instead of playing the young lover, however, he will portray the senior Emerson, a simple, eloquent tradesman. The irony is not lost on Sands, who has had a successful film career for more than three decades and is now doing stage, television and most recently radio dramas.
“I always felt that in the film the tenderest scenes were between George and his father,” he says. “They had such a resonance to them, so poetic. So I wanted to recreate that feeling but keeping it simple, taking inspiration from author E.M. Forster’s novel. He created a lovely, open-hearted, unfiltered man, somewhat provincial yet in his own way no less sophisticated than Lucy’s wealthy fiance Cecil Vyse.”
What was it that drew him back to these unforgettable characters? “Well, mostly it was my great working relationship with Kate McAll,” he states. “We had worked together last year in LATW’s “Daniel Deronda” and then again recently on an original radio drama for BBC4 “Cheeta: My Life in Hollywood” with my old friend John Malkovich that she adapted.”
“Also, Forster created a ‘tableau vivant’ of great characters,” he explains. “It’s a love story, yes. But it also has hidden depths, nuance, a subtlety of feeling. The three families whose lives intertwine – the Emersons, the Bartletts, and the Honeychurches – are profoundly joyful and touching. The book was beautifully crafted and well-observed by the author.”
He recalls when making the film that it was like being at a beautiful picnic, blessed with a ridiculously talented cast – including Daniel Day-Lewis as Cecil, Dame Maggie Smith as Lucy’s chaperone Ms. Bartlett, Judi Dench as an outre artist, and Rupert Graves as Lucy’s wastrel brother.
However, the challenge of taking the beloved film, without its glorious visuals and the backdrop of Venice and rural Surrey countryside, and making it all about the source material was impossible to resist when he read McAll’s adaptation. “Kate has great intelligence, integrity and was faithful to the source material much like Ruth (Prawer Jhabvala) did with the film adaptation,” he explains. “After working with her on Daniel Deronda, and then on Cheeta, I knew this production would be perfectly cast and performed – and I was right.”
The beautiful Elinor Tomlinson (Demelza in “Poldark”) plays Lucy, and Eugene Simon (“Game of Thrones”) plays George; Sands feels they will breathe new life into the characters for a generation of listeners who may have never seen the original film. He recalls that he reached out to James Ivory when he was offered the role of Emerson by LATW and Ivory was delighted that the material would be revived. Sands gave sage advice (when asked to) by Simon about how to best portray George. “There have been other adaptations on the stage and television where George is played as a melancholy loner. But I told Eugene that George is soulful, joyful, never gloomy. So keep it simple; keep it real.”
That is good advice from a working actor who has logged over a million frequent flyer miles following his passion for acting and immersing himself in the culture of the places he visits which include more than 50 countries to date. “I consider myself a sort of wandering minstrel, in the great tradition of traveling players of the past,” he confesses.
We can only hope that his undiminished wanderlust leads him back to the stage and radio podcasts for many years to come.
“A Room with a View” will have four performances the weekend of March 1-3, 2019. Tickets range from $15-$65 and can be purchased by visiting www.latw.org or calling 310-827-0889.