Hugh Fraser

 

A Conversation

with

Hugh Fraser





The name Hugh Fraser is synonymous with two things in the Sharpe world. Superior acting and none other than Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. For fourteen episodes, Sharpe fans have come to know and love Hugh Fraser as Arthur Wellesley; not only for the supreme  English commander that he portrayed but for the one man that could put Sharpe in his place and get away with it.


Fraser has also had a long and distinguished acting career leading up to securing the role of Wellington starting with Sharpe's Company. His first role was a small part as a militiaman in a 1966 episode of Doctor Who.  Fraser received his first major recognition portraying Anthony Eden in the 1978 miniseries Edward & Mrs Simpson, after which his acting career really took off. Besides his role in Sharpe, Fraser is perhaps best known for playing Captain Hastings in Agatha Christie's Poirot alongside David Suchet. His acting talent has allowed him over the years to work with such distinguished actors as Michael Caine, Glenn Close, Edward Fox, Harrison Ford, Sam Neill, and John Hurt.


































































































































































































































































What were your growing up years like?


I was born in London but grew up in a suburb of Birmingham, arguably the most depressing city in England in the 1950's. Cycling, reading and going to the movies provided some relief from the tedium and my father took us on some holidays to Switzerland and Yugoslavia, when he was asked to give lectures there. I had little interest in school work and failed exams regularly. Both my parents had been to university and my sister also went on to do a medical degree and so I was something of an embarrassment academically. My parents were noticeably relieved when I got into Drama School.



You trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts. What was that like?



Actors' training was very different in the early 60's, consisting mostly of stage technique which soon became outmoded with the entry of experimental theatre into the mainstream and the arrival of the new dramatists of the day. The vocal training was excellent and has remained a valuable resource through my career. There was little training in acting for the camera and what there was bore little relevance to working in the medium.

Were you familiar with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series before learning you had the role?


I knew of the books because of their great popularity but I had not read any.

How did it feel stepping into David Troughton’s shoes as the famous Wellington? Were you at all intimidated to play one of England’s most prestigious commanders?


It is intimidating playing a famous historical character but once I began to research him I found points of identification which made it less of a challenge. I find it difficult to describe the process of beginning to inhabit a character. I think perhaps it is mostly an unconscious process that comes more from an instinctive reaction to the script and what the writer intended rather than any particular characteristics discovered through research.

By the time you joined the cast, everyone had been together for several months. Was it easy to assimilate into the group?


The cast were very welcoming and as I knew several of the actors already it was easy to fit in to the company.  There was Sean, of course and Jeremy Child, Pete Postlethwaite,Tony Haygarth, Clive Francis, Nicholas Jones and Michael Byrne. All of whom I had worked with before in various TV, film or theatre plays. I also knew Chris O'Dell the Director of Photography and Ray Cooper the focus puller from Poirot. Also the cameraman Martin Hume from Jack the Ripper.



What were your first impressions of the Crimea?


Poverty and a lack of public services. We in the ‘comfortable West’ take so much for granted.



Do you think Wellington was unnecessarily harsh calling his men the “scum of the earth”?


Wellington was a hard man who demanded a great deal of himself and those he led. People are inclined to say things they don't necessarily mean in a long and arduous campaign.

What was the most challenging aspect about playing the Duke of Wellington?



Trying to look like an expert horseman while clinging on for dear life. I had ridden before in a TV series called Smuggler and did in fact have some lessons to get my chops back before Sharpe. It would have been foolish not to. The support from the riding master Dinny Powell was invaluable, not only in terms of giving one confidence but also in selecting an obedient and good tempered horse. The high octane riding was done by the fearless Russian stunt doubles whose expertise was awesome.


Would you have liked a chance to be in the thick of the action and play an ordinary soldier, or were you happy to be in command?


Much happier in command, watching the action from a distance and ordering others to their death.




In the Behind-the-Scenes Documentary of Sharpe's Challenge, you were shown in Make-Up having your prosthetic nose put on. How long did the process take?


Between 15 minutes and an hour depending on the temperature. The heat made the make up run off the latex.



Have you kept any of the prosthetic noses from the series?


I'm wearing one now.

Over the years of Richard Sharpe’s travels, at his side all along has been General Wellesley. At the same time it’s been Hugh Fraser at Sean Bean’s side, filming through the rugged mountains of Turkey and the Crimea to the harsh terrain and blasting heat of India. It’s been a long, successful campaign and we at Sharpe Pointe are very proud to bring you a personal interview with the accomplished actor, Hugh Fraser.

Both yourself and Sean Bean had to take on roles originally cast for another actor: a few months into the series, David Troughton fell ill and had to be replaced, as did Paul McGann when he hurt his knee playing football during filming. How difficult is it to take over the role from someone else and make it your own?


David Troughton is an excellent actor whom I very much admire. I decided not to watch David's performance as Wellington so as not to be influenced by it.

By

Traci Moore and Alison Stokes

If you had the choice, is there any other character in the large repertoire of Sharpe you would have had fun playing?


Not really. I enjoyed playing Wellington



The costumes must have been very hot while you were filming on location, particularly in India. How did you cope with the heat?


You get used to it quite quickly and you can strip off between takes. The nose was the biggest problem as the heat destabilised the make up and glue.



Where you able to do any sightseeing while you were there?


Unfortunately not. The schedule didn't allow for much free time and public transport was minimal.

What is your personal favourite line or scene from Sharpe?


It's been a while now and I'm afraid the lines have faded, although I have a memory of enjoying saying "Send gallopers….." but can't remember where or to whom.

The Battle of Waterloo is one of history's greatest battles and at the time, the end of the Sharpe series. How did it feel knowing that you were filming your last episode of Sharpe?


I felt sad to be finishing such an enjoyable series. Sharpe was memorable for the company spirit which developed among the actors and crew which was due in no small measure to the leadership given by the director Tom Clegg. Tom was tireless in his pursuit of quality in the shooting and in extracting the best work from his actors in conditions that were not always easy to cope with. He was also great value after hours with a couple of drinks on board. He deserves great credit for the success of the series.



Were you aware that the current Duke of Wellington was a Sharpe Fan while you were making the series?


No, but I am very glad to hear it.

Last October you were at the Sharpe’s Children Foundation Launch at the Duke of Wellington’s home, Apsley House. Were you able to meet the Duke or any of his family while at Apsley House?


Unfortunately not.

IMDB states that you were in the  Folk/Rock Group Telltale in the 70's. Do you still write or play music?


I play guitar but I don't write music now.



What you are currently working on. Any new projects?


I'm directing Hamlet with students from NYU who are doing a semester at RADA as part of their NYU drama programme. I have directed quite frequently through the years and have always enjoyed the opportunity to approach a play as a whole rather than having to hold the inevitably limited focus that one has as an actor playing a role.


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When we met you at Apsley House last year, for the launch of The Sharpe's Children's Foundation, you joked that you felt very much at home there, and hoped you'd be offered the use an honorary apartment.  Did you have any luck with that?


Not yet but I'm sure they will be in touch soon.

You bear an uncanny resemblance to the portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Robert Home. Have you been to view it in the National Portrait Gallery in London?


Yes. It is a fine painting. (and not a little unlike Hugh Fraser’s own likeness in the photo at the top of this article...)

Before Sharpe, you were in two films with Sean Bean,  Lorna Doone and Patriot Games. Did you bump into one another while filming?


We did not meet on Lorna Doone but we spent time together on Patriot Games as we were both away from home in Hollywood. Sean is a very pleasant, easy going person.

©Paramount Pictures

Patriot Games

Left, Hugh Fraser. Right, Alun Armstrong

© Celtic Films


Hugh Fraser waits patiently as Wellington’s nose (the prothesis) is applied

Celtic Films

Left, Michael Byrne. Right, Hugh Fraser from Sharpe’s Company.

Celtic Films

Hugh Fraser, (center) at the Battle of Badajoz in Sharpe’s Company.

©Celtic Pictures

David Troughton as Col. Arthur Wellesley in Sharpe’s Rifles

From Agatha Christie’s Poirot,

Left, David Suchet. Right, Hugh Fraser

Sir Arthur Wellesley by Robert Home

National Portrait Gallery

Hugh Fraser as  Lord Arthur Wellesley

©Celtic FIlms


©Celtic Films


Hugh Fraser’s favorite scene from Sharpe’s Company,

the Battle of Badajoz. Send in the gallopers!

Duncan Soars


Hugh Fraser at Apsley House with two well known

comrades from Sharpe:

Left, Ian McNeice. Right, Oliver Cotton

©

©

©

We caught up with Hugh Fraser at the fundraiser for Sharpe's March on October 25th and he told us that he had such profound respect for the people who rallied and participated in the march, all for such an important cause. Hugh had this to say about the event:


"It is wonderful to see how all the actors and friends of Sharpe have come together to do what they can to give something back to the places where we filmed the series. The people in the Ukraine, Turkey and India  were always very welcoming when we were working, and I am pleased that through Daragh's charity work we can help those in need." 



















Hugh was on hand at the tail end of the march, along with Lyndon Davies, Jason Salkey and Paul Bigley, who marched in with the lads of the 95th Rifles as well as the Sharpe's Children Foundation's leader, Daragh O'Malley. It was a grand sight seeing all the old friends gathered together for such a wonderful cause and is further proof of what a close knit family the people of Sharpe continue to be.


Hugh Fraser at Sharpe’s March.

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