||Derren Nesbitt is a veteran of stage and screen whose career has lasted many decades, and he shows no signs of slowing down in his eighties. From groundbreaking films like Victim with Dirk Bogarde to super-productions like Where Eagles Dare, along with countless television guest star roles, he has been a familiar and much-respected face for all this time, and his latest role as drag queen Jackie, starring alongside Rizzle Kicks' Jordan Stephens, in director Jamie Patterson's Tucked shows him at his best. Derren was kind enough to answer some questions about the film and his career.
TSI: Jackie looks like a role nobody else could have played as well. How did you get involved in Tucked?
DN: Well, I knew Jamie and saw some of his work and told him that I thought he showed great talent as a director. Then he said that he'd written a movie for me. I thanked him, asking what do I play? He replied, a drag-queen and cross dresser. My comment was an astonished, "Pardon?" I knew I had to read it. I did and it 'clicked' and agreed, knowing I would be in safe hands.
TSI: Was it rewarding to play the lead at this stage in your career, and how much of a change was it from your earlier, villainous roles?
DN: Well, I’ve been running a large company called New Era one of the leading Drama Awarding bodies in the UK when Jamie asked me. Yes, it was a delight to become Jackie. One can never become someone different from who you are. So Derren is Derren the fading drag-queen and cross-dresser that was 100 % opposite to all the roles in had in the past. But I never considered it a change from what I had become in the past because I was all those people, just as I am Jackie.
TSI: Is this the first time you have played a part in drag? Was it easy to do?
DN: I was briefly in drag with Dick Emery in Ooh... You Are Awful, and found it easy to become a drag-queen and cross-dresser - because Jackie was!
TSI: Do you feel Tucked has anything to say about increasing understanding of those who are more fluid in their gender than simply identifying as "male” or female"?
DN: When I was in Victim it helped change the law over de-criminalising homosexual conduct between males when they could be put in prison. I've always replied to your question with - firstly I hate labels, because they are just two human beings who are believed to be in a minority. This marginalisation should not make them abnormal but only different human beings from those who are considered as 'normal'. But then what 'is' normal behaviour?? If someone drinks their own bathwater in the privacy of their home must they be labelled as abnormal, or are they more abnormal then those who prefer having a shower?
TSI: As you play both comedy and drama in Tucked, which do you prefer?
DN: I never thought, nor have I ever thought of what I was being was either comedy or drama. Derren is Jackie in the circumstances he has found himself, if they happen to be amusing or tragic, he lives through them. To bring true realism to the screen is the hardest accomplishment and something I've tried to do all my life, neither comedy nor drama, just reality.
TSI: You worked with Dick Emery in Ooh… You Are Awful, and he famously played characters in drag. What was that like, and could you pick up any tips?
DN: He was a delightful man whom I knew through my family who were very famous Music Hall stars. He was just about as - 'manly' for the want of a category who loved women, and was completely different than the host of characters he became! One does not pick-up tips through him nor anyone else other than picking them up from the day you are born.
TSI: One of your earliest hits was as the blackmailer in Victim. Do you have any memories of that and how it changed the public's perception of gay men?
DN: Yes, I have vivid memories, particularly asking for an illustration of Michelangelo's 'David' on my wall to suggest that he too was a homosexual male that was never expressed in that movie. As I said it went a great way to change the public perception of Gay men. I hope, likewise, that people who watch Tucked can change the public opinion of cross-dressing males; whether they are gay; Jackie is not a homosexual, and hope people will see the terribly tragedy of his wife not being able to accept him; although he loved her until the day he died. This perception of him cross-dressing destroyed her life, his life and his daughters, because he could not alter his fundamental need to dress as a woman, and his wife could not comprehend his desperate need. Had she been able to discard her perception and accepted that he loved her a woman; and if she could have discarded her brought-up perception of cross-dressing males - this tragedy could have been avoided. If people can see through the movie that cross-dressing is neither funny, nor something the public should sneer at - but understand by seeing Jackie's battle with his life. He doesn't want to dress as a woman, he needs to dress as a woman.
TSI: You played a Nazi in Where Eagles Dare. Do you still get recognised for that and what was it like to act in such a huge production?
DN: Yes, all the time. Meeting Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie they say my lines and Stephen wanted to play my part! I've acted in large productions before, like with Mr Frank Sinatra. A production is a production whether large or small. Although many people demand I write my autobiography. Which I have as more of a cathartic exercise than anything else, and whether anyone would want to read or publish it, I've no idea!
TSI: You directed a film yourself, based on your book: The Amorous Milkman. What are your memories of that? Did it make you appreciate directors more?
DN: Well, I wanted to. I did and did it. That was enough to see if I could. In many films I've - shall we say - contributed to the direction; particularly the early ones. Directors are a strange breed. Basically, two types those that arrive knowing every shot and where the camera is going to be placed, and those who listen to the actors rehearsing the scene and then decide how to shoot it.
TSI: Do you think Jackie is more Danny La Rue than pantomime dame, and part of a long tradition of men dressing up as women for the stage?
DN: No, not at all. Although I knew Danny La Rue; and being born in a theatre knew pantomimes all my life. Neither entered my mind in being Jackie.
TSI: Do you have any roles coming up you would like to mention?
DN: Well, many movie producers are now mentioning projects to me, and we shall have to see what progresses.
Many thanks to Derren for answering our questions. Seek out Tucked, readers, it's a gem. Click here to read our review.