Every British celebrity dreams about making it big in the States, but very few pull it off and the ones who do aren't always the most obvious. For instance, after the extraordinary success of Bend It Like Beckham, which took .5 million at the US box office, I was expecting Posh and Becks to become household names in America. Surprisingly, though, it didn't happen and when they embarked on their publicity tour of the States last year they couldn't get arrested. Nevertheless, the film did create a star in the unlikely form of Keira Knightley. Even though she was a gangly 16-year-old at the time, and played second fiddle to Parminder Nagra, the film propelled her to the top of the Hollywood A-list.
The most recent beneficiary of this lottery is Ian McShane. Until this week, he was chiefly known in the States for playing a villain in Sexy Beast, but that all changed on Sunday night when HBO, the American cable channel behind Sex and the City, unveiled its latest series: Deadwood. Set in the Wild West, Deadwood stars McShane as a sleazy bar owner who controls the town's gambling and prostitution rackets. The first episode averaged 5.8 million viewers, making it the best debut ever for a new series on HBO.
Oddly, British actors are far more likely to make it in America if they play bad guys rather than good guys. To take the latest crop of releases, Brits have been cast as villains in Open Range, Agent Cody Banks 2 and Mona Lisa Smile. It's nothing short of a miracle that Judas isn't played by a Brit in The Passion of the Christ.
I once asked Alan Rickman why Brits only ever played bad guys in Hollywood movies. I thought he would know, having played villains in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
"Because we can act, dear boy," he replied.
I find it hard to get excited by the news that Christopher Eccleston has landed the role of the next Doctor Who. He's a fine actor, and I'm sure he'll do an excellent job of portraying the eccentric time lord, but the BBC simply doesn't have the resources to create the kind of special effects required to make a successful sci-fi action adventure series.
When I first watched the series, back in the days when John Pertwee played the Doctor, I found the special effects completely convincing because I had nothing more sophisticated to compare them with. In Doctor Who and the Silurians, for instance, all it took was a bit of dry ice--a sure sign that the Silurians were about to appear--to send me scurrying behind the sofa.
But how on earth will the boffins at Television Centre manage to engage the attention of a generation of schoolchildren raised on films like The Mummy Returns, Spiderman and Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones? Next to the state-of-the-art CGI special effects of the latest Hollywood blockbusters, the Daleks will look like something granddad knocked up in the garden shed with a couple of Cornflake boxes and a loo roll.
New Saatchi Exhibition
I'm not much of an art buff. In fact, my artistic sensibility is so underdeveloped that on the rare occasions when I go to an exhibition I spend less time looking at the art on the walls than the women in the gallery. In this respect, last Tuesday's opening of the new Saatchi exhibition was an absolute corker. I don't think I've ever seen so many pretty girls assembled under one roof.
I had a much better time there than I did at the party I attended the previous night where I was buttonholed by the writer Alain de Botton and his wife. Every critic lives in fear of bumping into his latest victim and I had just given de Botton's latest book the thumbs down in the Evening Standard.
"Did you enjoy Alain's party?" asked Mrs de Botton, a reference to the fact that I'd been shamefaced enough to attend the launch party of her husband's book two weeks earlier in spite of knowing that I was going to give it a bad review.
A braver man than me would have quoted Hilton Kramer, the former art critic of the New York Times. On one famous occasion, he was accosted by Woody Allen at the opening of an exhibition he'd slated in that morning's Times and asked how he had the gall to show his face.
"Why should I be embarrassed?" boomed Kramer. "The artist should be embarrassed for producing such bad art."
However, instead of relaying this splendid anecdote, I just muttered something about not having made my mind up about the book at the time I attended the party. Both Alain and his wife knew perfectly well I was lying and I shuffled off with my tail between my legs, feeling every inch the lowlife hack.
I've just come back from Jamaica where I was a guest of Butch Stewart, the buccaneering owner of the upmarket resort chains of Sandals and Beaches, not to mention the national airline. One of my day jobs is working as a restaurant critic and, having become thoroughly spoilt, I was rather dreading the food. I'd only been to the Caribbean once before--to Harbour Island--and found the local cuisine almost inedible.
To my amazement, Jamaican food turned out to be absolutely delicious. By the end of my one-week holiday, I couldn't pass a "Jerk Centre"--typically, a roadside stall selling barbecued chicken and pork that's been coated in local spices--without shelling out for a takeaway. I returned to London with my suitcase full of Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, the Chateauneuf du Pape of the genre.
Before I went to Jamaica I was warned by my cousin, a London police officer, not to leave my hotel compound for fear of getting shot. In fact, I travelled the length and breadth of the island, often ending up in little villages where I was the only white man in sight, and didn't once feel threatened. On the contrary, the Jamaicans were incredibly welcoming and friendly--all the more surprising considering England had just defeated the West Indies at cricket. I even spent a pleasant afternoon at Bob Marley's old house in Trenchtown.
Shepherd's Bush, by contrast, which is where I live in London, is a genuinely dangerous place. The nearest equivalent of a Jerk Centre in my neighbourhood is Nandos on the Uxbridge Road. Two years ago, a gun fight broke out in the restaurant and a man was shot and killed while one of waitresses was wounded. My police officer cousin tells me that the CCTV footage of the incident is famous in the Met because if you examine the grainy images carefully it becomes apparent that every single male patron in the restaurant--and it was extremely crowded at the time--produces a firearm in the course of the battle.
I have a wife and an eight-month-old daughter and in the interests of preserving their safety I'm now thinking of moving to Trenchtown.
The Other Boat Race
If you watch the Boat Race today spare a thought for little old me. I spent last month filming a BBC reality show in which two teams of no-hopers were trained to row by a group of Olympic gold-medallists and then made to race each other on the Thames. It was broadcast every day last week as a way of drumming up interest in the 150th Boat Race.
Most print journalists secretly hanker after a career in television, but having seen the results I'm not sure it's such a good idea. I was completely unprepared for just how fat I look. I bumped into one of the BBC cameramen who'd worked on the show last week and made the mistake of asking him whether he thought I had any future in the medium.
"Have you ever heard the acronym TUFTY?" he asked.