By Rachael Brown
Sitting in the lobby of Hotel Indigo with Alistair Petrie, known for his stern, authoritarian roles in ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Sherlock’ as surly, stone faced generals, I cant help but be impressed by his acting skill. Because in person, dwarfing me and Kiara in casual jeans and a pressed shirt, he has the air of your typical suburban dad, his friendliness and enthusiasm for our questions miles away from the surly superintendent types he embodies on the silver screen.
“Its because my resting bitch face is so utterly sensational” he laughs, when we note how often he is typecast, into, in his words, total “bastards”. However, this typecasting in no way makes Petrie feel unfufilled, despite its myopic nature- he takes it as a quiet personal challenge- the challenge he feels all actors embrace, to elevate and inhabit characters and stories beyond the two dimensional plane.
But in some sense, this typecasting is beyond the two dimensional, the militaristic flavor seeming almost destined, considering his childhood. Born in Yorkshire, he grew up all across the world, spending lengthy stints of his upbringing in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria due to his father’s career as a pilot in the RAF. This quasi-nomadic lifestyle of frequently adapting to entirely new cultures and environments has, in Petrie’s eyes, greatly informed his development as a person and his outlook on acting. He feels it has liberated him from the constraints of a ‘born and bred’ mentality, giving him a greater fixation on external rather than internal identities, and has instilled a sense of empathy and appreciation for cultural differences.
This level of self awareness can be seen in the fact that, despite Allaister having an almost halycon experience in Saudi Arabia, professing fond memories of playing baseball in the sand, there is no romanticisation in the upcoming serial he is producing set in the nation, which takes into account their appauling record on human rights; specifically womens rights. This is understandable, considering Petrie’s endeavors in the area- setting up his own charity, Bourne, to investigate the causes of premature births and advance the issue of womens reproductive health.
Film at its best is lightning in a bottle.
On that topic, we leap from one patriarchial kingdom to another and discuss the toxicity of hollywood, specifically the impact of the ‘Me Too’ era post Harvey Weinstein. “Vigilance is key” Petrie says, when discussing the women who came forward to expose Weinstein’s sexual abuse, stressing abuses of power like his exist in all industries, so the bravery to expose them “should never be taken for granted”.
In this vein, he praises the modern breakdown of white men’s creative and representational monopoly in film and theatre, celebrating the newfound role of award shows to showcase independent and estoric films such as 2019’s ‘Gwen’, creating space for the more diverse voices and stories of women and minorities in a process akin to “the de-mystficiation of a grand social mirrior”.
If art is a sociological mirrior, we propose to Petrie, what if you cant afford to see yourself reflected? One of the most underdiscussed hurdles in the face of greater acting diversity is the issue of financial accessibility. Indeed, Petrie recognises, as someone who had the privellege to attend drama school, that not only do they posess a london-centric reputation as the finishing school for the fabulously creative and the fabulously wealthy, but also that its fees especially when on top of travel, can be astronomical. He personally wants to see audition fees scrapped to overcome the elitist bubble that haunts the acting world, a bubble he is highly critical of.
“I dont subscribe” Petrie says, crossing his legs “to the snobbery that your not a true actor if your roots arent in the theatre”. As an actor who began in the theatre, and admits he misses it often, Petrie’s statement is a testament to the diversity of his work and his appreciation for the art of film: “film at its best is lightning in a bottle”. And on that note we turn off our tape, and get back to reality.
Picture Credit: The Durham Union