Mr Langlands by Minnie Driver

11th October 2013 at 01:00
The Hollywood star affectionately recalls an unorthodox English teacher who taught her to examine her shoelaces and took her on a hunt for the Forest of Arden

My acting career began with Mr Langlands. He was my English teacher from when I was about 8 to the age of 17, when I was at Bedales boarding school in south-east England.

He instilled in me a great curiosity about literature and made me realise that I was reading adventures and not just dusty old stories from long ago.

I was so fascinated by all the books and poetry I was encouraged to read that the next natural step was to get up and speak those lines. When I felt the words connect, I was halfway to being an actor right there.

He taught me how to examine characters by looking for clues, be they in Dickens, a Donne poem or Thomas Hardy. And that's exactly how I break down a character as an actor today.

He also taught me how to write to discover the interest in something. He used to have these exercises called observations. He'd post instructions on a board - ordinary things such as drinking a glass of water or tying up our shoelaces - and we had to write at least one, if not two, pages of A4 about it. He wanted us to push ourselves to use language to explore what is apparently boring and to find a way of making it interesting. Now, when I'm preparing to play a part, I write a lot about aspects of the character and their history.

Alastair Langlands was extraordinarily innovative and quite unorthodox in his teaching. You were sitting in a classroom but you were expected to think outside it.

When I was 12 or 13, we were studying As You Like It and we went out and found our own Forest of Arden, where the play is set. Bedales is situated in the South Downs, a beautiful area, and we ran around hunting for a spot in the woods that we all thought looked most like where they would have staged the play.

I was a weekly boarder and Alastair also lived within the school community, so he was a great figure in my life. He wore tweed suits and had wonderful reddish hair. He always had a smile on his face and he was exceptionally genial and welcoming. I know he was a spiritual man, but it was not in a self-righteous way and he was extremely kind and immensely delighted by the students.

He was terribly witty, too. He wrote on one of my reports when I was 11 that I was a joy to have in his class, that I was very emotional and that all my husbands would love me dearly. My mum framed it.

I saw him a few months ago at my 25-year school reunion. He's retired now but still very much involved in the school. We've stayed in touch and have written to each other over the years. It's sporadic but there's still a connection there.

I left Bedales at the wrong time, just before my A levels. I wanted to move to be with some friends in London and somehow I persuaded my parents to let me go to a sixth-form college in South Kensington. It didn't work out.

It made me realise how lucky I was to have been taught by people like Alastair. Great teachers show you things that you can apply to your life in a holistic way and that's why I keep using Alastair's methods.

Minnie Driver was speaking to Kate Bohdanowicz


Minnie Driver

Born: Amelia Driver, 31 January 1970, Finsbury Park, London

Education: Bedales School, Petersfield, Hampshire; Collingham Sixth Form College, London; Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, London

Career: Actor and singer-songwriter.

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