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Actor Clarke Peters: Every time you go on stage, you take a risk

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  • What is your earliest memory?
    Look downtown out the 14th floor window of a building in Harlem and see the Empire State Building and wonder: when did they finish this? I was four years old.

  • Who was or is your mentor?
    Many people. Before leaving the United States, two friends, Eddie Sledge, who became a dentist, and Albee Fennar and his Japanese wife, Keiko. I was 15, 16, they were a bit older. Albee was a photographer and loved jazz. I moved to Paris and met a writer named Julio Finn, a cigar and blues enthusiast. I guess I was 18, he was in his late thirties, and he encouraged me to really look at how my life was and not just hang around – he rooted me in the arts.

    [Actor] Murray Llewellyn – he was out of Rank Charm School and regaled me with acting stories at the time. He sent me to elocution lessons and put me in touch with acting teachers. He has become a member of the family, a real eccentric character and an unconditional friend. I don’t think the angels would forgive me if I forgot. When I arrived in London, [broadcaster and director] Ned Sherrin, who I still miss.

  • What physical condition are you in?
    Fairly suitable for 70. I have two metal knees, but I can still kneel and walk and jog. My exercises are giving me diminishing returns, but that’s normal for the course. I don’t smoke, drink or eat meat so the body I inhabit is in pretty good working order.

  • Tell us about an animal you loved.
    A horse named Storm, a handsome gray, about 15, 16 hands. This horse took me 50 miles and when I took his saddle off he put his head on my shoulder and pulled me towards him. It’s the only way a horse can give a hug. He was a sweet, sweet, sweet animal. He showed me empathy; he let me know that we were on this trip together.

  • Risk or caution, what has defined your life more?
    Both, not necessarily equally. Every time you go on stage, you take a risk. Every time they say action, you’re taking a risk. At the same time, you need to make sure you’re in control and have a plan. I’m not a bungee jumper!

  • What trait do you find most irritating in others?
    When you try to explain something, and they keep talking, or they try to guess. If there’s something coming out of your mouth, nothing goes in your ears.

  • What trait do you find most irritating about yourself?
    Make promises to me that I don’t keep.

  • What motivates you ?
    Imagination! Possibilities. Life is really interesting, and life is short.

  • Do you believe in life after death?
    I certainly do. But how it works, I have no idea. I believe there is life after death, and I believe there is pre-life, an endless cycle.

  • Which is more puzzling, the existence of suffering or its frequent absence?
    The existence of suffering: that does not disconcert me. We grow up in pain. The absence is probably more confusing. I feel like if it’s not there, there’s a lie at work somewhere, a misdirection, a misconception.

  • Name your favorite river.
    The rivers that flow around Manhattan, where I was born: the Hudson on one side and the East River on the other.

  • What would you have done differently?
    I would have kept a diary.

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