Over five years in the making, the project sees Simpson ask some of his favourite actors ‘what role have you always wanted to play but have never got the chance?’ with their choices revealing new insights into their motivations, dreams and passions.
“I’ve been totally open to interpretations of the questions,” said Simpson. “The only stipulation is that it’s something that they haven’t done before – so that it’s totally new.” Each painting is Oil on Canvas 135 x 60cm.
The show will start touring at the beginning of 2020, with the first scheduled dates including Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery from Friday 25th January – Tuesday 3rd March 2020. More dates will follow, finishing with a London exhibition at the end of the summer.
Simpson explains: “I worked with each actor and discussed their ideas about the role, why they chose it and we collaborated on what would be included in the finished piece. I took the original photographs of the actor in costume and used these as references to create the painting with an imagined background and setting, like a film still from a film that doesn’t exist. I wanted to re-invent the role that they have chosen, imagining my interpretation of how that could look. I spent over two months on each piece, and filmed a time lapse of the process.
“The exhibition will feature behind-the-scenes displays, with concept sketches, time lapses and insights into the motivations behind the actors choices. For example Matt Lucas chose Singin’ In The Rain as he grew up loving musicals and his first screen crush was Gene Kelly. Initially, he was going to pick the role of ‘Annie’ (the 1982 film) – which would have been a very different painting.
Olivia Colman chose the Lars Von Trier movie ‘Breaking the Waves’ – which she had only seen once, but it made such a profound impact on her that she has never stopped thinking about it. Michael Sheen said he’d pretty much played every role he wanted to play, but he was in love with Maurice Sendack’s book ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ – from reading it as a child to reading it to his daughter. He even owns his own costume to wear at home. Gugu Mbatha-Ra’s first professional role was a background character in the stage play of Cleopatra at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, she said it’s her ambition to play the lead role.
“This project draws threads from all my previous work, including portraiture of notable subjects and exploring the narrative potential of the still image – into a more complex and realised vision. It’s the most ambitious and challenging project I’ve ever attempted. These are the most researched pieces I’ve worked on, where I study each role and create a scene from scratch – which includes making costumes, referencing cinematography, genre conventions and character profiles and visiting authentic locations – all to build a single frame story.”
Simpson has also created black and white acrylic studies of each actor that will be shown in the exhibition, each are Acrylic on somerset paper 76 x 56cm.
There is also a documentary being filmed about the show with interviews with all the actors, the process behind them and the paintings being unveiled to the subjects. There is currently developments for this to be commissioned as a broadcast series.