By Tirthankar Mitra
Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances is a quote which aptly encapsulates the histrionic talent of Michael John Gambon who passed away last week.. He lived up to this quote as the octogenarian will be best remembered for his performance in the role of Albus Dumbledore in a series of Harry Potter movies based on an seemingly unending fairy tale
There were a vast and varied repertoire of roles including a mob boss and King George V which Gambon had successfully essayed. Yet it is as Dumbledore that posterity would like to remember him. After the roles of real life characters, Dumbledore was a challenge to Gambon. But he rose to it and picked up the gauntlet.
Successive films of the series based on Harry Potter tales were lit up by Gambon’s presence. It was an all the more memorable performance on his part as he was stepping into the shoes of Richard Harris who succumbed to Hodgkins Disease. It was no cake walk for Gambon as Harris displayed no mean histrionic talent. Yet he gave the character a charm of its own never trying to clone his predecessor.
The thespian slipped under the skin of the character penned by Joanne Kathleen Rowling ( better known as J K Rowling) effortlessly. The man who had enacted a vast array of roles on stage and screen became a perfect Albus Dumbledore.
The man who had enacted the role of a English king with a speech problem in The King’s Speech became professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. The headmaster of Hogwarts school of sorcery had no trace of Gambon’s previous performance.
Gone were the bald head and clean shaved look. Meet whitehaired professor Dumbledore with white locks and a flowing silver beard to match whose knowledge extends into vaste swathes of a dark and unknown field absolutely unmapped.
Before he essayed Dumbledore’s character, Gambon had enacted roles which were rooted in real life. Having been a king, a sleuth and Galileo to name a few in the big and small screen, his first foray of enacting a character which is imaginary and to some harsher critics, escapist was an adventure in his career. It was also a milestone. It strongly underscored Gambon’s claim as a thespian though many of his fans feels he had laid strong claim to this distinction much earlier.
One wonders why Gambon was widely lauded for his portrayal of Dumbledore, a mentor to Harry Potter learning the craft of battling evil at Hogwarts he will pick up from his mentor. It is Gambon’s fitting to a tee into a role of a guide who is more of father figure to young Harry to whom he teaches the way to the right path together with other skills.
Arguably there lies the charm of the entire story. A closer look will reveal that is actually the story of life. One is fortunate to find a mentor like Dumbledore early in their career. Those who don’t sink into obscurity. Harry and his teacher has a universal appeal. Small wonder, they touch a familiar chord in everyone’s heart.
For in this world of hurly burly, there exists the need of hand holding lest tottering steps go astray. With many such instances of lives going waste, Dumbledore is a character one tends to be looked up on screen and away from it.
It does not matter whether Dumbledore teaches sorcery or science. But his was a comforting presence cushioning against harsh uncertainties which children cannot do without and many adults direly need.
It was a circuitous route which Gambon had to travel before he realised his potential as an actor. Having apprenticed as a toolmaker, he studied at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art making his stage debut in Othello in Dublin’s Gate Theatre.
His histrionic talent drew the attention of Laurence Olivier and Gambon joined the newly formed National Theatre Company. He became a household name by the 1980s playing the character of Philip Marlow in the Anglo-American mini television series The Singing Detective.
Knighted for his services to drama, Gambon had a lifetime passion of collecting antique guns, clocks and classic cars. Arguably this trait was a pointer to the dormant school boy in him who would collect marbles, and sea shells and comic books.
One wonders whether it was this characteristic which came to the surface enacting Albus Dumbledore who has a perfect understanding of an youngster’s psyche which helped become a source of knowledge and guidance to his pupil Harry Potter. It made him the most memorable Albus Dumbledore.
Two nominations for Emmy awards and winning multiple Best Actor awards at British Academy for Films and Television Awards (BAFTA) leaves one in no doubt about his acting skills. Being best remembered for his performance in Harry Potter films as Dumbledore though it is not a pivotal role in the films, Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore is a pointer to the saying of ” father of modern acting” Konstantin Stanislavski “There are no small roles, only small actors”; portrayal affirms the much quoted saying that he was the stuff state are made of. (IPA Service)