Our Jane Austen fans, including one former member of the Jane Austen Society, tuned in Saturday (14 August) to hear Susan Fullerton interviewing BBC star Adrian Lukis. Adrian played the scallywag and seducer Mr Wickham in the 1995 hit series Pride & Prejudice. The interview was a popular Zoom event with nearly a dozen screens filled with 240 onlookers from Oz, UK, USA, Canada, NZ, and Netherlands.
Adrian is doing his own West End one-man show “Being Mr Wickham” which is another hit, although we’d have to say he’s not so dashing out of redcoat-lieutenant uniform and showing his age a bit (64, compared with 38 when playing the rakish role). But this might have been just that it was 7am in London. The USA viewers were tuning in at 2am their time!
Susannah, who is president of the oz Jane Austen Society, had a good first question: How did you get the part? Adrian confessed to coveting the lead role Darcy that went to Colin Firth, and had a fight on his hands against another actor for the Wickham screen test and script read. The producer tried to keep him and his rival separated in the studio but in typical BBC fashion it stuffed up and he met his rival in the corridor – facing off like a couple of gunslingers.
He said it’s quite possible for co-actors in a production to see not much of each other if they’re mainly in different scenes. He did go out for a drink with Colin Firth after the series became famous and they carefully chose a spot where the fan crowds wouldn’t mob them. In the event no-one whatsoever recognised who the two guys having margueritas were.
He explained how on shoots, to save costs and setting up, whole tranches of scenes out of sequence might be shot in five days straight. This didn’t help actors do their best work. For example, in another production, he had to look sorry that a whole family had died in a coal mine accident, but he hadn’t really met the fellow actors. If he knew them better he could have looked more sad about them all dying.
He considered the men in Pride & Prejudice had better plumage or costumes than the ladies with their high-cut regency frocks. Make-up for each set was a pain with his sideboards having to be glued on and off each day. He’d go to makeup at 6am and just collapse in the chair snoozing till they finished – especially as they had to take nearly 20 years off his age (38) even then.
The first showing of the series didn’t prove much of a hit but it caught on later and they all became famous. Actors always think the day’s “rushes” (raw scenes) are fabulous but they aren’t necessarily so. Michael Caine used to say actors bought their yachts after seeing the rushes and sold them when the show aired.
Adrian insisted his Mr Wickham was more attractive than Mr Darcy – Wickham would keep you entertained all night whereas Darcy would just glare at you over his prawn cocktail.
The big surprise was Adrian’s disclosure that as a kid he grew up in Australia and mooched around taking every sort of odd job before going back to London as a would-be actor. If he’d stayed in Oz he’d only have gotten parts like a brutal pommy officer on a ship flogging everyone, he explained.