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‘There are a very few pictures of her on the internet and she’s actually more pale and wan.She did use a lot of make up, as all the cabaret artists did in those days, but we steered away from any reference to Liza Minelli, because we didn’t want people to compare us to Cabaret, I think we would have been on a hiding to nothing.’ Poots says she was aware of the Sally Bowles character from watching Cabaret as a girl, but wanted Jean to be more androgynous than sexy.He’s impeccably dressed in white shirt, waistcoat and tie, and he’s reading script pages, very calmly, occasionally running his fingers through slicked-back hair. Later, after watching a take of himself stepping out of an apartment block into the hubbub, he introduces himself. Isherwood was quite particular physically, and he had a quite particular voice.’ He certainly did, as a visit to youtube can confirm.He gets up and strolls across the street, past a poster for Marlene Dietrich in der blaue Engel. ‘Hi, I’m Matt,’ he says, as if you might not know who he was. It was clipped and measured, thermostatically controlled in a way that makes perfect sense of his most famous line, from the novella Goodbye to Berlin.In Belfast, she arrives on set in a floaty trouser suit and mermaid-pink blouse, blonde curls spilling from beneath a hat decorated with a pheasant feather.She’s also wearing the trademark element of Weimar Berlin fashion – dark eyeshadow.A month later, in London, he arrives late for our interview, striding into the room, apologising, he’d been sitting in a car stuck in traffic. He’s giving off great bursts of energy, and he’s wearing a huge, loose-knit jumper, of a sort that you would have to be very cool or very famous to get away with. ‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.’ Did he do the voice?
At one point, when I mention watching him transform from Smith into Isherwood in Belfast, he cuts in, ‘Oh, I was giving my limp, wasn’t I?
Among the shop fronts, a konditerei has materialised and sitting at a table outside it is Matt Smith, better known these days as Doctor Who. ‘It’s one of the best scripts that I’ve read in a long time…’ It was adapted by playwright Kevin Elyot.
He’s playing Christopher Isherwood in the BBC adaptation of the writer’s 1976 memoir Christopher and His Kind. ‘Plus the fact that it was very different to what I’m doing as the Doctor.
‘Isherwood went to Berlin primarily because he wanted to have a freer life and because homosexuality was illegal here at that time.
Over there, until the Nazis took over, it was a much more liberal city. Anyway, I’m the wrong man to ask about the glitz and glamour of the celebrity lifestyle, I just work, I just go to film sets, I’m the most boring person, never been to a premiere, probably never will.’ ‘Thirties Berlin was so extreme, and, of course, you’ve got this looming presence of Nazism, suddenly they’re marching down streets and ransacking shops and you’re thinking, this can’t be happening, but it did.’ Perhaps the most famous depiction of the era, the 1972 film Cabaret, which is based on the stage adaptation of Isherwood’s Berlin novels, was also responsible for making Sally Bowles – as played by Liza Minelli – one of the 20th century’s iconic characters.