Jonathan Pryce: ‘Love is the most important thing’

The actor, 73, on surviving coronavirus, being Pope for a few weeks, and a smouldering Warren Beatty

My father had a nervous breakdown. My parents opened a small grocery shop and he always let customers put things on tick. He was a town councillor, on the housing committee, very caring. People ended up owing him a lot of money. When I was 11, he walked out of the house and went missing for days. When he was found, he’d lost his memory. It’s why I’ve never got into debt.

The Welsh countryside was one big adventure playground. When we weren’t at school, we ran wild. There was a local paedophile but everyone knew to avoid him.

My art teacher, Ifor Jones, was an early role model. He had wonderful italic handwriting – as did I soon after, because I copied it. Aged 17, I got in trouble for driving without insurance and the clerk of the court congratulated me on my handwriting. Ifor’s son came to see me in The Merchant of Venice at the Globe in 2015 and gave me a letter from his father. I welled up when I saw the handwriting on the envelope.

Theatre can still change the world. A live experience goes deeper and stays with people longer. Film is more fleeting. It can have social impact, but there’s only one Ken Loach, sadly.

Warren Beatty looked every inch a film star. I met him a few times and I went to supper in New York in 1976. I watched women take the scenic route to the toilet so they walked past him. Every time, he’d take off his glasses and smoulder.

Work is my therapy. My father was violently attacked and died when I was 28. Five years later, I played Hamlet at the Royal Court. It helped me work out a lot of things about our relationship.

Bill Nighy always fetches a high price. I used to organise charity cabarets and auctioning off Bill invariably raised the most money. He’s stopped agreeing to it now. I think he got tired of being propositioned by ladies of a certain age.

Love is the most important thing. Giving and receiving love. I’ve been with my wife Kate [Fahy] for 48 years and it’s flown by. Where did the time go?

I got starstruck meeting Morecambe and Wise. I was a huge fan, then Eric Morecambe came up to me at this event and said: “Hello, Jon. How are you?” He chatted away like we were old pals. I was dumbfounded. It turned out a mutual friend had put him up to it.

Whenever I get depressed by our appalling leadership, I gain comfort from the fact that we’re not as bad as America.

The High Sparrow in Game Of Thrones got compared to Jeremy Corbyn, but I actually based him on Pope Francis. Three years later, I ended up playing him, too. I’m a lifelong Labour supporter and a lot of his instincts were right, but he shouldn’t have been leader. I protested side by side with Corbyn twice during the 70s. He hasn’t moved on since.

I didn’t want to do The Two Popes. I thought playing Pope Francis was a hiding to nothing. A living Pope? I wasn’t going to please anybody. But it ended up being a joyous experience. One of my best jobs ever. We screened it in Rome for members of the Vatican and they seemed to think I’d got him right.

One comfort of being in lockdown was that everyone else was, too. Well, apart from Dominic Cummings. I live in an area of east London with a lovely community feel. We all looked out for each other, dropping off home-made bread and cakes. I’ve secretly enjoyed being cocooned at home.

I had coronavirus in late March. I was hospitalised for eight days with Covid pneumonia. It left me tired and anxious for a long time, but I’m over that. I’ve now got high levels of antibodies so I’m secretly rather pleased with myself.

I always thought I’d find religion in my old age and it would be the answer to everything. It ain’t happened, apart from being Pope for a few weeks.

Jonathan Pryce is supporting Crisis’s Home for All campaign (


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