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Actor John Hurt to appear at University of Lincoln for Great Minds Series

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: January 21, 2013

John Hurt

Acting great: John Hurt will be in the city to take part in the Great Minds Series

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When John Hurt talks about his dreams of becoming an actor as a young boy, he says: "I lived for acting really."

But it wasn't the first career choice laid before his feet.

As the 72-year-old prepares to receive an Honorary Doctor of Arts at the University of Lincoln on January 23, he will appear as part of the university's Great Minds Series talking about his life and Lincolnshire upbringing.

"Usually the university contacts you if they want to give you an honour. I have never refused one and it's very nice. Although it's 'honorary' in a sense one has earned it," says Hurt, who was born in Derbyshire but moved to Lincolnshire and attended Christ's Hospital School (then a grammar school called Lincoln School).

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As a young man he was initially encouraged down a career path into art, and was enrolled at Grimsby Art School (now known as Grimsby Institute) before winning a scholarship to study for an Art Teacher's Diploma at Central St. Martin's College in London.

"I still practice art," says Hurt. "Either painting or charcoal drawing and using acrylics. My most lasting and lifelong impression from Lincolnshire was at Grimsby Art School and Peter Todd, the principal, who was very influential in my thinking. He encouraged people to think for themselves and encouraged every bit of creativity he could.

"But I'd really decided, in my mind, I wanted to act at the age of 9 doing school plays. You have to remember though this was 1949, just after the war, and I had no idea how you went about becoming an actor. But the idea just kept coming back to me and when I suggested it everyone said 'no, it's insecure'. After the war two things were really sought after and they were security and respectability.

"But I constantly thought of acting and was going into a state of trauma because I knew I wanted to do something else. Fortunately in my case it did work out. It doesn't for everyone."

Even as a boarder at Lincoln School in Wragby Road, 14-year-old Hurt was practicing for his future dream career.

"I remember I played Lady Bracknell in a play there [The Importance of Being Earnest]. It was a boy's school so we played all the parts.

"I lived for acting really."

There's such a spectrum of characters Hurt has played over the years – from Kane in Alien, Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four to John Merrick in The Elephant Man and Mr Ollivander in Harry Potter. He has received four BAFTAs, two OSCAR nominations, two Evening Standard Awards and a Golden Globe. I wonder if his prerequisites have changed when looking at new scripts or if he is still fundamentally searching for the same things in work.

"I am looking for things that are going to be interesting to do, something I can offer something to. In that sense nothing has changed, but the material itself has changed of course. I never know what is going to come my way.

"I tend to think in the present and live towards the future. I'm still having lots of fun with everything, it's incredible.

"I will slow it down when they slow it down for me.

"Making films is intense work and there are times when it's a wrench to finish and all the people you have come so involved with disappear. Many of them you never see again or you think that you won't then find you work with them three months on the trot."

Hurt has often surrounded himself with incredibly creative artists and actors but who are the ones he would single out as the most amazing?

"Well I would have to say Paul Scofield. More people who have influenced me over the years as well include Alec Guinness, I have also been fortunate enough to work with Orson Welles.

"Then there's Robert Mitchum. I worked Laurence Olivier as well and that was a wonderful experience really."

John Hurt CBE will be appearing at the University of Lincoln for the Great Minds Series on January 22.

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