Read an Extract from Life Lessons from the East End by Danny Dyer

Read an Extract from Life Lessons from the East End by Danny Dyer

I think the real father figure for me was Harold Pinter – even though he came into my life when I was older. Harold Pinter is the major British playwright of the twentieth century. If you’ve ever been on a drama course, you’ve studied him, if you’ve any education in theatre at all then you know who he is. He has his own style that’s famous throughout the world. I had no f***ing clue who he was when I met him.

It’s high literature, the really brainy stuff. Now bearing in mind that I’m the kind of person who’d rather watch You’ve Been Framed than any Shakespeare, you might have thought we wouldn’t get on. But we had a lot in common. We’re both West Ham fans, both from East London. He started as an actor but found he was having more success in the writing game. Harold sounded very posh but in the days he was coming up, you had to lose the accent. I’d have been Donald Ducked then, wouldn’t I?

What I learned from Harold was there’s no point mincing your words. If you’ve got something to say, say it.

So I hadn’t a clue who he was when I met him, but he would turn out to be the most influential male figure in my life.

This ain’t knocking my dad in any way. He left, so what? These things happen. You do what you gotta do. I could talk to my dad, sort of, but he had no idea about the theatre world or acting, which is where I wanted to be.

It is a bit of a laugh really. I went from thinking, ‘I wish I had someone who knew a bit more about the old acting game to advise me,’ to sitting in Harold Pinter’s library with him telling me about life. It’s like thinking, ‘I’d like to learn tennis,’ and having Roger Federer pop round your gaffe with his racket.

What I learned from Harold was there’s no point mincing your words. If you’ve got something to say, say it.

He directed me in Celebration and No Man’s Land and he was never one of these directors who say, ‘Great, love, great, but if I could just make a tiny suggestion . . .’ I’ve seen him reduce actors to tears – men and women. It didn’t bother me, though.

I’d rather an honest b*llocking than someone making hints at you and talking about you behind your back.

That said, he was very supportive of me from the minute I met him. It was at an audition. I had an advantage because everyone else in there knew exactly who he was and they were sh*tting themselves.

I just came in, no small talk and said, ‘Shall I crack on then, son?’ He seemed to like it, thanked me and I heard on the way home I’d got the job. It was only then I began to realize who he was. I read a few of his plays and some of them I like, some of them I don’t.

To be honest I just don’t understand some of the stuff.

Other bits of it are very true to life.

I think we were friends for about five years. I used to go around his house, I’d talk about football, he’d go on about cricket, which means nothing to me. But I can’t tell you what it does for your self-confidence, having someone like that believe in you. He treated me just like one of his equals.

He showed me that you should have confidence in your beliefs no matter where you come from. He’s the only man I’ve heard of to turn down a knighthood, he hated all that sh*t. On most views me and him were very similar, having come from the same background.

To be fair, Harold wasn’t afraid to tell anyone when they were out of line. But that support, that ability to pull you up without crushing you, that’s what it means to be a dad.

He was a lot more eloquent than me but you couldn’t argue with what he had to say.

When critics get on your back, guttersnipes having a go at you saying you can’t act, you’ve always got that inside you. ‘Harold Pinter thought I could.’ I’d always ask a critic who was having a go at me, in my head, ‘How many Nobel Prizes have you got, you sl*g?’

I didn’t understand all of his plays, I tried reading a few more but I got bored quite quickly. Most of it, though, I got it.

We didn’t always see eye to eye when working together but I never felt afraid to let him know what I thought. Yes, he would occasionally b*llock me but most of the time he was very supportive.

That’s what I mean by him being a father figure to me. He’s someone who I respected, showed love towards me, and whose love and regard propped me up through any storm. But he wasn’t afraid to tell me when I was out of line. To be fair, Harold wasn’t afraid to tell anyone when they were out of line. But that support, that ability to pull you up without crushing you, that’s what it means to be a dad.

I really regret that I never got to say goodbye to him. When he died I was on a garage forecourt and I saw the headline on the front of The Star. I couldn’t believe it, really couldn’t believe it. I went weak. I wasn’t invited to the funeral, but he knew so many important people who were rightly further up the invite list than me.

I’m grateful for every moment I spent with that man. He always knew the right thing to say at the right time. When I f***ed up that time on stage, on Broadway, just forgot my lines, he was the best one, he snapped me out of it. He just said, ‘Danny, it happens to the best of us.’ And he touched me. He was very old school, he didn’t touch people very much at all. He was not a tactile person. That reach-out to me, that touch on the arm was massive. Everyone else was saying, ‘Were you drinking last night? Because you know it puts us in trouble as well.’ That makes you sink into your seat even more. Don’t get me wrong, I know it was a selfish act, but going on about it isn’t going to improve my performance the next night.

He had b*llocked me before but this time, he said, ‘It’s fine. Let’s go and have a glass of wine.’ And we did, we drank into the night. That’s how he was a father figure – he had a lot of confidence in me and could transmit it to me.

Whenever I asked him for a note – a piece of advice on how I was performing something – he’d always say, ‘Ask the author.’ I’d say, ‘You are the f***ing author.’ Then he’d say, ‘Just do it. I don’t need to tell you how to act, I will just tell you where to stand.’ I’d think, ‘Fine, you sl*g, I will never ask you another question again.’ But then when I thought about it, it showed his trust in me.

I went from thinking, ‘I wish I had someone who knew a bit more about the old acting game to advise me,’ to sitting in Harold Pinter’s library with him telling me about life. It’s like thinking, ‘I’d like to learn tennis,’ and having Roger Federer pop round your gaffe with his racket.

There’s a lot that he wrote that I still say to myself in my head. When I was doing his plays, I found it quite confusing, some of it. Now I’ve had a bit more time to reflect on it, it’s part of me, a little gift he’s given me. I find that incredible. Stuff like ‘We have a clear obligation, which is to resist,’ and ‘A giggle and a cuddle, sometimes my ambitions extend no further than that.’ ‘Sometimes you’re speaking to someone and you suddenly find you’re another person.’ It’s almost as if I can hear him saying these things in my head.

My real dad compliments me so much now because he loves me on EastEnders. There’s a reason for that – I take a lot from my dad and put it into the role I play. Not so much in the being a dad, because he was a bit sh*t in that respect, but Mick Carter has some of his mannerisms, some of the sayings he uses. When I have a break from the show, he’s saying, ‘You really are the best thing on that show, boy. I can’t wait for you to come back on the screen.’ He’s now addicted to EastEnders. He never used to watch it at all, now he’s watching it every night.