There are few actors working today that are so uniquely qualified to play the part of Dr Goodfellow, Faust’s doomed technological progeny. His portrayals of complex, nuanced anti-heroes are milestones in cinematic history, General Orlov in Octopussy, Lt. Colonel Podovsky in Rambo: First Blood Part II being stand out performances.
They are however, rendered in Hollwood veneer. Berkoff’s style of acting defies easy categorisation; his writing style is that of provocateur, his theatre direction is anarchic and fearless, for this, sees his 1994 play Decadence in which he wrote, starred and directed alongside Joan Collins. Berkoff breaks barriers and he’s not overly concerned what people, critics in particular, think about it.
Born in Stepney in 1937, he later studied at City Literary Institute and the Webber Douglas Academy 1958-1959 before graduating as a student of the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris, now in his 80’s, his screen presence maintains its steely grip.
The role of Dr Goodfellow required an actor that could convincingly convey the sense of regret and wonderment at his own actions, a man who once wielded unimaginable power is left abandoned by his own creation. He is both tired and world-weary, the architect of his own extinction.
Berkoff’s scenes take place in a single location, the decaying sanctuary of his mother’s, long-abandoned townhouse. The direction of these scenes is well suited for this seasoned theatre actor, his voice resonates and breaks, and a roll of the eyes conveys the end of the world with frightening insouciance.
The film’s producer and photographer Daniele Mah, reflected on the initial meeting with the notoriously prickly actor.
‘‘We knew we needed someone with both gravitas and menace so Berkoff seemed like a natural fit. Philipp and Steven connected pretty quickly despite him being rather distant upon first meeting. His Docklands home, a rather cool apartment that literally hangs over the river Thames is packed with art; he’s a collector and so gave him a good understanding of Philipp’s vision for The Last Faust. Berkoff’s outside persona is quite standoffish and unapproachable, it’s a façade, he’s actually very lovely.’’
As for the production’s tight deadline, Mah maintains he was as professional as you’d expect from a man who has dedicated sixty odd years to his craft.
‘‘Steven was totally professional, very punctual he brought a lot of energy onto the set. We choose him not just because of his reputation and the stage he is at in his life, there’s an aura around him, something not quite tangible, this was a key element of Dr Goodfellow’s personality and the mystery that surrounds him.’’
Speaking during the shoot last summer Berkoff said; ‘‘It’s been really very good, first of all, it’s a young, international crew and it’s a wonderful story and it’s very astute of Philipp to adapt it because today we’re living in this world more and more and I think he’s accomplished a lot with this script.’’
Following the close of the filming of last autumn, Berkoff went from being the fictional CEO of Winestone Inc, to writing Harvey, his one-man play in which he stars as the titular disgraced movie mogul. It’s unclear how much this production was inspired by his role on The Last Faust.