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Berkoff: sex abusers are ‘disgusting’

Jewish actor and playwright said the recent abuse claims had not surprised him

    Steven Berkoff has labelled powerful figures in the entertainment industry who sexually harass colleagues as “disgusting pigs”.

    The acclaimed Jewish actor and playwright said the recent abuse claims had not surprised him.

    “The theatrical environment is so vulnerable. To exploit the fact you are a director is shabby —these people are disgusting pigs,” he said.

    He revealed that he had acted in fewer films after he got into a dispute with a director who tried to get him to perform a scene he felt was physically dangerous.

    “I remember saying I don’t feel safe doing it. He told me if I didn’t do it I would never work again. There were abuses of power like that all the time.”

    Mr Berkoff’s latest project is a documentary about the homeless of Venice Beach in Los Angeles.

    It is a community far removed from the glitz of Hollywood and one that has long fascinated the British actor.

    “To talk and engage with these people has been an ambition of mine,” he said.

    It was while making a documentary, Eat Dollink!, about Canter’s Deli in LA that he decided he would make one about “the life of the down and outs, the homeless, and the insane”.

    The hour-long documentary follows Mr Berkoff as he gets to know the characters that populate the busy LA coastline.

    “What came out of talking to these people were some of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever heard.

    “It has become an area for the dispossessed. It symbolises the end of the line for America’s drop-outs. There is nothing left for them and the next step is the sea.”

    He said that through filming and talking to homeless people he learnt “how America throws out its rejects in a way much harsher than anything I’ve seen in British society.

    “These people have nothing. No NHS, no access to mental health support services. They are totally rejected from society and live entirely outside of our own experience.”

    Mr Berkoff said he “could not help but deeply admire the grit of these people.

    “There is something about being Jewish that drew me to their pain, their suffering and their resilience.

    “Despite being totally on the edge of society there was more of a sense of community among them than I had ever seen.

    “Their spirit was something quite special; they were people with immense social skills, talents and brains.

    But for whatever reason, society had let them down and they had ended up on this scrap heap.”

    The 79-year-old, once a fierce socialist, who drew on Karl Marx for inspiration in his own writing, said he “felt like a painter” in making the film.

    “The camera became a bridge and a way to talk to people. I became their friend and learnt how they came to this end.”

    He said the stories of one man, a talented pianist, who played an old piano on the beach moved him to tears.

    “His musicianship was striking. He couldn’t get up easily and neither could I and I just felt here we are, two elderly men — not different in many respects but in others we were.”

    The actor, whose seminal 1975 verse play East is being revived at the King’s Head Theatre in north London, said he enjoyed making both documentaries now that he works less. It was “nice” to know people were still putting on his play, which centres on three young people growing up in east London (Mr Berkoff himself hails from Stepney).

    He plans to see it during its run, which ends in January, but he complained that “people who do it never quite get it right”.

    He explained: “I get that people want to come along and do it their own way, but the thing about East that people miss is that it was rogue and revolutionary.”

    ‘Venice Beach’ and ‘Eat Dollink!’ are available online at www.stevenberkoff.com/

     

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