Born and raised in England, Paul Geoffrey remembers growing up listening to the stories his grandmother would tell him from her time as a member of the Hungarian National Theater in Budapest – tales that piqued his interest in the profession. Admittedly, Geoffrey wasn’t sold on the idea at first, having what he described as a “sort of” interest in Marine Engineering. However, one moment changed all those plans.
“Toward the end of my school days,” Geoffrey explained, “I ended up in one of the school plays and was approached after and asked if I ever thought about acting professionally.”
After about a year, Geoffrey landed a job in Manchester with a theater company and it was there that he knew he had to dedicate himself to the profession. “I decided I needed to get some direction and educate myself if I was going to be serious about being a professional actor.”
Geoffrey then found himself enrolled at the prestigious Drama Centre in London – a school he described as “rigorous and tough.” His time there led Geoffrey to London’s famed West End, where he was part of sold out shows for six months – an amazing experience for a 23-year-old – and an experience that opened the door for television appearances and Geoffrey’s first major film, “Excalibur.”
“I was 25 years old at the time and was first asked to read for the part of King Arthur. I met with John Boorman several times and it was coming up to Christmas and the whole process was done for the holidays.”
It was after holidays that Geoffrey found out he did not get the part of King Arthur – a disappointment that was short-lived thanks to a dinner party, an Irish novelist and a twist of Hollywood fate.
“Two days after that I was in London at a dinner party and I just happened to be sitting next to Edna O’Brien and she said to me, ‘What are you doing, what are you up to?’ And I told her, ‘I nearly got a really big part in a really big movie. It’s called Excalibur and it’s by John Boorman and it’s about the Knights of the Round Table.’”
A few days later, Geoffrey’s agent told him that Boorman wanted to see him – which led to the role of Perceval.
“Boorman had been to a dinner party of his own two nights after the one I was at and he saw Edna O’Brien and she said she had met me and that’s how that happened.”
Next up for Geoffrey was the filming of the movie, which started with the initial read through in London – a moment Geoffrey will not soon forget. “It was imposing for me because it was my first big film,” he explained. “I remember going to the men’s room at the restaurant throwing up before the first rehearsal.”
Not deterred by his squeamish beginning, Geoffrey made his way to Ireland for the next five months to shoot the film – five months of almost non-stop rain. “The thing about rain is that it doesn’t register on film,” he remembered. “There are moments where little drips of rain show on my helmet when in actuality it was quite torrential.” The rain also led to a few memorable moments with co-star Nicol Williamson.
“We were getting this per diem that we couldn’t spend because we were working six-day weeks,” Geoffrey said. “So every Saturday, we would go this one pub and there was a private room upstairs, so we would go up there and start lunch about 11am and by the end of lunch – after a few coffees and brandies – Nicol Williamson and I would be arguing about whether it was raining or not.”
With such a presence as part of the ensemble cast, rumors have persisted for years about on-set tensions between Helen Mirren and Nicol Williamson. According to Geoffrey, that’s all it is: speculation.
“I never saw it when I was on set. When I wasn’t there maybe they had an exchange or two, but generally speaking the entire cast was pretty friendly. A few of us were appearing in our first major film – including Liam Neeson (Editor’s Note: “Excalibur was also the launching pad for Patrick Stewart and Gabriel Byrne) – who at the time was in a lovely relationship with Helen, so there was a learning curve for many of us.”
Mr. Geoffrey had plenty to learn before donning the armor of Perceval and it was a character he researched heavily before filming began. Geoffrey didn’t miss a beat when asked about the history of Perceval.
“Perceval was known as the “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche” – the fearless and irreproachable knight. His role in the film and the reason he prevails is not that he was so special really, but because he refused to give up.”
Geoffrey echoes those character traits today. After years away from the bright lights of stage and screen, Paul Geoffrey is getting back into the business of acting. He relocated to the United States in 1991, but found that becoming legally able to work was a difficult task. Even with a local politician in Santa Fe, New Mexico lending a hand, it took almost two years for Geoffrey to receive his green card. By then, Geoffrey was happy where he and his family settled. After his three children grew up and went off to college, Geoffrey started his road back.
“I was contacted by someone who had been in acting school with Cherie Lunghi (Guenevere of “Excalibur”) and they offered me the chance to get back on stage for a production of “King Lear” – and after some, ‘how will I remember my lines’ self-thought, I did it and have done five or six productions since then – and we are hoping to take a movie to Ireland later on next year.”
In the meantime, Geoffrey works in the real estate industry in Santa Fe, an industry that has been slow the past few years, allowing him the opportunity to find his way back to Hollywood. His three children are grown up; his eldest son a graphic designer in London, his second son a music producer in Los Angeles and his daughter just graduated The New School in Manhattan and found her way to Los Angeles as a fashion stylist.
Later this year or early 2014, Geoffrey expects a documentary based on the making of Excalibur to be released. The documentary, “Behind the Sword in the Stone,” is from Mossy Hare Productions (website) – an independent film company in Ireland.
As for the long-rumored remake of Excalibur? Geoffrey says he hasn’t been contacted in any capacity about any project – though he joked he wouldn’t mind a sequel to the 1981 classic. “Wow,” he said, “if we ever make a sequel I’ll probably be in it because I’m the only one left alive!”
Paul Geoffrey is on his road back to stardom – and much like Perceval’s quest for the Holy Grail, he won’t be denied – Hollywood’s own “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche.”