Vladek Sheybal Online
This page is for those people who knew Vladek to share their thoughts and memories should they so wish. Sir Roger Moore, the late Gerry Anderson and Ed Bishop along with writer Sylvia Lees have kindly shared their memories and in time it is hoped that more people will also share their memories of this kind hearted man here.
Sir Roger Moore
I do remember Vladek, and indeed from the Bond film he appeared in. He was a rather quiet man, highly intelligent and a consummate professional. He was an actor who you looked forward to working with because he had everything sussed and wasn't at all pretentious.
I think it was about 10 years ago that I read he died suddenly in London.
A great shame, and a great actor
To visit Sir Roger Moore's website, please click on the banner
I had personal experience of directing Vladek in UFO, and found him to be a dedicated actor who was extremely polite and co-operative. More importantly, I have spoken to David Lane who directed many of the episodes that Vladek appeared in, and he was full of praise from a Directors' point of view about Vladek’s performances; his dedication, and his skills as an actor.
Ps: My secretary also remembers Vladek as a very distinctive actor.
Before he passed away suddenly on 8th June 2005, Ed very kindly recalled working with Vladek in a question and answer session
Do you remember the first time you met Vladek & what were your impressions of him?
I met Vladek when he turned up on the set of 'UFO.' He was a very clever actor, no doubt about that, he had a lot of technique, a lot of style; he knew exactly what he could do.
He had a fairly narrow range as an actor because of his size, his demeanour and general style, so working within those parameters, he extracted his expertise to extend his range, and so work comfortably within it. Vladek had a very drysense of humour, he was a little 'forbidding' - not stand offish, not the kind of guy you'd slap on the back and say how you doin' but he had this 'air' about him, a glow if you will, in which he walked - which he created. He knew his lines, he'd always hit his mark and rendered each performance hypnotically, and gradually over time, we took him to our hearts.
Vladek always liked to 'steal the scene' from the star he was working with. Did you ever come up against that and if so, what methods did you use as an actor yourself to block, or stop him doing so?
I can well imagine Vladek doing that, and the answer is quite simple: You read your lines and then forgot about it! When I had a scene with Vladek, I knew I just had to go in, say my lines when I was required to say them, and then just forget it, I gave it over to him and let him steal the scene - it was impossible to try stealing the scene yourself - it would shatter your own performance, and when Vladek was 'cookin' it was every man for himself.
I know you used to do a lot of voice-over work, and I wondered if you think Vladek could have been a successful voice artist too, had he had the opportunity?
I assume he just didn't get into it. It's a very crowded field; his voice was 'limited' to the one voice; it was too distinctive with that wonderfully Transylvanian sound that he could reproduce so wonderfully well, although he could have been used for a campaign needing that type of sound.
I must digress a little here, and suggest you contact Mike
Billington; he can do an imitation of Vladek; it's just incredible!
Vladek was very active in the Theatre (as you yourself are). Did your paths ever cross in this medium, and if not, would you have liked to have worked with him on stage?
No, our paths never crossed in the theatre, and I don't recall any Plays calling for an American and an Eastern European to be in the same production but yes, it would have been great to have worked with him on stage; he was mesmerising. I only knew Vladek from the two productions we we worked on: 'UFO' and 'Rogue's Rock.' We used to correspond occasionally after the aftermath of 'UFO' and I'd see him at conventions where we'd touch base. He was very refreshing, and he had a wonderful sense of humour once you got attuned to it.
I understand you've just been to Poland to film a production for the BBC?
Yes, the production you're referring to is 'Hiroshima' and it is due to be shown on the BBC in August 2005. My wife and I spent a very enjoyable week there while I was filming. I was fascinated by Poland, and I did think of Vladek while I was there.
I think it's great that you're keeping this website up and running. Vladek was a great guy who had a wonderful career, and I'm sure he'd be very grateful.
Many years have passed since I first met Vladek, but remembering him and the time I knew him are imprinted on my memory as if no time had passed at all.
We first met during the 1980's at the Polish Centre, Hammersmith. I was applying for a place on a screenwriting course which a group of Vladek's friends, Rafael, Jan, George and Max were setting up, and Vladek had joined Rafael, Jan and George on the interviewing panel. He looked calm and rather serious, not asking me many questions, but seeming to be studying both me and my body language. At one point, I noticed he was staring at my hands and I realised I was clenching them in tension. There wa something familiar about Vladek's intriguing expression, deep dark eyes and beautifully modulated voice - but at first, I didn't realise who he was! I was sure I had seen him somewhere before - but where? I would soon discover! Within a week, I received a letter inviting me to join five other writers on the course and - on the strength of the writing samples I'd sent in - offering me a half-scholarship.
The next time I saw Vladek was when he joined the group to give a talk and lead a discussion on, 'character in film'. He had arrived before anyone and sat at the side looking thoughtful and watching everyone else arrive. He was clad in a colourful outfit which included a bright cravat and a hand-knitted cardigan with huge holes in the elbows. He seemed more out of the cardigan than in it! Someone remarked that Vladek being a devotee of the Stanislavski Method school of acting, he was most likely living in character for a part he was currently playing. Apparently, he also was a wizard at various disguises which he sometimes used if he didn't want to be recognised in everyday pursuits such as visiting his local shops. At first I felt a little intimidated by Vladek. Here was I, meeting this highly-talented and internationally known person - I felt both admiration and awe - but Vladek was so friendly, relaxed and entertaining, that my awe began to dissipate.
A short time later, a fellow writer on the course, Nick, and I, were pleased to be invited to an evening event at the Polish Centre. Vladek and his friend Rula Lenska, were to give a poetry recital, along with interludes of live piano music. Vladek and Rula looked elegant, and gave emotive and eloquent readings. The piano interludes were apt accompaniments. Afterwards, Nick and I went backstage, said hallo to Vladek, shook hands with Rula, expressed our appreciation and drank some wine. Rula gave us some dazzling smiles and Vladek was jovial and relaxed. A memorable evening.
The screenwriting course continued and Rafael mentioned a script which Vladek was writing. I showed an interest, and with Vladek's agreement, Rafael gave me a copy to read. Inspired by the imaginative story and colourful characters, I found myself offering comments and compiling all sorts of notes and additional ideas. Nick also contributed. When Vladek returned from film work abroad, he sent me a message saying that he had liked some of my ideas and inviting me to his place to discuss the script further. I was excited! Thus began my visits to Vladek's home, a large, period, cottagey, farmhouse-style place in Fulham.
On my first visit, I took a small gift, a cactus plant I'd raised from a cutting and placed in a blue and yellow Italian-style pot. At the sight of the cactus, Vladek stepped back and looked slightly frightened! He said he didn't know much about looking after plants, but he would do his best to nurture it. I was not sure whether or not the plant was destined to survive, but I hoped that if not, perhaps he might keep the Italian-style pot as a memento.
In Vladek's rather dark sitting-room which had a Bohemian feel about it, I relaxed on to a comfortable sofa under the low-beamed ceiling and noticed that attached to one beam was a row of spotlights. For Vladek's publicity shots perhaps? Vladek brought me some strong coffee, continental-style in an enormous cup as big as a soup bowl, and we started work on the script. Creatively, Vladek seemed able to think better if he was standing up and either gazing through the window or pacing about the room. He was mostly a whirl of energy and enthusiasm, but sometimes he would pause, become calm and reflective, then become one of the characters in the script, depicting their movements and saying their words in his sonorous, yet sensitive and so distinctive voice. Every now and then, his hallway phone would ring, he would scurry out to answer it, and it would sound as if he was clattering up and down steps. I would hear him speaking rapidly to the callers in English, Polish or fluent French, then he would beam back into the sitting-room to resume our script discussion. Vladek mentioned that if the script eventually went into production, he envisaged himself playing the main character and he hoped that Rula Lenska would play the character of his daughter. He had named one of the characters Wilhelmina after his grandmother. Oddly enough, the name reminded me of a character called Wilhelmina whom I had once played in a version by my local musical comedy society of 'Goodnight Vienna'.
I was immensely enjoying the screenwriting course and always looked forward to going to Vladek's. Sometimes he was in Paris, or away filming, and there were gaps. Following one gap, he sent me a letter saying that he was sorry for the 'long silence' but he had been 'ill, busy and away'. I smiled to myself, thinking that one of those reasons would have sufficed! I was also amused to find that across the letter's envelope he had written in huge, underlined block capitals: FIRST CLASS - AND I MEAN IT!
Another time when Vladek was about to leave on his travels, he wrote me a letter saying that his friend, the Spanish director Cecilio Coronado was staying in London for a while; he had mentioned the script to him, he had seemed interested and would I like to ring him? I spoke to Cecilio Coronado on the phone and agreed to send him a synopsis.
Sometimes Vladek confided in me. He never spoke of the hideous traumas he had endured in war-time Poland, but one day, he revealed what he said had become a great sadness in his life. He told me that following a tragedy which had hit his brother, (I assumed he meant that his brother had died), his mother, (he referred to her as 'my beautiful darling mother'), had from then on, refused to recognise Vladek; she had denied his existence and always called him by his brother's name. In his mother's eyes, Vladek had become his elder brother. It was such a cruel and awful irony that of all the parts Vladek had played during his career, of all the characters he had depicted and become, he was ultimately denied identity and recognition as himself by his own mother.
The screenwriting course had ended and a year or two had passed. Most of the time, Vladek was living in Paris. I had kept in touch with Rafael, and one day, he invited me to a press conference, arranged to promote an envisaged film, set in Cyprus and with a potential part for Vladek.
I went to the press conference and was pleased to find Vladek there. We shared a friendly hug and I noticed that he looked much thinner and more weary than when I'd last seen him, but being Vladek, he threw all the energy he could find into the spirit of the occasion. Being in Vladek's company was never boring! Rafael knew someone in the wine business, and in the foyer, tables were filled with a selection of wines and rows of wineglasses. When the press conference had finished, Vladek turned to me and grinned, then addressed everyone in the room: 'Come on, now let's go and get drunk!' People were mingling, chatting and sampling the wines. After a while, Vladek said he had to leave; he had a plane to catch and Rafael was driving him to Heathrow. They left...and that was the last time I ever saw Vladek.
During his remarkable career, as well as his inimitable success in other creative media skills,Vladek had become a brilliant interpreter and creator of memorable characters - and had become quite a character himself! Interwoven with a kaleidoscope of contrasting facets, he was at times, flamboyant and humorous, at other times, solemn and reflective. He had an enigmatic, quirky, Bohemian side, with strong, sometimes maverick opinions, yet he was observant and aware of others, open and responsive to their opinions and feelings. Above all, he was dedicated to his work and was incredibly talented, original, innovative and imaginative. Vladek was a special person. Those times spent with him were special and I shall always remember them. I like to think that, if not for his untimely death, our friendship and our writing collaboration may have grown. If only I had known him for longer...but it was not to be...
I hope you have found my 'Remembering Vladek' interesting.
© Sylvia Lees, Summer 2013
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