- WINSTON SILL/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER
Leonie Forbes (left) accepts her special award from Alma Mock-Yen at Tuesday's Actor Boy Awards, held at the Little Theatre, St. Andrew.
Tanya Batson-Savage, Freelance Writer
ONE NEVER fully understands the term 'larger than life' until one meets someone who has loomed large in one's imagination and it hits one that the person is quite tiny.
So it was in meeting Leonie Forbes, when she invited The Sunday Gleaner into her apartment for an interview.
WARMTH AND CONFORT
She is dressed simply for comfort, and her warm smile and invitation into her home quickly allow me to forget that I am afraid of falling from great heights, so that I can stop sending wary glances over the railing.
She speaks easily and laughs often, as though we have been friends for years and she is merely filling me in on things that I had missed.
On Tuesday night, amid the 19 awardees for various elements of production in the 2005 Actor Boy Awards, a special award and tribute was donned on Ms. Forbes' seemingly humble shoulders.
It joined several which had already taken up residence over the years, as her accolades have included a Doctor Bird Award (2000) and the Prime Minister's Award for her contribution to the performing arts (2004). She has also received five Actor Boy Awards and two Musgrave Medals.
Her pleasure at receiving her latest award easily effervesced when she arrived on the stage.
"A feel good you see," she told the audience at the Little Theatre. She had arrived without her written speech and quickly requested it.
"Where's the gentleman wid mi blue paper," she called. "Robin, weh mi paper? It (the words) come from mi heart," she explained to the amused audience, "but yuh know when fi mi teeth and tongue buck up pon excitement..."
Finally, the anticipated paper arrived and she declared herself "humble, proud and extremely grateful" for the acknowledgement.
During the interview the following day, Forbes explained that in her early years, though she had always enjoyed performance, she had never considered it a career goal.
"I knew what I didn't want to be," she explained.
That list included civil service, the law and nursing. Her journey toward her career, however, began when she became a secretary at the extra-mural department at the University of the West Indies (UWI) under Sir Philip Sherlock. The recognition of the warm, rich timbre of her voice would lead her to broadcasting.
Forbes explained that her job also took her to the stage, as she moved from typing scripts for Lloyd Reckord to prompting at rehearsals until Reckord eventually cast her for the pantomime Busha Bluebeard in 1957. Forbes went on to perform in 12 pantomimes.
As the host of Tuesday's Actor Boy Awards, Michael Nicholson, stated, she has been a "woman of film, television, stage and film, television, stage and radio..."
Yet, the addition of radio at the end would belie her start, which came through that media, and she also performed in several radio plays, worked as a presenter and a producer, and once headed JBC Radio 2.
Though she has an impressive career in film and television, including works such as Trevor Rhone's Milk and Honey and one of her most recent performances being in the Canadian television series Lawd Have Mercy, the bulk of her performances has been on the stage, where Forbes explains that her favourite roles have come from.
She lists among these Miss Aggie from Rhone's Old Story Time, who is dear to her because she is such a universal figure of the mother who wants the best for her child.
"It could be any race, any country in the world, you have a Miss Aggie," she says. "Every time I think to do it, I go through a series of shakes and thing because you can't play easy with Miss Aggie."
Yet, Forbes expresses an affinity for challenging roles which scare but draw her in.
"I agonise and I want to die and I want to run away," she explains. "Every performance is a first."
WORKING IN CANADA
Currently, Forbes is working in Canada and explains that it is not that she has abandoned Jamaica, but Canada is where she has found work.
She points out that it is the international fate of actresses that when they are no longer able to look about 40 years old, the roles available to them quickly shrivel to near non-existence.
A mother of four and a grandmother of three, Forbes argues that older women have much to say and it is left to women writers to give them voice.
She believes that as women continue to gain ascendancy internationally, there is hope that older women will eventually get adequate representation.
Resting in the glow of her recent accolades with the beautiful red bouquet of roses and carnations taking centre stage in her living room, Forbes has no regrets about her career.
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Forbes explains that she has found no aspect of acting easy, and has used observation of people and animals and her own harsh experiences to fuel her art, drawing on bitter experiences to give authenticity to her roles.
"I don't say that initially I don't get vex and want to chop up somebody," she admits.
However, as she has found the usefulness of the emotional turmoil, she learnt to deal with the person who caused it, focusing instead on the way the pain the caused benefited her.
Her career as a broadcaster has also forced her to be able to cope with adversity and still present a pleasant visage to the public's watchful eye.
"You learn to put these things aside until you can deal with them or discard them," she says.
In a telling moment, she explains that she has no regrets about her career, then drops a daunting but ...
"I don't really have any regrets, except with the things I missed out with family and children," she says.
She explained that sometimes she worried that work would take her so far from loved ones that no one would be there to understand how much they mean to her.
NEVER SOUGHT STARDOM
Though many might view her as a star, she explains that she never sought stardom and believes that it would merely get in the way.
"Is one star in Jamaica, outside of those in the firmament, and that is Miss Lou," she said. "I just wanted to be a damn fine actress."
And an examination of the verdict reveals that she has been just that. Damn fine!