Sellers, Peter - I'm Alright Jack- Past life, Multiple Personality or Possession?
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Peter Sellers – Alexander Walker
the Boultings lost no time in kindling his enthusiasm for the part they were writing especially for him in their next film. According to John, he was 'over the moon' at the prospect of playing Fred (that lucky name!) Kite, the trade union leader and factory floor's abominable 'No'-man, in a satire on British management and labour practices entitled I'm All Right, Jack. The Boultings sent him the script by special messenger. And with only the briefest of pauses, it came back as quickly - Sellers had turned it down.
The Boultings were incredulous - then furious. Didn't he trust their judgment? Or didn't he trust his own ability when it came to playing a role that merged with the social texture of the satire instead of having a comic frame put round it?
They knew it was the latter when Sellers explained he'd read the script the whole way through and 'couldn't find the laughs . . . the gags'. But this was only an excuse. ….. said John Boulting, …he couldn't yet "see" the character. And whenever that happened, he got very insecure.'
John Boulting had him down to his country house one Sunday for'a working supper'.
'I determined to be at my most insinuating, not to say insidious - subtly, patiently undermining all his objections.' But these grew as the night wore on and finally midnight came and went. Sellers desperately needed a marathon effort in confidence-building so that he would believe he could act the part. Sultans and Prime Ministers were simpler figures of fun; Fred Kite was outside his experience and, he feared, beyond his capacities.
He kept on hedging, by saying it wasn't a big enough role.
'Peter, I grant you that,' John Boulting said, infinitely patient with him. 'It is not; but it is the one that will get most attention if you play it.'
Eventually, at 1.30 a. m. on Monday morning, Sellers said, 'All right, let me do a test.'
'He said it with what we came to know all too well as one of his famous "resigned" expressions - a look of expectant martyrdom mingled with one of impending anger if he were proved right,' said John………………………
…….There was a great deal of industrial strife in Britain around that time. The petty bosses of the shop floor, with their sub-literate brand of 'union-speak', seemed never off the television screens; and Sellers had plenty of good visual 'copy' and verbal infelicities to record on tape, blend together and come up with a proletarian accent so coincidentally like the real Kite that, said John Boulting, 'had you shut your eyes, you would have imagined him standing at your elbow'. Sellers had his hair cut short, back and sides, the way he had seen his hated warrant officers in the services wear it: he gave himself a Hitler moustache. That was all the make-up he wore; but somehow his face seemed to change shape physically, becoming thinner-lipped, bug-eyed, and thick-skulled.
Something, though, still eluded him. The characterisation didn't snap completely into place till he found the walk - a wooden waddle, slightly robot-like as if Kite had been wound up with a key in his back to continue along the lines of his ideology regardless of what obstacles lay in his path.
'We looked in the dressing-room and hardly recognized him,' said Roy Boulting. 'It was another man entirely.'......................
………But the Boultings noticed a somewhat disconcerting feature of that day's 'discovery' of Fred Kite - and the way in which the character grew in the actual shooting. They noticed how eerily the transformation stuck to Sellers even when he was off the set. He would walk to the studio canteen for lunch exactly like Kite leading his yes-men across the factory floor, and eat his food the way he imagined Kite did, holding his knife and fork the way Kite might, making table-talk of wondrous pomposity and pathetic ignorance the way he 'heard' Kite doing so. He wasn't Peter Sellers any more.
Sellers always attributed to this phase in his career his discovery of that weird feeling he had, while playing many subsequent roles, of being taken over by the part - of being 'possessed'. It was as if by realizing the latent powers of performance, he had released something - or someone - that was just waiting to be summoned to creative and sometimes combative life by such a spell. Sellers was frequenting several mediums at this time, in 1959, as his burgeoning career presented him with manifold decisions he would rather have resolved for him by fatalistic 'resignation' than make for himself by the customary show-business methods of self-interest. (Self-interest could come later, on the cynical principle that once the contract was signed, then was the time to start the negotiating.)
Maurice Woodruff, whom he was seeing every few days, had been joined by Estelle Roberts, a medium he turned to in the hope of contacting the late Larry Stephens, his friend and ex-Goon Show writer. The attempt in this case was fruitless. But the experience it gave Sellers of contacting the deceased became very relevant indeed to his film-making and eventually central to his life. The uncanny feeling that the medium was 'possessed' by those wanting to make their presences felt from 'the other side' helped Sellers define his own curious and rather frightened reaction to the characters he created.
He came to see himself as a form of medium - as if the film characters had entered his body, transfusing his personality so powerfully with their own that they took him over. From that it was to be just a short jump in credulity to the point where he convinced himself that these were not simply fictitious characters, the offspring of some screen-writer's imagination - they were 'lives' that he himself, whoever he might be, had lived at other times, in other places, under other names. Acting, in short, was a process of past life recall.