We have lost a great actor - Katrin Cartlidge
by Mike Leigh
Katrin Cartlidge, who died suddenly in September aged 41, had her first leading role in Mike Leigh's film Naked; she played the key role of the investigative reporter in Danis Tanoviƒ’s Oscar-winning No Man’s Land..
At the Toronto film festival last weekend, the dreadful news of Katrin's untimely sudden death spread like a shockwave. We were all utterly stunned. Many of us knew her personally, others only from her many screen performances. Yet everybody felt they knew her, and everybody loved her.
Film festivals are not all like Cannes or Venice. They come in every shape and size. Many of the best are modest, uncompetitive affairs, where audiences and film-makers mingle intimately. Katrin loved these especially, and attended many of them: she was always a popular participant. Some of us were lucky enough to spend time with her at the friendly film festival at Sarajevo only a couple of weeks ago. Her work on Manchevski's Before the Rain (1994) made Katrin a Balkans heroine long ago, but since No Man's Land last year, she has become a veritable star in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
And here she was in Sarajevo, where they idolise her, radiant and sunny, with her long hair and famous infectious laugh, and her little rucksack on her back, chatting with members of the public avidly, watching all sorts of films, having genuinely serious spontaneous discussions with young film-makers. She was fascinated and ever inquisitive about the city, the recent war, and above all the people; endlessly enthusiastic about everything, not least the food, and characteristically happy pottering around the old town, rooting out cotton scarves and leather slippers.
One of our joint duties was to introduce the late-night open-air screening of Naked to an audience of 2,500. Much to Katrin's amusement, the interpreter asked me what I was going to say (Katrin knew I always improvise). I told the woman not to worry, I wouldn't say anything she couldn't translate. While waiting to go on, Katrin suggested I say something untranslatable. I volunteered, ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves’, etc. Katrin said that if I'd recite that, she would utter a long sentence in Serbo-Croat, picked up while shooting No Man's Land, which she duly demonstrated. This turned out to be the foulest of obscenities; but the great joy of Katrin's delicious sense of humour was that we didn't need to bother with the dare itself - just savouring the wheeze was enough.
I adored her twinkling anarchy. During the Sarajevo trip, we attended a reception given in our honour by the British ambassador in the garden of his official residence. From time to time, as we chatted with various film-makers and diplomats and their wives, I would catch sight of Katrin giving me a naughty conspiratorial anti-establishment wink, as if she was about to perform some dastardly republican deed.
On the whole, even the most intelligent actors don't pay much attention to the filming itself, far less to the nature of film performance in relation to the whole process. But Katrin believed "in the process of cinema as well as the product". It turned out that she had originally wanted to go to film school to direct, but had decided early on that she should first find out about acting. And, despite her inspired, genius ability to lose herself in the character and to behave as an actor should, she also had the objective eye of an artist. For that is what she was, in the broader sense of the word, and in the way that most actors are not. She drew her inspiration not only from life and people and experience, but also from painting and sculpture and much else, including world cinema. She often talked to me about her eventual move into directing. I am in no doubt that we have lost not only one of our greatest actors but also one of the most interesting new directors of the future.
Katrin was a truly loyal friend, and was universally loved. I still find it impossible to believe she is gone, that I will never again meet her for lunch and have that special free-flowing Katrin conversation, at once profound and hilarious. But the hardest thing of all is to face the unbearable truth that Katrin Cartlidge will never again make her magical contribution to my films. This devastating fact leaves me very sad indeed. It is a terrible loss.
Extracted from a longer tribute in The Guardian (London), 13 September 2002