Wednesday 18 July 2018

Carry On Blogging Interview: Elke Sommer

It's a huge thrill to be able to bring you an interview with one of the best remembered guest stars ever to grace a Carry On film. In 1975, international film and television actress Elke Sommer travelled to England to head the cast of probably the last successful Carry On film to be made, Carry On Behind. Starring opposite Kenneth Williams, Elke played Russian archaeologist Professor Anna Vooshka in the Dave Freeman scripted comedy, joining a cast which included the likes of Windsor Davies, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims and Patsy Rowlands.

Elke fitted in seamlessly with the rest of the cast and took to Carry On comedy like a duck to water. She had previously worked for Peter Rogers' wife Betty Box and Gerald's brother Ralph Thomas on similar comedies Percy and Percy's Progress so she was on familiar territory. I've long wanted to feature an interview with Elke and indeed had hoped to meet her on a recently planned trip to the UK to attend the Classic TV and Sitcom Classics Day up in Borehamwood. Sadly Elke couldn't attend but certainly intends to fulfil this commitment in the near future. 

So, without further ado, here's how we got on:

Can you tell me what made you want to become an actress in the first place?

Oh my God it is such a long story and one I really want to tell in depth when I visit England. I never really wanted to be an actress at first, I wanted to become a doctor which involved lots of studying to learn Greek, Latin and English.

During your career you have made many films in both the U.S & UK. What do you think are the main differences between the two film industries?

I have worked in many different countries from UK to Sri Lanka & the United States to South Africa and Italy. Every country has their slight differences and way of doing things. In Italy there is a lot of improvisation, in the United States everything has to go like clockwork, to the second and to perfection.

I felt closer to the UK style due to the British sense of humour - we have the same humour and that built a base for good friendships.

Fans in the UK will probably know you best for the classic film A Shot in the Dark with Peter Sellers. What was Peter like to work with on that picture?

Wow, another question that I would easily be able to take half an hour to answer! Peter was a good friend and was always desperate to get married (not to me!). He had the clairvoyant and astrologer Maurice Woodruff with him quite often and this is certainly one for the UK visit! 

We also worked together on the remake of The Prisoner of Zenda which didn't do too well unfortunately.

You worked several times with producer Betty Box and director Ralph Thomas - what were they like to work with?

They were just fantastic! We were great friends, almost family you might say. We always ate together during filming and enjoyed each others company.

You formed a strong friendship with producer Peter Rogers. What kind of man was Peter away from the film studios?

Peter was a gentleman. A typical English gentleman. Extremely funny when he wanted to be. Peter was very intelligent. He never had the same joy in his eyes on set that Ralph Thomas had but the best way to describe him I would say is a kind of grey eminence.

What are your memories of making Carry On Behind with the late great Kenneth Williams?

I had heard about the Carry Ons. Someone suggested I should take part in one but when the offer came in for Carry On Behind I was so busy with other work. In the end Kenny talked me into it. I had a lovely time making that film, it was a blast. It was full of British humour, just like me!

Kenny Williams was a wonderful talent and very funny. I remember they asked me what I would like and I didn't really know what to say apart from I'd seen two absolutely beautiful couches. So they sent them out, one to each home and that was my payment. I still have the couches.

You acted opposite the wonderful David Niven in the 1979 film, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. What was he like?   

David… He was nice. He was extremely respectful and a complete gentleman. He never became a great friend but we dined together a lot and certainly was a good acquaintance.

From 1970 onwards you have appeared regularly on stage, what has been your favourite role in the theatre and why?

I had many wonderful experiences such as appearing at Chicago's Drury Lane Theatre in 1971 appearing as the lead role in Cactus Flower and also Born Yesterday playing the role of Billie Dawn. I really enjoyed Same Time Next Year at the Grand Dinner Theatre in California.

I feel you have to do the stage/theatre to prove you are an actor.

Some people may not be aware that you are also a hugely successful artist. What has inspired you artwork over the years?

I had painted since I was a child and my grandfather was a good artist. As I was also in show business my artwork was the only thing I could really call all mine and had not been produced or directed by someone else like the films and television I appeared in.

Painting gave me peace and quiet and also allowed me to express my feelings at various times, be it joy or pain. 

What was it like working with The Muppets?

It was Fantastic! Miss Piggy hated me, Gonzo loved me and Bob Mackie made me a stunning dress. And I got to sing Row Row Row on "The Nile" with them.

Do you have a preference out of Theatre/TV & Movies?

I enjoy them all, but theatre commands a lot of respect, you only get one attempt, there are no retakes, it's more challenging. i work well under pressure, you have to be on time and precise. Very German!

Speaking of Germany, did you watch the World Cup?

I did, the Mexico game Germany seemed to play in slow motion and they did not do enough to progress. And Leroy Sane should have been selected!

Elke asked for her love to be passed on to everyone in the UK. I'm so grateful to her for agreeing to answer my questions and I'm also indebted to Rich, the organiser of the Classic TV day at Borehamwood for making all this possible. You can follow Rich on Twitter @sitcomdelights.

And you can find out more about Elke Sommer on her official website

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and on Instagram 

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