'Part of you is saying "I'm in hell'': Stephen Fry talks to Jonathan Biss


Both the actor and the pianist have suffered from mental health issues in the past. They discuss performing, vulnerability - and why you wouldn’t want to meet Beethoven in heaven

Jonathan Biss: Many of us become musicians in part because we feel out of step with the world. Music makes up for something that is missing. And Beethoven has done that for me. But his personality is so immense, irascible and confrontational that living with him all the time, as much as he made life bearable, he also made life unbearable. And that’s the conflict that eventually tore me to pieces.

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Stephen Fry: Perhaps Shakespeare is the closest to Beethoven in greatness and all-consuming emotional range. There are actors who have had breakdowns playing certain characters. Hamlet and King Lear can be incredibly upsetting. There’s a famous film from 1947 with Ronald Colman playing Othello. He murders his wife on stage because the character consumes him. These things make for good stories – and they were told at a time when mental unease was the joke you told about artists. It was part of the artistic temperament, part of their eccentricity.

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