Interview: Actor and writer Steven Berkoff

berkoff142.jpgHe's earned renown for playing villains on stage and screen but Steven Berkoff very nearly found life imitating art in his formative years.

The Limehouse-based actor grew up in London's East End and his early years saw him drifting into petty crime and brushes with the law. He has written about those days in a new autobiography, Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent.

Berkoff is happy to admit he was a problem child.

He said: "I was a juvenile delinquent. We all were. I was 15 when I left school and I was glad to leave because I didn't like the teachers and they didn't like me.

"If you stuck up for yourself you were labelled a rebel by the teachers, most of whom were old and crusty because in those days all the young men were in the army.

"When I left school I struggled about what to do, because there was no-one to show me what to do or where to go. I got into trouble with the police and began to realise there was something missing in my life."

That life could have been very different for Berkoff had his mother and he stayed in America, where they went to live when he was 10.

He said: "Going to New York had a gigantic impact on me. Arriving there at dawn on a ship, seeing these vast skyscrapers all lit up was tremendously exciting. We lived in the Bronx, but unfortunately we couldn't stay there and had to come back to Britain.

"I remember how appalling it was to return to the UK. We sailed into Southampton and all you could see were these miserable, low buildings and cranes. It was devastating."

berkoff480.jpgBack in the East End Berkoff drifted through school and a succession of dead-end jobs, ending up in a remand home for stealing a bike. His future uncertain, he has no doubt about what changed his life.

He said: "I was heading for the garbage heap but acting saved me. I got to find out for myself what the possibilities in life were. I was lucky to get a grant to get through drama school, although I never lost that rebellious attitude and carried it into my work."

Berkoff, 73, went on to enjoy a hugely successful career as an actor, writer, director and he hopes his latest work, might help others in a similar position to the one he was once in.

He said: "People might read it and feel inspired. It's a very open book, because as you get older you get much less cautious about revealing things.

"I want people to realise that you don't have to go to university and be subsidised through life. There is an alternative, but sometimes you need someone to show you what that is."

Diary of Juvenile Delinquent is published by JR Books, priced £18.99.