October 1, 1996
GARY SYNOR(misspelled in print)
I FIRST met Mark Frankel, the actor, who has died tragically after a motorcycle accident aged 34, when he came to my flat. I was trying to find an actor to play the lead in Leon the Pig Farmer. Mark, fresh from playing Michelangelo in a mega budget television series, turned up dressed for the role – every inch the Jewish single male.
Sitting at my kitchen table, we ran through the scene where Leon forces himself to eat lobster to impress a non-Jewish girl. He was brilliant. It was two years before he did the scene again, this time for the camera.
What struck me then, and what struck everyone who knew him, was his presence. You wanted to be in his company. Drama school can’t teach what he had. Many months later, when Vadim Jean and I met and agreed to make the film together, I insisted that I had found the right actor to play Leon.
Vadim was equally insistent that he had found an actor whose show-reel he had cut some weeks before. It turned out to be the same actor. We three accepted this coincidence as a happy stroke of fate and got on with the business of making the film. Without Mark, there would have been no film.
He was born in Surrey. Aged 12 he went to school at Frensham Heights, where his talents and ambitions to become an actor were encouraged. In addition to drama, he studied psychology – the one informed the other and he was soon playing lead roles, a talent that was recognised when he won a scholarship to the Webber Douglas Academy. After graduating, he won rave reviews for his professional debut in Days of Cavafy, and within weeks was snapped up to play Michelangelo opposite F. Murray Abraham. Typically, he was confident about the speed of his rise and just as typically was completely unaffected by it.
His career was divided equally between Los Angeles and the UK. He starred in the top rated US show Sisters. It was while his career was developing there, starring as an all-action hero in Fortune Hunter, that he agreed to do Solitaire For 2 with me in London. It was typical of him (and natural for him) to put faith in a low budget feature being made by a friend. Every time a film school student offered him a short film, you could sense his American agent sweating. His shocking death has come before the release of Roseanna’s Grave in which he stars with Jean Reno.
His approach to acting was methodical – but not without humour. He was a perfectionist, often insisting on another take, when he knew he had more to give. We went together to buy a watch for Leon, spent four hours in Brent Cross, and he eventually decided the right watch was the one I was wearing. In both Leon and Solitaire, I had invested pieces of myself. Mark took those pieces, turned them into a character and worked tirelessly to find every nuance. During the filming of Leon, his wife, Caroline, complained that if she had wanted to marry a neurotic Jewish estate agent she would have gone out and got one.
Despite this dedication and the inherent uncertainties of acting, he had his life in perspective. Caroline brought his weeks-old son, Fabien, to the Solitaire set. Mark’s love for them both was so strong you could touch it.
Undoubtedly Mark had been deeply affected by the death of his brother Joe in an accident in 1990. For Mark, this only spurred on his amazing lust for life. He was a superb tennis player, an inspired raconteur, a parachutist, one of the most incompetent men at ordering food I have ever met, a fine actor and the most generous of friends. The legacy he leaves, personally and professionally, will be an inspiration to many.
Each memory I have of him is one of him smiling or laughing or being passionate about life. The saddest thing about his tragic death is that we are all deprived of memories to come. I already miss his future and his part in mine.