Steven Berkoff

Offensive art is liberating

September 7, 2023
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People in the arts are “beginning to self-censor” according to actor, director, and frequent on-screen villain Steven Berkoff. 

Speaking to UnHerd’s Florence Read, Berkoff emphasised the danger of self-censorship. “People are beginning to question their own ethics and morals,” he said. “They have to be careful not to offend.” This, for the actor, has a particularly stifling effect on “human consciousness”.

To avoid the fear of offence, Berkoff spoke of the importance of “writing down everything you feel” so that through such expression “we might be able to understand more about the fundamental values in life.”

Reflecting on his many appearances as a villain on stage and in film, Berkoff said that “we all want to be villains because we want to be anti-authoritarian.” Compared to the conformity which fills our lives, the villain “captures something that we all envy”.

In 2019 Berkoff took on the role of film producer and sex offender Harvey Weinstein in a play that he wrote himself. The reviews were “the most horrible [he had] ever received”, which, for him, indicated the lack of curiosity in the “beasts” and “horrors” from which we can learn. 

When asked if he is ever afraid to offend, Berkoff challenged that audiences are in fact offended by him: “I feel they’re enjoying it. To see an offensive play is wonderfully liberating!”

In the wake of the Hollywood writers’ strike, the playwright was asked whether he believed that technology has destroyed creativity. Not only did Berkoff agree that it has, he also said that it is a “curse on society”, with CGI a particular threat which at once puts “thousands of people out of work” and “corrodes the audience’s mind”.

How do we tackle such problems, all of which serve to limit artistic achievement and human flourishing? For Berkoff, talking is a good start. You can listen to part of the conversation above.


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