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When it came to work, British actor Tim Pigott-Smith was the epitome of forbearance. But in his everyday life, the late actor said he was grossly impatient. Pigott-Smith, who died at age 70 last month, said in a January interview that it was impatience that brought him six broken ribs and a collarbone fractured in four places.
"I had an accident a few years ago on my motor bike," he said in a conference room at a hotel in Pasadena. "I think it's because I was being a bit impatient. It was a minor accident but I hurt myself quite badly The road widened out and I started moving to the right too quickly -- that's what I mean about being impatient. I wanted to get home. It was late, about 11 o'clock at night, and I got the wheels of the bike stuck in the pavement. And I was only going about 19 miles an hour and just couldn't keep the bike upright. So I went wooooooo and landed on my elbow. But the rib cage just inverted poooooof like that."
The real tragedy of that accident was that Pigott-Smith was forced to take five weeks off from his hit play, "King Charles III," with his understudy rallying on.
But a month after his death, he makes up for that rift when the television adaptation arrives on PBS' "Masterpiece" tonight. The comedy poses the premise that Charles becomes King of England following Queen Elizabeth II's death. And the Royals are all there -- from Kate Middleton to Princes William and Harry and even the prime minister all there in blank verse.
Landing the role was a surprise, said Pigott-Smith, whom we've recognized from "Jewel in the Crown," "Gangs of New York," "Quantum of Solace," and scores of television series. You never know as an actor, what's coming next, he said.
"In 2011 I played King Lear, in 2012 I played Prospero, and you're quietly thinking, 'I wonder what else there is out there that I can have a crack at?' Then this comes along, my goodness, thank you very much."
Many talented actors, he said, give up the long struggle. "If there's one part going and it's offered to either Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, there are two people out for it, but only one part. One of them's going to be upset. It doesn't matter who you are or what level you are in the profession, that can be hurtful. But you have to be very strong to deal with that. But I realized quite early on that there was absolutely no point in being jealous or envious of another actor because what you are is different from anybody else. There's room for everybody. You have to have talent, but you have to have a bit of luck."
Oddly enough that bit of luck arrived early in his life with another accident. Pigott-Smith was in drama school when he damaged the cartilage in his knee playing rugby.
"I didn't have the money to go privately so I had to wait for the national health," he said. "It took quite a long time and I had an operation which was really a horrible operation. They cut the knee open and cut the cartilage out. But it meant that by the time I was getting to my final term at drama school, my year was over, and I really wasn't ready to be an actor."
Every night after rehearsal he'd sneak into the dance studio to try to strengthen his knee. "One night when I was down there, it was quite dark, and I suddenly realized that there was somebody in the room. And it was the principal of the drama school and I thought, 'Oh, Christ, he's come down to get rid of me.'
"He said, 'What are you doing, Tim?' I said,' Just working as hard as I can.' He said, 'You need to do another year, don't you?'"
But the government had already paid for three years of college and a year of drama school and there was no way Pigott-Smith could afford another year, he told the principal.
"He said, 'I'll give you a scholarship.' So he wrote a letter to the county and they gave me a maintenance grant, so unlike many students today, I didn't have to do another job in order to pay for my time at drama school. If that hadn't happened I don't think I'd be acting now. I think that changed my life," he said.
Pigott-Smith leaves his wife of 45 years, actress Pamela Miles, and a son, Tom, and two grandchildren. When asked in January what his hopes were for the future, he said, "My dream is just to keep going, and for Pam and I to live long enough to see the grandchildren happy and established -- and be lucky enough to carry on doing nice work."