What I know about women

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Actor Charles Dance reflects on the significant women in his life.

Charles Dance: "I believe that women are considerably more complex and understand the laws of cause and effect more than ...

Charles Dance: "I believe that women are considerably more complex and understand the laws of cause and effect more than men do." Photo: David Bebber/News Syndication/Headpress

Charles Dance
Actor, 68

The public perception of me as an actor is that I am in some way aristocratic. I am not at all. My mother, Eleanor, was one of four children from the East End of London and went into service at the age of 13. 

If you think of Downton Abbey she was at the lower end of the service class, an under-house parlour maid, and she got up at dawn to empty the fireplaces, polish the grates, do the donkey work. Later she became a waitress and she continued to work nearly all her life.

My job is to pretend to be someone I'm not, but my mother didn't pretend to be anyone other than who she was. But she strove to better herself which I guess she did by marrying my father, Walter, who came from a class a few rungs further up the ladder. But he died when I was four and she later married the lodger in our house, Edward, who became my stepfather. 

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My mother worked bloody hard all her life, she didn't have a bad bone in her body, and I have a lot of respect for her, but she was also a bit of a martyr to her cause and she had a tendency for sentimentality, which is not the same thing as being sentimental. We had a difficult relationship and it was often overly emotional, particularly when I came into my teens. 

My mother taught me a lot of very basic things, like how to iron a shirt, which I can do better than any woman I know, and the basics of cooking and how to look after myself. 

Whatever creativity I have came from my father who, she said, had been a kind of amateur actor. My mother was really quite pleased that something of my father had found itself in me.

For some reason, I developed a stutter in my adolescence and it stayed until I was 18. I used to make up the most complicated sentences to get around words I couldn't manage. The business of chatting up girls was painfully difficult for me. 

I was 19 when I met my ex-wife, Jo [Haythorn]. We were together for over 30 years and I changed a lot during that time, as you'd expect. I regret that the marriage ended; it was largely my fault. But sensibly, we're now the best of friends. 

We have two children. Our son, Oliver, is 40, and our daughter, Rebecca, is 34. We shared a large chunk of our lives together and we stay in touch regularly and I'm very glad that is the situation. 

I do believe men and women are inherently different. Of course it is a generalisation but I believe that women are considerably more complex, and that women understand the laws of cause and effect more than men do. I think a lot of the time men don't fully take that on board. Certainly not in our experimental early years when we're out hunting, following our biological urges.

Some of the most generous actors I've worked with have been women, like Judi Dench. It's very difficult not to fall in love with her. When she works, she makes a minimum of fuss. She might have the most terrible headache, the most terrible emotional problem going on in her civilian life, but you would never know. And she has a wonderfully rude sense of humour. She is fantastic.

What sort of women am I attracted to? Beautiful ones! Of course I am being facetious. I like independence, I like strong women, women who survive and thrive in what is still a male-dominated world in most professions. I think that description fits my ex-wife and my former fiancée, Eleanor [Boorman, with whom he has a daughter, Rose, 3].

Fatherhood is great, and Rose is fantastic. Having her has awakened paternal feelings in me despite the unshakable love I have for my grown-up daughter. Rose is as bright as a button, and despite our age difference I hope I will have a few more years so that I can see her grow from child to adulthood. 

I hope that as Rose grows the world will continue to become less biased against women. I think there is a lot more sexual democracy now and less bigotry, which is a good thing. 

But I sometimes wish Rose was growing up in a different time. When I was a kid, despite the fact we were all floundering around a bit, there was a kind of freedom in living in a world that wasn't permanently online. I regret the passing of those days of innocence. •

Charles Dance stars in Deadline Gallipoli, which airs on April 19 and 20 on Foxtel Showcase.