February , 1985
By Stana Day
Sting All the World is his Stage
Sting, the British rock star of the much heralded group The Police, has got to be pleased. After all, how many musicians today can claim to have two worlds as their stage to perform on and be successful with both - only David Bowie.
The past two years has been like a fairy tale come true for this British rocker as he, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers ascended the ladder to the top of the rock and roll plateau with the album Synchronicity. On the silver screen Gordon Sumner (his Christian name) has scaled that lofty peak with his fifth film role as that of the sexy-elegant villain Feyd-Rautha in Dune.
Sting initially took the role "very much because of director David Lynch. “I was interested in him as an individual," he says, "I think his previous work is fascinating and his vision is way-out, almost bizarre in the best of ways. I wanted to work with him."
Sting arrived for his interview with Lynch on his motorbike, which, with a flourish, he remanded to the Claridge's top-hatted doorman (unaccustomed to vehicles less grand than Rolls Royce’s) and proceeded to Lynch's suite, where their rapport was almost immediate. Several hours, several pubs and several pool games later, Sting was, in effect, a member of the Dune cast.
The musician / actor, whose personal visual trademark is his punk-spiked hair, was born Gordon Sumner "next to the shipyard" in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, in 1951. He was the oldest of four children, two boys and two girls. His father was a Milkman, his mother, although a very good pianist, 'just a housewife.' And his nickname he says, 'just happened organically.'
"When I was about 17, I used to wear a and sweater in black and a yellow and I apparently looked like a wasp," he grinned. "A friend called me 'Sting' as a joke and then it kind of stuck. My mother calls me Sting now, my kids call me Sting. Although it's a silly name, it has a certain truth to it. It suits my personality."
The former Gordon Sumner calls himself 'an alien in my original environment.'
"An oddity, an E.T. ," offered Sting. "I sought to escape and the first means that I could see was education, which is why I did very well at school."
He attended Warwick University, receiving a degree In English.
"There aren't many people from my background who go to a university. It's a very small percentage in England."
For two years after graduating, Sting taught nine-year-olds in a small mining village in Northumberland, "making no money but learning a lot," he said, "but that seemed like a cul-de-sac, too. I could see my future quite clearly. In ten years’ time I was still a young man and wanted to see the world."
Sting gave up his job, gave up the pension plan that went with it and just went to London.
"I had a facility for playing music, composing and performing," explained the artist. "I'd been doing gigs even while I taught. I always played music, you know, in pubs. I'd been playing the double bass since I was 15."
At this junction of Sumner's life, he had just gotten married, had a baby son and had absolutely nothing at all except a dream to be a musician.
It was in London that Sting met up with Stewart Copeland, who had come over to England as part of a band called Curved Air. Dropping out of that band, Copeland formed an association with a guitarist named Henry Padrotti, and after seeing Sting perform the bass as part of a jazz ensemble in a night club, he asked him to join the duo.
Padrotti was replaced by Andy Summers several months later, and in 1977, the three hit the London music scene at the beginning of the punk movement.
"After two years of poverty and obscurity and squalor," as Sting recalls, the Police hit it big with the underground hit, "Roxanne," a semi-true plea to a woman to stop selling herself on the streets, to get out from under the red light.
The band followed that hit with another cult classic, "Message in a Bottle," a year later and the Police were on a roll. Since the release of Outlandos D'Amour in '79, the Police have recorded a total of five albums and sold over 30 million records. The band's Synchronicity tour was the top drawing money act of 1983 that saw them set the dubious record of selling out Shea Stadium faster than the Beatles did in 1964 when that event marked their debut in this country.
"I'm addicted to success now," revealed Sting. "It's like a drug. You always think if you have a success, that'll satisfy you, but it doesn't, you need more. You have to be very grown up to do without it. I'm not. I'm 31 but mentally I'm about 16."
Sting grins. "No, I suppose that when I was a kid I was very academic, so I didn't have an adolescence, really. I started my adolescence about the age of 26."
That according to Sting was when his hair started to stick up and his eyes started to pop out. "I just woke up one morning and there It was, I was reborn, a demonic creature. That's probably why they cast me in Dune. ‘Who's got sticky-up hair? Oh, well the, we’ll use Sting!'” he laughs.
Despite his success under the moniker of a single name, the bearer of that name has not altogether abandoned Gordon Sumner.
"It's useful to have two names, as I do," pointed out the versatile performer who has another movie scheduled for release this spring.
"The Sting persona is very confident, very sure of himself and enjoys the adulation, success and the ridiculous amount of money he earns. The Gordon Sumner character, however , is quite shy and retiring. I keep them separate. It's a kind of schizophrenia which I'm in control of.
"You know, I see things in the newspapers, sometimes pretty awful, and the Sting persona takes it on and not the real self. Yes, Gordon Sumner is very much the real me, the sensitive me. I suppose it's that aspect of me that really pays the rent and writes the songs."
Sting's movie career began, like his musical career, with his arrival in London.
"As I said,” responded the artist, “we were destitute, my wife and I. I was looking for any kind of work, and my wife, who's an actress, had an agent, who, God bless her, began sending me in for TV ads. I did about seven in a row, which was quite phenomenal.
"Well, I was very arrogant. I'd walk into a meeting and sort of will myself the job. So having watched that, the agent said, 'Why don't you go for a movie?"'
The first one was Quadrophenia. A movie for the British Film Institute, Radio On, followed. Actually Sting's film debut came in the form of an obscure punk film called Who Killed Bambi, but as Stewart Copeland said, "That is one film Sting would soon forget about."
After Quadrophenia, next came Artemus for the BBC and then Brimstone and Treacle with Denholm Elliot and Joan Plowright. Since completing Dune, Sting has also starred in the filming of The Bride with Jennifer Beals and he is currently filming Plenty with Meryl Streep. But for Sting, acting, like his music, is largely a path out of one more cul-de-sac. He doesn't want to be a rock star at age 40. He doesn’t want to be an actor either.
He sees his work as a thespian chiefly as a way into an industry that he is attracted to because he’s curious as to how it is done.
"I want to do well," he insists. "I want to be offered more movies. I'd like to do a couple of stage plays, because I don't think I'll ever be respected as an actor unless I do - not in England anyway."
And Sting has also found time to write a screenplay.
"I've bought the rights to a book in which there was a character I thought would make a great cinema role," he disclosed. "I think that's the way to do it. Take your life by the horns and shape it the way you want to go."
He also considers going back to the university one day. " I don't want to limit myself to entertainment, but definitely not politics. I don't believe In the political solution. I believe in a spiritual one."
Eventually, Sting wants to direct. "With Dune," he observes, "David surrounded himself with the best actors and technicians, artistic advisors. He had enormous determination and enthusiasm, energy and unbelievable imagination. They were all traits I admire."
Although Sting calls Dune the 'dirtiest job I've ever had, and that includes construction work as well as growing up over a coal mine,' nevertheless, he says working In front of the camera with great people is enormously satisfying.
"And great fun too," he chimes in. "I watch directors like a hawk; and I watch David like a hawk. And I learn."
As if he hasn't learned enough already! Watch out Bowie, your star has a meteor coming over the horizon.