In this day of big-name actors occupying the lead roles for animated cartoon characters, allow me to trip back to a simpler time when leads were done by Thespians who weren't necessarily household names but just really, really good at what they did. Allow me to present...
Mr. Ingham is an actor who came up through the British Royal Shakespeare Company, who had years and years on the stage. But one day in the early eighties he decided to get less involved with theater and decamp to Los Angeles. As he said over lunch one day, "I wanted a change. I was ready for a change. And if you want to be in films, you almost have to be in Los Angeles. This is where the movie business is."
Barry Ingham didn't end up as the lead voice for The Great Mouse Detective because he was an A-list film actor, or because he had a connection with a high-powered studio exec. He got the role of "Basil of Baker Street" the old fashioned way: he was one of jillions of actors who came in to read for the part, and he was so far ahead of everyone else that he won the role hands down.
I remember the day he came in. We had plowed through a raft of actors, some not bad and some awful, but we weren't particularly happy with any of them. Nobody had possessed the lilt, that spark we were looking for. We weren't even sure precisely what we were looking for. We only knew that the indefinable something hadn't arrived yet.
And then Barry Ingham showed up. He was pleasant, but focused and disciplined. He took direction like the pro he was, immediately understanding the core of the character and what we were looking for. And in about ten minutes he'd nailed the part. (Plus, he didn't have to put on a British accent like the American auditioners did; he had full ownership of that when he came through the door.)
After he was hired and started showing up for voice sessions, the professionalism that was present at the audition got turned up several notches (if that was possible.) One trip through the script and storyboards and he knew how the character Basil should play that particular scene. One day, at the director's request, he delivered 200 readings of a short piece of dialogue without an eye-blink of discomfort or word of complaint. And each reading was different.
I was amazed watching his performance then. I'm amazed thinking about it now.
Lunches with Mr. Ingham were always bracing, entertaining, and instructive. He told us about life on the road touring with Richards Burton and Harris in Camelot, how one day the company would be playing indoors and the next week be thesping in a huge, outdoor amphiteater, and how the actors had to slow down all their line deliveries and make their reactions way bigger because "in a huge amphitheater, the audience can't get what you're doing unless you play it very large and broad. And the laughs start down in the front seats and go slowly up to the back in a big, slow wave. And you have to wait for it before you go on..."
He said how it always took a day or two of adjustments to alter the tempo for maximum effect.
And he explained how, in British Shakespearean acting, there were two distinct schools. "One type goes for the music and rhythms of the text, of making the line deliveries orchestral. The other school -- the one I've always been in -- goes for textual clarity. The whole idea is to get the audience to understand what's being said, rather than just absorbing the symphonic overtones of the dialugue and the soliliquys."
Toward the end of his voice work on Mouse, he told us about a new acting job on a mini-series where he played John Barrymore: "I had a scene where I was a corpse, John Barrymore dead. I was propped up in a chair with eyes closed, working hard to remain still. And I hear the director yell 'action!' and I try to be even more still. It's not often that an actor has to be deader after the director yells 'action'".
I haven't laid eyes on Barry Ingham since Great Mouse wrapped, but reading his credits on IMBD, it doesn't surprise me in the least that he's still working. When you've got the acting chops Mr. Ingham possesses, you can go on working forever.