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And now it's all gone Paul Kaye

IT WAS no great stretch for Paul Kaye to imagine the experience of losing it all. For his leading role in the British movie It's All Gone Pete Tong he could easily get inside the head of Frankie Wilde, a depraved DJ whose loss of hearing offers him the chance to find himself.

The drink and drug excesses took acting, but he knew through experience the sense of success slipping away, of losing a grip on things. To play this out as someone else, however, was incredibly cathartic, Kaye says, and provided him with an objective view of himself and his world. Further, he says, this film forced him finally to grow up, as he turned 40.

Paul Kaye hated his 30th birthday. But then, he had also hated his 18th also, another milestone birthday that reminded Kaye he hadn't made it yet. "From the age of 13, I'd dreamed of being Johnny Rotten," he says, "And I thought at 18, and then 30, that I'd really missed the boat. I hadn't been discovered or made my mark or anything."

He laughs then, admitting that he hadn't exactly done anything to achieve this ambition, believing too much that it would just happen, that the world would notice he had something special. "I believed in myself, but I didn't believe in myself enough. I always thought I had talent, but I didn't know what it was or how to sell it. I was basically full of s**t, really."

Growing up in Streatham, London, the only son of an orthodox Jewish family, Paul Kaye had non-specific ambitions to be someone. He left school at 16, went to art school for two years and then left, sure there was something more. "I had been good at athletics in school," he laughs, "so I had this idea I'd go to Paris and become a sprinter. I've no idea why Paris, but I didn't do any training or buy a plane ticket. I had no money and wondered what I could do without money so I decided to go to a kibbutz. I found one in the middle of the desert in Israel, went off with the idea that this would be a proper, socialist community - and it didn't disappoint."

There, Kaye met Orly, an Israeli girl, and fell in love. They married in England, in 1989, and two years later, had a son, Jordan. Paul Kaye was still to find a career that fitted his ambitions, however, and after a traumatic 30th birthday, he decided acting might be it. Out of this decision, Dennis Pennis - probably still Kaye's most famous incarnation - was born. Pennis started out as a character on Channel 4's The Sunday Show, a mock reporter on the red carpets of Hollywood, whose questions were designed to prick the A-list egos.

Faced with stars such as Demi Moore, Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Costner and Hugh Grant, he was the interviewer equivalent of an annoying kid who holds out his hand as if to shake yours and then whips it away, leaving you feeling stupid. In a time before Ali G or Punk'd, his irreverence was refreshing and soon Kaye had a solid student fan base and his own show.

If it seemed things were looking up professionally, however, Kaye's personal life was soon in trouble. Orly did not enjoy the world Kaye now inhabited, and she returned to her native Gaza with their young son. It was a huge personal blow, swiftly and surprisingly followed by the sudden dip of Kaye's star.

"I did the first series and was on the verge of my own chat show," he says. "We had a list of 200 people and not one of them would come on," he explains. "And I won't deny I was put out later when Ali G and Bo'Selecta came along and started doing the same thing but paying the guests to come on and have the p**s taken out of them. Because I'd done this thing and had made no money and had nothing in the pipeline either."

Bit parts in TV dramas followed, but nothing big until 2001 and the gentle BBC drama Two Thousand Acres of Sky with Michelle Collins. "It wasn't what I imagined I'd be doing after Pennis," Kaye says, smiling. "But there was some perverse sense that enjoyed seeing my student, anarchist fan base suddenly turn into a fan base of grannies, and there's a part of me now thinks it was as well to let it go. I mean, I look at people now like Chris Morris still trying to stir it up and I think, Christ man, how old are you?"

Between jobs, Kaye travelled back and forth to Israel to see Jordan and enjoyed a two-year relationship with super-hip American actress, Chloe Sevigny. On reflection, though, he believes there was still a strong part of him that refused to grow up, and he won't deny some bitterness about a career that almost took off and then sank into occasional work and long periods of unemployment.

"There were points when I've thought about getting into landscape gardening or getting back to illustrating, but mostly with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Really, it's only with this film I feel that whatever happens, whether it's a hit or not, I'll be OK."

It helps that Kaye's personal life has found an even keel in recent years. About six years ago, he and Orly found themselves growing closer during his trips to Gaza. "We kind of fell back in love," he says. "So we talked about it for a year or two, went on a few holidays and decided it was worth another try. She came back to London nearly four years ago and we had Geffen, our other son, a year later. I was a lucky guy to get the chance to try again."

Shooting It's All Gone Pete Tong was an incredibly cathartic experience, says Kaye, and he believes he exorcised all remnants of old immature behaviour through it. One particular scene, where the newly-deaf Frankie imprisons himself in a padded cell and slowly breaks down, forced him to explore hisown dark places. He tookamylnitrate (poppers) to convey more authentically theeffects of Frankie's cocaine use, and much of the distress he displays is real, basedon his own disappointmentsand mistakes.

It's powerful to watch, and Kaye came out of it more appreciative of the turns his life has taken and less anxious to make acting work for him. If this film doesn't take, he says, there are other options, ones he will be happy to explore.

There are many ways of making your mark, is what Paul Kaye has discoveredlatterly. He laughs at beingso middle-aged in his loveof home and family and stability, but it sounds like a happier place than constantly striving for the sort ofattention that is so often double-edged.

'It's All Gone Pete Tong' is on nationwide release

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