“I first met Bruce Robinson in the mid-Nineties – it was a vague decade for both of us, so I feel no need to hammer down the year. We were lunching with mutual friends, whose house in the vegetable underbelly of Birmingham is a curious Arts and Crafts repro of a Tudor mansion. So, picture the scene: side tables strewn with well-carved beef bones, a long dining table scattered with dirtied plates and smeary glasses, silvery winter-afternoon light falling from high, diamond-mullioned windows and oily ancestral gentry peering down from the wood-panelled walls.
“Bruce, as I recall it, sat at the head of the table. He had then – and still does – one of those rare faces that combine great beauty and fierce intelligence: hazel-green eyes, high cheekbones, pale olive skin, dark brown hair stranded in the stylish appendix of the late-Sixties (think Mick Jagger in that white dress at the Hyde Park concert for Brian Jones, but without the nauseatingly self-satisfied pout). Robinson is slight and languorous – and although he has given up several times over the years, in my mind’s eye his face is always wreathed in cigarette or cigar smoke. On that occasion – I’m fairly certain – fine wines had been consumed.
“I had a riff going at the time that I thought a pretty amusing and outré subversion of male braggadocio: ‘My penis,’ I would ease into the appropriate conversational sheath, ‘is so small that I am incapable of sexual penetration – all my children were conceived by artificial insemination.’ I’m not going to deny that I believed this satiric sally might possibly appeal to the man who I considered then – and still consider to be – one of the finest satiric artists this country has ever fostered, nor will I disallow that I wanted to impress him – I still want to impress him – but what I in fact succeeded in doing was setting Bruce up for a slam-dunk. Without any hesitation he replied in his curiously hybrid accent – gusting nasally out of the Isle of Thanet, but lilting with warm southern Californian breezes – ‘My penis is so large…’ a three-beat pause to seize the graphic imagination of everyone in the room ‘…that I fear my erections.'”
Read the rest of Will Self’s interview with Bruce Robinson, director of The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp, which is released in the UK on November 4, in the October issue of Esquire magazine.