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2010: a quotable year

Published 21 December 2010

As the year draws to a close, Official London Theatre looks back at some of its favourite interviewees of 2010 with a small tear of pride in its metaphysical eye…

Ah, 2010, what a year it has been for the Big Interview. We have talked to two men both dubbed the greatest stage actors of their generation – Mark Rylance and Simon Russell Beale – Hollywood star Gemma Arterton, and two actors for whom this was a breakthrough year – the National’s new Hamlet Rory Kinnear and the nation’s new Sherlock Holmes Benedict Cumberbatch – not to mention the host of other performers, writers and directors with whom we have had the privilege to chat. But what have we learned from the most enjoyable of chunterings?

Actors can hold very different views about audiences:

Robert Glenister (The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse): “People think that if they’re in a darkened space you can’t see them. That’s partly true in a big-ish theatre, but in a small theatre like the Bush you can see everybody. It’s interesting; they nod off, they text. It’s like they’re watching telly really. It is a weird phenomenon. They think that you’re not aware of what’s going on. Talking irritates me more than anything, people having a conversation. It affects everybody else, that’s the problem I have. People might want to be there. They might have switched their phones off. They might want to listen and concentrate and find out what’s going on!”

Whereas Benedict Cumberbatch (After The Dance at the National Theatre) thought: “Yes, you hear a screeching hearing aid. Yes, you have a mobile phone going off. Yes, there are kids giggling in the wrong places. But we’ll all be there at certain points in our life, whether we’re the giggling kid, the person who’s hard of hearing or the idiot who’s forgotten to turn our phone off. We’ve all done it. If you get grumpy about that, just remember you’re a f***ing actor; it’s your f***ing job. You’ve got a job, for starters, but as jobs go, you’re not saving lives, you’re hopefully moving and entertaining and distracting them for a bit. The weight of responsibility is a joyous one to bear. It’s not really that hard a task; it shouldn’t be.”

Not all actors are prima donnas, in fact, some are quite humble:

Roger Rees (Waiting For Godot at the Theatre Royal Haymarket): “I used to be the voice of Virgin Atlantic in America and some people only know me for that.”

Rory Kinnear (Hamlet at the National Theatre): “Almost 100% of the entire world doesn’t give a f**k what you do with Hamlet.”

We have had random learnings…

Ian McDiarmid (The Prince Of Homburg at the Donmar Warehouse): “Bus stations don’t like theatre.”

Miranda Raison (Anne Boleyn at Shakespeare’s Globe): “So many people have said to me, ‘Is it true that [Boleyn] had three tits?’ Some people have an extraneous nipple – I doubt she had that either – but who have you ever heard of with three tits? No, she didn’t!”

… and some insights into the life of an actor:

Lucian Msamati (Ruined at the Almeida theatre): “We know that to get the audience there, [the actors] need to go there. That’s the terrifying, joyous, egotistical challenge of it. You do have to plunge deeply and darkly into it.”

Desmond Barrit (The Habit Of Art at the National Theatre): “Halfway, two-thirds of the way through rehearsal there’s always this terrible dip, and you think to yourself ‘Is life worth living?’”

Gemma Arterton (The Master Builder at the Almeida theatre): “I remember calculating that I needed to make eight grand a year in order to live in a s**t place, eat and pay the bills. When you are in that situation you’d do any old thing that comes your way and that’s why most of my friends who are f**king amazing classically trained actors are on Doctors and The Bill most of the time.”

Sam Troughton (Romeo And Juliet at the Roundhouse): “When it’s great, it’s great. When it’s s**t, it’s s**t.”

There has been useful advice…

Julie Graham (Enlightenment at Hampstead theatre): “You should always do things that frighten you in life.”

Frank McGuinness (Greta Garbo Came To Donegal at the Tricycle theatre): “One of the great lessons you learn in playwriting is that so much of it depends on the conversation you have with yourself in the privacy of your own table, writing your play. You need to be very tough talking to yourself. The only thing I’ve learned in my entire life is that’s what happens with every new play; you’re starting again.”

… and some less practical suggestions

David Burt (The Fantasticks at the Duchess theatre): “I would encourage any actor to have children. You never know until you have children just what effect they have on your life. In many ways it’s good for an actor because actors are always so self-obsessed, and I was when I was young, struggling to get on. Suddenly your family comes along and it forces you to think of other things besides theatre and work.”

We have had a hint of controversy…

Richard Bean (The Big Fellah at the Lyric Hammersmith): “I’ve always stuck two fingers up to those people who tell me I can’t write about people who are not my people. Bonnie Greer’s given me a b*****king about that; I told her to F off. Caryl Churchill told me to stop writing about Muslims. I told her to F off. It doesn’t bother me. I’ll write about what I like and I’ll stop writing about it if no one goes or they hate it.”

Mark Rylance (Jerusalem at the Apollo theatre): “The kind of lashing I would get from the critics in this city made me realise that they weren’t really interested in thoughtful criticism. Because if so they would have said, ‘These people know what they are doing, they have tried something new, it hasn’t quite worked for this reason, but thank God someone’s not just repeating Trevor Nunn’s Macbeth, again.’”

Tim Piggott-Smith (Educating Rita at the Trafalgar Studios 1): “It’s staggering now how ignorant, disinterested, young actors are, in not even the distant past. Of course their heroes are different now. We wanted to be Olivier, Gielgud, Richardson and Guinness. They haven’t heard of them. I could have told you about the generation of actors that preceded them. I was interested, I used to look at books for ages and say ‘oh my God so-and-so did that in the ‘30s, wow’. I was just interested, and I think that interest has almost entirely gone.”

… a splash of optimism…

Harry Lloyd (The Little Dog Laughed at the Garrick theatre): “I think there’s a great generation of 20-something British actors who are all doing exciting things here and abroad in a very different way to the generation before. There is a whole bunch of great British actors of my age who aren’t film stars or theatre actors; they’re very much both.”

… a hint at the future…

Jamie Lloyd (Passion at the – soon to be in need of a new Artistic Director – Donmar Warehouse): “I genuinely love what I’m doing. I’d really love to work towards running a theatre, that’s ideally what I’d love to do.”

… and, most importantly, what Simon Russell Beale wished for when he stirred his Christmas cake this year:

Simon Russell Beale (Deathtrap at the Noel Coward theatre): I’d love to find a play that’s written for an overweight 50-year-old, but they’re not that common.”

What an eclectic year it has been, and with some fantastic interviewees in the pipeline already, 2011 promises more of the same.


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