As he prepares to take to the stage at the Donmar Warehouse in the title role of Arthur Miller’s The Man Who Had All The Luck, young rising star Andrew Buchan talks to Caroline Bishop about his burgeoning career. Luck, he says, is only the half of it…
Not many people seem to have heard of Andrew Buchan. That is, apart from the creator of a Facebook group entitled Andrew Buchan For Doctor Who and its dubious list of 21 ‘groupees’. But not for much longer, because March 2008 is shaping up to be the month of Andrew Buchan. The 29-year-old RADA graduate will be simultaneously on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in the title role of Arthur Miller’s The Man Who Had All The Luck and on our television screens playing the lead in new ITV crime drama The Fixer.
Buchan doesn’t act like a man whose star is in the ascendant. Dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt, he meets me on his lunch break in the busy café of the Jerwood Space, where he is rehearsing for the Donmar production, and we chat while he tucks into the distinctly unstarry – and somewhat unusual – lunch combo of a bowl of noodles and a plate of chips, washed down with a cappuccino.
Nor does he seem like a man at all fazed by the sizeable roles that have come his way of late. Talking in his soft Bolton accent about his biggest stage role to date, as David Beeves in Miller’s little known play, Buchan seems comfortably laid back and easy going about the whole thing, saying brightly of rehearsals “It’s lovely just throwing ourselves in. Sean [Holmes] is quite an active director – just get up there, throw it all into the pot, let it muddle…”
The result of what sounds like a cooking experiment will be the first London production of Miller’s early play (he wrote it when he was just 28) since Iain Glen played Beeves at the Young Vic in 1990. Broadway hasn’t seen it very often either – when the play originally premiered in New York in 1944, it ran for just four performances, though it was revived in 2002, with Chris O’Donnell, to more success. A fable about life and fate, the story follows Beeves, the titular lucky man, who seems to have the Midas touch. But while everything falls into his lap, the lives of those around him are not so lucky, and Beeves comes to question his fate. “It slowly starts to get to him you know, all this stuff keeps dropping on him from the tree and it’s like, no but I want to make my own luck. It’s that thing of the 50 grand lottery ticket – well, that’s lovely, but it would have been nice to earn it you know. I can go with the 50 grand and buy a Jag and put my name on the plate, but is it really mine just because my name’s on it?”
“It’s the jellyfish argument, so to speak,” adds Buchan. “The jellyfish doesn’t actively move anywhere, it’s just moved with the tides. Is that what man is? Man’s just the jellyfish, stuff happens to you and you get twisted in different directions. Or, are you David Beeves, do you go out there and make something happen?”
"I can go with the 50 grand and buy a Jag and put my name on the plate, but is it really mine just because my name’s on it?"
Buchan is enjoying these musings on fate and the challenge that his first lead role in a major production presents. “I love parts that really kind of stretch you and tear you and challenge you, and this is definitely one where you are pulled in all kinds of directions, and that feels lovely,” he says.
Perhaps it was fate that led Buchan to Beeves. There certainly seemed to be something that drew him to the part during auditions. “Something about it seemed to sit quite… not comfortably, because nothing in the play is comfortable really, but something about it seemed to… I could hear the need to own the words, to say the words, the drive,” he muses.
It would, of course, be the natural suggestion that Buchan, a young actor three years out of RADA and already with a string of TV roles behind him, about to make his West End debut and become a household name on television, has more than a little something in common with The Man Who Had All The Luck. But, though he acknowledges the hand of fate, he feels that he has made a lot of his own luck. “I did work hard at auditions, and three years at RADA isn’t like a walk in the park. And then it takes a lot of sacrifices, giving certain things up in order to audition, in order to do a play, whatever it may be. I always say it’s a mish mash of both,” he concludes. “I think life’s a bit of what you make it and a little smidgen of you being the jellyfish and the tide’s just gently helping you along.”
However it has happened, Buchan now finds himself leading a cast on the stage of the prestigious Donmar Warehouse, following swiftly on the heels of a major production of Othello, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor, which sold out months in advance and saw fans scrambling for tickets online. “We all went and watched Othello together as a cast, which was quite daunting,” he smiles. “But it also feels that [The Man Who Had All The Luck] is going in with no expectation, you know, with little known actors really – very skilled and accomplished and experienced actors but no big names. That feels nice. It’s gonna be like, ‘what is this? It’s a Miller play so it must be alright.’”
He may be taking it all in his stride, but it is certainly a big step for Buchan, whose professional London stage credits to date are limited to Ship Of Fools at fringe venue Theatre503 and Laura Wade’s Posh, during the 2007 Rough Cuts season at the Royal Court. He has been on stage elsewhere, at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and the Edinburgh Fringe, but predominantly his post-RADA CV has focused on television. “I’ve always wanted to do theatre all the way along, and then TV comes along and you realise that might help to pay off the student loan,” he says.
It would have been hard to turn down the TV roles that came along, anyway. They have included St John Rivers in the BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre, Jem Hearne in the star-studded Elizabeth Gaskell serialisation Cranford and Scott Foster in the political drama series Party Animals. “The cast were superb,” he says of the latter. “It was a laugh, but very challenging at times. Lots of drunk scenes or tragic scenes or sex scenes; it threw everything at us. Some days it was a laugh and other days it was just like, wow, how am I going to do that.”
Buchan was joined in the cast of Party Animals by his RADA classmate Andrea Riseborough, who won the Ian Charleson Award in 2006 and starred in The Pain And The Itch at the Royal Court last year. Also in their graduating class of 2005 were David Dawson (Nicholas Nickleby) and Tom Hiddleston (Othello, Cymbeline), two of the three nominees in this year’s new category at the Laurence Olivier Awards, Best Newcomer in a Play.
With The Man Who Had All The Luck, Buchan seems about to consolidate his place among this group of exciting young actors who are making waves in Theatreland at the moment, and balance his TV credits out with the reason he went to RADA in the first place: theatre. “You go through three years of drama school, you can’t not want to do theatre, that’s what’s in your bones.”
Unlike some of his younger contemporaries at RADA, Buchan was in his mid-20s when he applied to the prestigious drama school, as he had already spent four years at university elsewhere – reading French and Spanish at Durham University. Though he had been interested in acting from an early age, growing up in Bolton, he was encouraged by his parents to get a degree first, as a back up. “I was also interested in languages, so I thought, well, maybe I should do that first and do acting stealthily on the side, and then go and audition for drama school, which is what I did.”
"I’ve always wanted to do theatre all the way along, and then TV comes along and you realise that might help to pay off the student loan"
As well as giving him the opportunity to spend seven months in France and a summer in Ecuador, Buchan’s first degree in Durham gave him a more mature attitude when he came down south for his second, at RADA. “The nice thing was I didn’t feel the need to get leathered every night, in fact I didn’t. And you couldn’t, because you’ve got a voice class first thing Monday morning, and the two don’t go. Whereas a lot of young lads, 18-year-olds, come along and… that’s uni for them, getting drunk and stuff, and that’s hard, you know, to balance it out.”
His time at Durham University has also influenced his acting. “Playing Posh at the Royal Court, well, I could choose any one from 15,000 people at Durham University to influence that part – little do they know!” he laughs. “There’s a very particular mentality. It’s an island of Southerners in the North who love to have a dig at Northerners. It’s like, check where you are, just check the geography before you start mouthing off.”
It is a gentle chiding, and Buchan says he has life-long friends from his time in Durham, two of whom helped keep his feet on the ground during his three years at RADA. “I lived with a stand up comic and an IT specialist in my first year, which was just brilliant, a tonic you know. I would come home one night in a bit of a muddle about a particular poem, how I could approach it, and they’d be like, shut up!”
Buchan doesn’t seem like a man who could let success go to his head anyway, and he is certainly not interested in pursuing the glitz of Hollywood just yet. “I’ve still got a lot of things to do over here first,” he says, naming the National Theatre and the Bush as other places he would like to work, as well as the Donmar. “I can’t wait to do those things first. I’ve been to LA, it’s horrible. Don’t waste your money on the flight.”
At the moment, Buchan seems to be getting more than enough opportunities to keep him in Britain, particularly with forthcoming ITV drama The Fixer poised to propel him to greater public recognition. This new drama series, created by Life On Mars makers Kudos, sees Buchan play John Mercer, an ex-special forces agent who is serving a double life sentence for killing his aunt and uncle, who had been abusing his sister. “Then he gets pulled out of prison by this guy, who says you can cut your sentence short right now – I’ll give you a home, you can go and see your sister – if you just do a couple of things.” Scottish actor Peter Mullan (My Name Is Joe) plays that man, the head of an unofficial hit squad, who gives Mercer the “big old moral”, as Buchan puts it, of becoming an assassin or languishing in jail.
“It was hard work, very hard,” says Buchan, who, with Mullan, stars alongside Liz White (Life On Mars), Tamzin Outhwaite (EastEnders, last year’s West End hit Boeing Boeing) and Jody Lee Latham (Shameless) in the drama. “Three months of assembling guns and fighting. I loved it. I met some amazing actors.”
He obviously enjoys television as much as theatre – even though he says doing TV has been “like learning an entirely new craft all over again” – and right now, in March 2008, it seems things are going swimmingly for Buchan in both. By April, he might have more than 21 online fans. You never know, maybe he is even in with a shot at being the next Doctor Who.
The Man Who Had All the Luck plays at the Donmar Warehouse from 28 February to 5 April, before going on a national tour.