David Hayman

Published August 3, 2011

I find most interviews enjoyable. Some are hard work. Very occasionally an interview comes along that inspires me and encourages me to change my life. David Hayman was one of those, writes Matthew Amer.

It didn’t begin well. Not that this was Hayman’s fault. When it started going wrong, he was still in a rehearsal room at the Jerwood Space, polishing up his performance in the new Donmar Warehouse production of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, in which he stars opposite Jude Law and Ruth Wilson.

No, he had no idea that on one of this summer’s rare scorching hot days, I had casually sauntered half way to the interview, realised I’d forgotten my Dictaphone, run back to the office to collect it then headed into the subterranean torture sauna known as the tube to make up the time I had lost. When I arrived for the interview, I was an out-of-breath, sweaty mess, as flustered as a flock of headless chickens, and late.

Hayman, giving up his own time to talk to this be-suited puddle of unpunctual nonsense, couldn’t be nicer, and even checks to see if anyone has offered me a drink. But, as endearing as amiability is, that is not what inspired me.

As we settle into our chat about the show, Hayman’s excitement shines like a beacon. The play, he says, is a “good, old-fashioned four-act drama with a beginning, two middles and an end. The characters are not sophisticated people, they’re just ordinary working people. They’re not intellectual. They’re not cerebral. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They spin on a sixpence. They can be angry one minute, emotional and in tears the next, happy the next. There’s no guile or sophistication about them. There’s no game playing with them, and it’s wonderful to be able to do that. You have to come at it in a different way. It’s a very physical, emotional approach to these characters. They express themselves through their bodies, through their voices, through their mannerisms and it’s great fun to be able to do that. I think Jude personifies that better than any of us. He doesn’t even walk like [his character], he doesn’t even look like him. He’s this beast. When he comes on stage, it is such a muscular, sinewy, visceral, animal presence he has. He does things with his body that you just think ‘Wow’. I think he’s going to take people’s breath away.”

“When [Jude Law] comes on stage, it is such a muscular, sinewy, visceral, animal presence he has”

If I wasn’t already struggling with my own oxygen intake, my breath may have been taken away by the sheer energy and verve with which Hayman describes the piece. He plays a seaman whose estranged daughter returns to him only to fall in love with a sailor and reveal that the safe, cared-for life her father thought she was living was distinctly less comfortable. It is, as Hayman says, a raw, emotional piece that has brought him back to the London stage for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Hayman displays more vigour than you would expect from a performer whose absence from the London stage was self-imposed because he “got very disenamoured (sic) of London audiences”. As he saw it, the capital’s auditoria were packed with other actors, agents, casting directors, directors, producers, writers and not very many members of the general public. “The theatre industry seemed to exist for itself, self-perpetuating and preaching to the converted.” At the time, Hayman was also Artistic Director of left-wing Scottish agit-prop theatre company 7:84, whose audiences, he found, were “more honest and less cynical than they seemed to be in London”.

Yet there is not the merest seasoning of cynicism or worry about his West End return. Instead, he saw the play as too good a text and too good a part to turn down, especially as it presented him with the opportunity to show another side to him than “that Glaswegian cop in an Armani suit prancing around in front of a camera,” as he refers to his recurring role as Detective Chief Superintendent Mike Walker in Lynda La Plante’s TV crime drama Trial And Retribution, a role he played between 1997 and 2009.

A decade as a TV cop, he thinks, muddies people’s minds to his credits in films such as The Jackal and The Tailor Of Panama, or his 10 years working as a classical actor with the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, performing a different production every three weeks for 10 months of the year and touring the world.

In fact, as his time with the Citz came to an end, he was approached by the Royal Shakespeare Company to play some of the Bard’s biggest roles. He turned them down. “How many people say no to Hamlet at the RSC?” he asks, without expecting an answer which, I presume, would be ‘very few’. “But I’d played it twice in my 10 years at the Citz, why would I want to come and play it for Japanese and American tourists at Stratford? That’s no disrespect to the RSC. At that time Glasgow Citz was extraordinary and innovative and we were pushing the boundaries. It was genuinely exciting. Going to see any of the RSC pieces I’d seen, they were like museum pieces dusted down. They’ve changed since those days. They definitely have. They’ve got a completely new dynamic and it’s a different ballgame. I just thought they were a bit staid and boring in those days and thought ‘How can I go from one of the most innovative theatre companies in the country, if not in Europe, and go and do a boring version of Hamlet?’ I couldn’t have done it. I would have gone crazy.”

“[Acting] made my heart sing more than anything else I’d ever attempted in my life”

This actor, who turned down one of the most prestigious theatre companies in the world, did not even begin acting until he left school. There were no school productions or after-school clubs, no trips to the theatre, bar the annual excursion to the panto that his family, who lived in the infamous Drumchapel region of Glasgow – described by fellow resident Billy Connolly as a “desert with windows” – always found money for.

The story of his move into acting, which, he says, “very few people believe”, tells of a 16-year-old Hayman, who was kicked out of school and went to work at the steelyard with his father. One evening, clad in a grease-spattered boiled suit, he hopped off the bus, strode into the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and proclaimed that he wanted to be an actor. The rest, as in all the best stories, is history, though it took around 10 years and an acclaimed performance as Jimmy Boyle in TV film A Sense Of Freedom for his father to fully accept his son’s decision.

“It made my heart sing more than anything else I’d ever attempted in my life,” Hayman says of his first foray into acting. When he talks about returning to the stage, I’m convinced none of that passion has been lost. “This is completely different from telly or film. It’s why I’m an actor. It’s why most actors act. Performing before a live audience is one of the greatest joys. It’s the best drug in the world. No drug can beat it. The adrenalin is pumping through you and the sense of elation when you come off and you know you’ve hit it, you’ve had the audience there and you made them laugh or cry or provoked them or challenged them in some way; that’s the life blood of any performing artist.”

Did you get a lump in your throat reading that explanation of what it is like to perform? Did your heart beat a little bit faster? In person, I did, but that’s not what inspired me either.

Many performers and celebrities attach themselves to good causes in their spare time. But Hayman, amid working and raising a family, set up his own charity, Spirit Aid, which runs humanitarian projects for children and young people across the globe.

“I think the world’s going to hell on a banana skin, faster than we can blink”

“I think the world’s going to hell on a banana skin, faster than we can blink,” Hayman begins, when I ask what drove him to take such a step. “Every two seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies of hunger; every 17 seconds from lack of water. We go to war at the drop of a hat. The gap between rich and poor is getting greater. We’ve got child workers, child slaves, child prostitutes and child soldiers.

“The Sioux nation have a proverb that says ‘We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children’. I thought ‘Okay, I’ve got three sons, what state is the world going to be in when I hand it back to my kids. Sorry guys, it’s a pile of s**t, I couldn’t really be bothered… No, you can’t do that. We, as a race, on this fragile planet, have got to the point in our evolution where we all have to become engaged in helping to create the kind of world we all said we wish to live in.

“I’m sure you would agree that you would like to live in a world of peace and of justice and of truth and safety, and health and education for our kids. If damn near 99% of six billion people on Earth want that, why don’t we have it? We don’t have it because we sit on our arses and do nothing. We wrap ourselves in bubbles of apathy and tut tut at a TV screen saying ‘Isn’t that shocking, how we can do that?’ So I decided to be more proactive and that was the genesis of Spirit Aid.”

Any thoughts that such idealism is easy for an actor with time on his hands and money from film and TV projects in his pocket should be dismissed, as setting up the charity left him bankrupt – “it’s really tough when you’ve got three kids and you nearly lose your house” – but the situations he had already seen and the projects that were already achieving kept him going. “We’re keeping thousands of kids alive every year; we’re feeding them, we’re clothing them, we’re educating them, we’re bringing safety, giving them opportunities. Once you start, you can’t stop. It’s a fantastic feeling knowing you’re making a difference.”

Now that is truly inspiring.

MA

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