After making his stage debut in Over There at the Royal Court theatre last year alongside his twin brother, Harry Treadaway talks to Charlotte Marshall about his reluctance to work with his brother anytime soon, the impressive lengths he goes to to prepare for a role and his utter confusion as to where his life would have lead had it not ended up in front of the cameras.
CV in brief
2005 Professional acting debut in independent film Brothers Of The Head
2007 Starred in TV drama Cape Wrath
2007 Appeared in the award-winning film Control
2008 Starred in City Of Ember, a children’s fantasy film with Tim Robbins and Bill Murray
2009 Appeared in BAFTA award-winning film Fish Tank
2009 Made stage debut alongside his twin brother Luke in Mark Ravenhill’s Over There at the Royal Court theatre
2010 Currently starring as Oswald Alving in Ghosts at the Duchess theatre
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a little village called Sandford in Devon.
What/who got you interested in acting?
I’d say a bit of both from how kids play make believe when they’re younger – I think that’s always fun – and then I had a great drama teacher at school who made it more exciting than maybe what normal secondary school theatre would have been. And the local arts centre as well which had a really great guy who ran that. To answer that truthfully I think there are so many influences in what you choose to do in your life so it’s really impossible [to answer], but having really good people around was beneficial, definitely.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to act professionally?
About 18. When I was deciding to go off to university I thought drama school sounded more fun than lots of writing!
Where did you train?
I went to LAMDA (The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art).
Was that a good experience?
It was, it was good, it was interesting. It’s a strange place to be with 28 people for three years all wanting to do the same thing, it can be quite a pressure cooker of tension. But there were some really great times and some not so great times, but it was fun.
What was your first acting role?
The first one really was Brothers Of The Head which was a film about two conjoined twins and I did that between the first and second year. And then I did a Miss Marple between the second and third year. The first thing I did when I actually left was a TV drama with Lesley Sharp, who is now playing my mother!
Doing Brothers Of The Head must have been a very intense role, especially as you were working with your twin brother. How did you prepare for it?
We just tried to approach it in a way that we wanted to be as prepared as possible – the same as any role – to play it as truthfully as possible and so to find as many ways to experience what it would be like to be joined to someone else, so that’s what we did really. Luckily we had a pair of amazing directors, they were really encouraging us to do a lot of work before we started so we did a lot of work on all aspects of their life, history and physicality and stuff.
You worked with your brother at the Royal Court as well, is that something you would like to do again?
I’m not in a rush to do it again to be honest. But those two projects had such an attraction for me individually that it didn’t really matter if he was involved as well. They just came up – they were four years apart anyway – so maybe again in five years I don’t know, it’s not something I’m going to rush to do.
A number of your past projects have involved music. Is that something you’re particularly interested in?
I love music but I’ve had no influence in my career more than saying yes or no to a job and most of the time it’s been saying yes, so I’ve just been blessed to have worked on some things. If a film comes up that has a whole other angle than just a drama then that’s just really exciting and I’ve been really lucky to do that.
Control was such a fantastic experience. It’s every boys dream; it’s the closest you’re ever going to get to being in Joy Division, one of the most incredible bands ever I think. So that was just luck, but I do love music, like most people I’m sure. I learnt to play drums for that [Control] which was good. I went to my mate’s house for a weekend and learnt how to play drum music and then went off and had a couple of weeks to practise, which was a good ten hours a day because there were 10 tracks to learn for it, so I just got my head down and went for it, there’s nothing like a shooting schedule!
How is the show going?
I don’t want to jinx it in any way shape or form but it’s going in the right direction I suppose, it’s growing every night, it’s changing and it’s bedding in. These are all such crap terms but that is kind of what’s happening! It’s a fascinating play I’m not going to get bored of it I can tell you that. It’s such a huge drama of ideas on a really personal level and on a philosophical level, there’s humour and pain and secrets and lies and agony and all in one thing. It’s a jagged kind of beautiful piece, I feel really honoured to be able to be a part of it especially with the people; the other actors who are in it have all been incredible.
Can you tell me a bit about your character?
He’s been living away from home from about seven-years-old at boarding schools in Rome and Paris. At about 16 he decided he wanted to be an artist and he never came home from 16 onwards because his father was ill and his mother was trying to hide this from him. So he went off to Paris and became an artist and did quite well and two years before the start of the play he experiences a fit and goes to the doctor and finds out he’s got a disease in his brain which is going to affect his central nervous system – which we now know is syphilis – and he’s going to end up in a vegetative state. So he goes home and because his whole bag is that life is such an incredible thing, we are all so lucky to just be alive, even just for one day, for one moment, and the idea of being alive but not being able to live your life fully is so scary and horrific for him, he needs to find someone to end it when that time comes.
He’s a bit of a punk really, going back to Norway in this Presbyterian, dreary, God fearing community and he’s got tales of Paris and love and light hope and beauty and that is so at odds with the local community. He’s exciting, he’s a progressive really.
Did you do anything to prepare for the role?
Well I contracted syphilis… no I didn’t really!
I started oil painting, which has been brilliant; I haven’t really painted since school so that’s great. And read a lot of philosophers of the time, Marx and Nietzsche, who came out about 10 years or so before Ibsen wrote it, so he talks about these different writings which are starting to influence Mrs Alvins’s thoughts and stuff.
I’ve been reading an awful lot about syphilis and what it can do to the central nervous system and the brain. It’s a scary disease. It was nicknamed the great deceiver because it’s so hard to diagnose…it’s absolutely horrific. Reading about this allows you to make his journey as jagged and probably seemingly illogical from the outside, and definitely from the inside. They talk about how thoughts would just fly around like butterflies, there’s no linear thought process, things can just come from nowhere. So how do you play that? I don’t know, you just go for it.
You have worked more on film than on stage; do you prefer one medium to the other?
I’m new to the stage really. I feel that this is my – in some respects – first play in a way, it’s the first proper old drama [I’ve done]. There’s an essence within both mediums which is exactly the same. It’s about telling a story and trying to get inside another person’s body and mind and tell that story, but the actual doing of it is so different obviously. It’s almost like the difference between doing a live gig and making an album. To make an album you put the strings down, you can put a percussion part in, then there’s someone producing it and you’ve got time to work on it. With a live gig, great bands rehearse for ages and then they go and do it live every night, and strings can break but that can be the most interesting bit and you get feedback. The rush is ridiculous, it’s exciting, really exciting.
Is the adrenaline rush the best thing about being on stage?
Yes probably. Also the fact that you’re there, no-one’s saying “Can you just look to the left of the camera and pretend that you’re actually looking at someone.” There’s something a lot more false about the stage, but also something more real because, you are sweating, you are crying, you are holding your mother and asking her to help you. I just have massive amounts of respect for both of them equally.
And the worst?
I don’t think there is a worst thing! It’s just doing it every night until May… keeping it fresh and always imagining it’s happening for the first time.
What are you most proud of?
I am lucky because I’ve got a real respect and appreciation for everything I’ve done so far, even if it’s a tiny little thing. Miss Marple for example, I learnt a lot, I think you learn from every job and every job’s different. Fish Tank, to be a part of that was something I was very proud of because I think [director] Andrea Arnold is one of the most exciting, brilliant film makers at the moment. I watched her first film Red Road and saw her talking on the DVD afterwards and thought “if I can work with one person in the next three years it will be her”, and then a year later I’m meeting her.
If you weren’t an actor you would be….
I’d be an apple (Laughs). I don’t know! A director? I think I would probably. Maybe a jack of all trades, I’d have fingers in pies!