As he takes to the stage in transatlantic drama The Faith Machine at the Royal Court, Kyle Soller talks to Caroline Bishop about his own decision to cross the pond and become an American in London.
CV in brief
2008 Graduates from RADA
2008 Appears in The Beautiful People at Finborough theatre
2010 (Sep) Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley in Northampton
2010 (Nov) Jim in The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic
2011 Returns to the Young Vic in The Government Inspector
2011 Plays Tom in The Faith Machine at the Royal Court
Where did you grow up?
I was born in a place called Bridgeport, Connecticut. I lived there until I was about five years old and then my folks moved down to a place called Alexandria, Virginia, which is just outside [Washington] DC.
When did you get interested in acting?
I guess it’s my step-mum’s fault. She put me in musicals when I was eight or nine. I was playing Jack in Jack And Jill and I had two lines; I delivered them with conviction! I think it stuck, somehow, miraculously. I liked it. I’ve got four brothers and being in the centre of them and making everyone laugh, that’s kind of how I got into acting.
If you couldn’t be an actor, what else would you be?
A sculptor. I think I have an obsessive personality in a way because if I get interested in something I tend to fixate on it and focus on it and ignore everything else, which probably isn’t a very good idea creatively, because other things help influence your creativity. Art and theatre were my really big things in high school and I let art go.
Why did you come here to train?
I guess I wanted a lot of things. I was doing a university degree in the States and I had left acting and was focusing on academia because I thought that’s what I should do. It was a really s**t idea and I got really depressed. I was doing Art History and Spanish. In a castigating way I thought ‘let’s see if I can deal without acting’ (and art, which I was really passionate about as well). It was a great gauntlet to go through because it made me realise that’s exactly what I wanted to do. So I came over and did a summer school at RADA and was just blown away by the city and by conservatory training. Maybe it was an easy way out for not finishing my degree. I think I wanted to escape; I think I wanted to test myself; I think I wanted to have really good fish and chips! I wanted to find myself again. I was at a point where I had been pleasing a lot of people and doing stuff that was expected of me, and then got to a crossroads where I just said ‘I’m not happy doing this’, and I needed an ocean of separation to find myself again. It was scary but pretty awesome at the same time. That’s when cool things really happen, right? When you don’t know if it’s the right choice and you don’t know if you’ll succeed.
Were your family supportive?
Incredibly. I guess they realised I was passionate about it. I can’t really figure out what I need to do to make it up to them. But I’m going to figure it out and buy them two of whatever it is!
What was it like being an American at RADA?
It was cool. I’m sure they liked the amount of money that I was giving to them! But it was weird because it was still close to 2001; it was only 2005 and being an American was not cool. People associate a person from a country with the political ideology of that country. You kind of have to work a bit harder I guess, and maybe I knew that in a way and maybe that’s why I wanted to come over here.
I really wanted to come over because of the training everyone has over here. There’s a remarkable stage ethic. It was up and down, it was full of so many different experiences; happiness and sadness and anger and pleasure and everything I could have wanted. It was great. I met amazing people. The friends that I made were – are – great people.
What was your first professional job post-RADA?
I did this great little play called The Beautiful People by William Saroyan, who is an incredible writer. It was at the Finborough theatre. I think it’s an incredible theatre, it does so much overlooked work, and new stuff as well.
You went on to do two shows at the Young Vic. Did that feel like your big break?
I think so, yeah. Doing a really beautiful piece like The Glass Menagerie and then having a little break and coming back and doing The Government Inspector, which was just bonkers… it definitely felt like a step up. It felt like a lot of responsibility in a way, which was great.
Is it daunting being the least experienced in a company?
That’s exactly the thing, because everyone in The Government Inspector was much older than me. I was a 27 year-old kid doing this part that in Russia is considered the Hamlet of their literature. So it was terrifying! But amazing because the whole entire cast was brilliant. [Director] Richard Jones is brilliant. It didn’t feel like something that couldn’t be accomplished. It was just a great creative experience where everyone was allowed to be bonkers.
Does that suit you?
I grew up idolising Robin Williams so I think that’s probably seeped in, in some way, for better or worse! I like testing what is allowed and what’s acceptable.
How does it feel to be at the Royal Court now?
Amazing. I can’t really believe it. It’s a dream to be there. I idolised the Court when I came over here and heard about it. Its history is incredible. I think the play is absolutely beautiful. So to be a part of it is actually pretty humbling.
The Faith Machine references 9/11. Where were you when it happened?
I was in History class, second period, at high school. A teacher came in and spoke to our teacher. We turned on the television and watched the second plane go in. Madness. This play has forced us all to look back, because it takes place between 1998 and 2011. What you were like back then and the experiences you had and the feelings you felt. I didn’t really know what had happened. I think everybody in America felt like they were personally being attacked and I don’t know that I felt that, but I felt it was a huge turning point of what we all believed in, and that’s what the play addresses: what you believe in, if you can believe in an ideology, a faith, or capitalism, love, and what that means, at what cost.
Tell me about your character, Tom.
He’s an American, a New Yorker. He is an aspiring novelist who then goes into writing for advertising companies to try to earn some money and provide for himself and his girlfriend. She has been doing some research on who he does ad work for and one of them is a really big bad pharmaceutical company. He doesn’t feel like he has a personal responsibility towards what the pharmaceutical company does with his words and how it promotes their image. He doesn’t feel that’s his problem, which it is. People should feel culpable for those things. She forces him to make a decision between her and the company, and he’s become so seduced by that lifestyle and about pleasing people and doing a good job that he chooses the company. The brilliant thing about Alexi [Kaye Campbell, the playwright] is that he forces people to understand that the personal choices they make on a daily basis have global ramifications. So no choice is mundane and simple. It’s a tough one because the journey for Tom is pretty massive. He goes from being idealistic and a writer, somebody who has incredible promise, and having the absolute love of his life say ‘choose me for the job’, and he chooses the f**king job. He deals with that for a decade and then hopefully has a moment of redemption with himself and with his lady.
9/11 is in there, because I think it’s something that was such a massive act that it’s trickled through into the everyday part of our lives, we don’t actually realise. So it uses that as a great big starting place for the entire play, and the characters follow that fall out in a way. It takes place in New York, London and Greece, so it’s got a real global feel and scope.
Do you have the same perspective as the Brits in the cast, being American?
Yeah I think so. That might be from me being over here for a while and getting used to a European temperament and global perspective, but that’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to come, to get away from the American perspective.
So you made the right decision coming here?
Well, yeah. In doing that I met the love of my life, my wife. She’s a beautiful talented actress, Phoebe Fox. It was a RADA romance. So I feel like it was absolutely the best decision to make. I think I realised exactly where I was supposed to be, and however long that lasts that we’re here is great, but for right now, it’s pretty awesome.