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Jack Davenport

Published 17 April 2008

Jack Davenport, the deep-voiced heart-throb of cult BBC2 series This Life and Coupling, is currently starring in the one man riches to rags tale How To Lose Friends And Alienate People at the Soho Theatre. Matthew Amer caught up with him to try a few of his own alienation and friend losing techniques while simultaneously attempting to conduct an interview…

“It’s basically about failure. Toby Young, who was working on lots of eminent newspapers got himself a job at Vanity Fair, which is one of the most lavish, sexiest magazines in the world. It was the journalistic equivalent of getting the call from Hollywood. So he went out there with high hopes and completely f****d it up from the word go. It’s just basically one man’s descent down a food chain of sorts, until he becomes fish food himself.”

The show is a one man affair, with Davenport playing a number of different characters in the course of the evening. All alone on stage without the aid of the human safety net otherwise known as a supporting cast; that has got to be scary: “At this point I’m pretty terrified. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and hopefully it will pay off. The nature of these kind of things is that, until you open, they’re very much a work in progress. I know one could say that about any production but if you were doing Three Sisters or something like that, at least you’d have a script that you knew had worked before.” It all sounds very stressful, not knowing what will happen, whether you will be any good… “I did it because I hoped it would be fun, but one has to get over that hump of doing it in front of an audience and that will naturally be pretty bloody terrifying”.

“All the words are his, they’re just sometimes in a slightly different order”

Toby Young, the author of the book on which the play is based, is currently the theatre critic for The Spectator. If the magazine’s editorial team have any sense of fun or are as evil and twisted as most editors tend to be, he will surely be sent to review the production. “I’ve got no worries about him seeing it”. Davenport’s dark-chocolate covered tonsils are momentarily flavoured with a hint of the blasé. “If you’re going to hand your life over like that you’d better be prepared to take the consequences. I personally wouldn’t do it.” With a phrase reminiscent of the late, great Eric Morecombe he finishes “all the words are his, they’re just sometimes in a slightly different order.”

Although Davenport was born to acting parents, Maria Aitken and Nigel Davenport, it was only through sporting ineptitude – harsh but true – that he turned to acting. “I wasn’t good enough to make it into big teams. So the only way to get the attention of anyone else in the school was to be in a play, because everyone else is forced to sit in a room and look at you… and from there my egomania was born!” If he had egomania at school, imagine what has happened now with the success of This Life and his Hollywood debut in The Talented Mr Ripley. “It has built ever since. It’s now megalomania. I don’t know what comes after that.” Autotheism, the belief that you are a god? Davenport’s self-deprecating antics prove that his success have not inflated his ego to God-like proportions.

"Do you know, I think we’re defining a decade here."

Davenport’s big break, other than playing the angel Gabriel in the school nativity, was undoubtedly the sex-lawyers-nudity-sex-sex-nudity-lawyers cocktail that made up 90s TV sensation This Life. The series has been described as the show which defined a decade but did the cast, which included Davenport, Andrew Lincoln and Daniela Nardini, realise the impact it would have at the time? “My standard answer to this type of question…” Zzzzzzzzz. Standard answer? Give us something more interesting and exciting. “What kind of egos would we have if we were sitting there going ‘Do you know, I think we’re defining a decade here.’ Despite all the wars that were going on all over the world, here we are on a small programme on BBC2 about lawyers, and we’re where it’s at. No, we didn’t think that at all.”

Davenport’s description of his many roles – “I only ever play losers or idiots” – does not sit well with his long and varied list of credits which include stints in radio, theatre, television and film, with productions ranging from Shakespeare through the BBC sitcom to Hollywood blockbusters. His career reads like a one man mission against type-casting. “If you do something and it proves to be a success, then people go ‘get him to do that type of thing again, but only slightly different’. Either you do that or you go ‘No! I want to play a leprous, lesbian dwarf from Guatemala!’ But those parts just aren’t coming to me.”

"I want to play a leprous, lesbian dwarf from Guatemala!"

Having had two hit television series in This Life and the twenty-something sitcom and British answer to Friends, Coupling, Davenport is now setting his sights on the glittering prize of Hollywood. He has already appeared alongside Jude Law and Matt Damon in identity stealing thriller The Talented Mr Ripley and will soon be seen wreaking havoc on the high seas with Johnny Depp in Pirates Of The Caribbean. Yet according to the mighty oracle that is the internet (so it must be true) he is one member of The League Of Obscure British Actors along with other unknown thespians such as Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom. “We revel in our obscurity. I can see how I could be a part of The League Of Obscure British Actors, but not those two. I love obscurity.” Hmmm. An actor… who loves obscurity… could that pesky Mr Davenport be toying with us… “What do you think? Of course I don’t! I’m not a rabid self-publicist – he said doing an interview. But it’s only coz they made me!”

Davenport has now spent a concentrated period of time playing someone who has upset and offended a great many people. Has he used the time wisely and picked up a few tips? “Just an unadulterated diet of insensitivity and rudeness will normally see you right in that respect. I think if you asked most people then that’s what they’d say.” And have any of the many stars he has worked with used this flawless technique on Davenport to lose him as a friend and alienate him as a person? “Do you honestly think I would answer that question?” He seems to have seen through the clever phraseology, how could that have happened? “The true answer is no, but even if there was I wouldn’t answer that question. [In dumbed-down voice] ‘Yes, this is my chance to slag off X, Y and Z!’ Na, not gonna happen mate, but I applaud your subtle approach.”

Jack Davenport: cultured good looks, silky 'deeper than a philosophical discussion group on a submarine' voice, versatile actor and sharp enough to spot the hidden trick question in the most cunning of interviews. What question would he ask himself that would reveal something groundbreaking to the world? A personal peek into his world and what really matters to him. “Boxers or Y-fronts!” And the answer to one of the most insightful question known to mankind? “Nothing! Isn’t that a high level of Socratic dialogue we’ve managed to achieve?”

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