Alex Ferns is currently starring in Laurie Slade’s haunting adaptation of August Strindberg’s The Father, wowing audiences with his intense, harrowing and explosive performance as its central character, the tormented Captain.
To find out more about his journey from starring in EastEnders to harnessing the stage, we caught up with Ferns and challenged him to our revealing Q&A. From a love of napping with his pet cat to an interest in spiritual enlightenment, we discovered a very different character from the aggressive personas he has become famous for portraying.
Read on to discover why he channels Jack Nicholson for every role he plays, how working with emerging director Abbey Wright was both wonderful and challenging, and which British theatrical titan he would most like to see looking back at him from the audience.
What drew you to this production?
The Father is the first Strindberg play that I have ever done, so that at first. I was intrigued when I read the play and after reading Laurie Slade’s adaptation I just couldn’t say no, I felt I had to do it.
Describe your character in six words.
Funny, paranoid, bossy, childlike, insane, naive.
Much of the play sees him struggle with his role as a father. Does your own experience as a father have an impact on how you have approached the role?
Yes I guess it has, not least in the sense of how protective you are over your children.
Your co-star Emily Dobbs is also a producer on the show. How does that affect the cast dynamics?
It doesn’t really. Emily is really good at separating the producing and acting sides. When she’s on stage she’s all about the acting and that’s really incredibly refreshing.
The production is directed by rising star Abbey Wright. How have you found the experience of working with her?
The experience of working with Abbey has been really wonderful and also very challenging! She doesn’t let you rest on your laurels at all, she pushes us constantly to do the best possible job – you have to be on your top game! She is very special and has a way of getting actors to do things that they normally wouldn’t do or try which is exhilarating. She also has a great eye for design
What first sparked your interest in performing?
I have been performing since I was 11. I’m not sure what started it as there are no other actors in my family, it’s just always been something that I have done and wanted to do more of. I did a lot of plays at school when I was young and then I just carried on. I went to university and studied acting and now here I am. I’ve always been really passionate about acting.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
Luckily I’ve already done that! True West was the play I always wanted to do; it was the first play I read at drama school and I got to play Lee who I’d always wanted to play. The director Phillip Breen was amazing, and to top the experience off Sam Shepard himself came to see it.
What is the finest performance you have seen?
For me it’s Jack Nicholson in the film of The Shining. And also Eugene O’Hare in True West. Eugene played opposite me and he was phenomenal. He’s the best actor I’ve worked with and seen on stage.
Stage or screen?
Stage, nothing beats it. When we’re running The Father, you feel you’ve got the audience in the palm of your hand. That’s an amazing feeling.
Who or what has inspired you?
Once again, probably Jack Nicholson in The Shining. My dad was a fan of his as well and I remember seeing it on a video cassette, back in the day, and it just blew my mind. He is always in every performance I do.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
It’s not a steady job, there’s no regular income so sometimes you struggle. So in that sense, I guess it would be a sacrifice. But I wouldn’t take any of it back, not many people can say that.
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
My kids, without a doubt.
What do you do when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
I hang out with my kids, playing rugby or I play golf. Or I lie on my bed with my cat for a long time, I love that. Having a nap next to your cat is the best thing ever.
What one book, film and album would you recommend to our readers?
The album: Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas because it’s beautiful and haunting.
The book: Perfect Brilliant Stillness. It changed my life. You have to read it to understand. It throws all our conceptions about life into the bin.
The film: I would have to say The Shining again because Jack Nicholson pushes acting to the edge of what you can do in front of the camera.
What is the best bit of advice you could pass on to an actor starting out on their career?
If you really want to do it – and you’ll know in your heart – then never give up and just keep going. Things always come up and everyone gets their time in the sun.
What could you not be without?
My wife and my kids.
What is your proudest moment so far?
When my boys were born. My ultimate theatrical production right there.
Who would you most like to come and see The Father?
Kenneth Branagh. I just did Wallander with him. I find it hard not be like a kid in front of him, he’s my hero. That would really make my day.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
A professional golfer. It’s the best sport in the world.
"When we’re running The Father, you feel you’ve got the audience in the palm of your hand. That’s an amazing feeling."