Q&A: Henry Goodman

Published September 17, 2013

When I interviewed a young actor appearing alongside Henry Goodman in his last London appearance in The Winslow Boy at the Old Vic, the 16-year-old enthused about how it was to work with a leading man who was both formidably accomplished on stage and brilliantly fun off of it; a fact cemented by the sounds of Goodman’s roaring laughter as he sat eating lunch outside our interviewing room.

With the actor now about to star in the critically acclaimed Chichester Festival Theatre’s West End transfer of The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui, we decided to discover more about both Goodman’s theatrical experience and off stage persona with our probing Q&A, happily concluding he is in fact resolutely serious about his profession while also being up for a dressing room Jaffa Cake challenge once in a while.

Here he talks to us about the delicate proposition of playing a character paralleled with history’s most notoriously evil political leader, the unsociability life as an actor can regretfully demand and what it feels like to have been nominated for an impressive eight Olivier Awards.

Describe your character in The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui.
Arturo Ui is a very rough diamond who can’t cut it so he uses his badly chipped, savagely sharp mind to prove he can.

Did you expect the production to be the success it has been and transfer to the West End?
No. It’s very rare for a Brecht play to come to the West End, but I was aflame with confidence that the staging could be very arresting and it’s also valuable in political pertinence.

What appealed to you about playing a character with parallels to Adolf Hitler?
The parallel life of Arturo Ui is Hitler and this is the political bite and intention of the play. It is a duty to embrace this to make the play work. As a Jew I feel discomfort but a real sense of purpose in getting the balance right. The very personal statement at the end of the play can be devastating for the audience, but that’s why Brecht wrote the play and that’s why I am doing it.

What first sparked your interest in performing?
I looked round and realised I was doing it. I was transformed by doing Shakespeare’s King John “heat me these irons hot” at a school prize giving aged 10 – this was in a remarkably tough East End School.  The headmistress, Miss Parry, could see I had a passion and innate love of reaching out to the whole class but under the guise of being someone else. Then I directed Love From Judy with a cast of 40 for a local youth club in Whitechapel.

I was cast in my first film age 10; my brother and I were picked by a casting scout from Pinewood Studios. I spent weeks in Surrey (made to look as though it was Italy) being made up and watching Jane Mansfield and the Carry On film actors pass by. Of course [there was] no way back for me after that!

I started training properly at Toynbee Hall from the age of 14 with Jean Robinson at the lovely Curtain Theatre & Studio Theatre. We also received voice and movement training from teachers at LAMDA and Rose Bruford School who came in to do very good work with us keen East End amateurs.

Who or what has inspired you?
Talking to Michael Blakemore who gave me his [George] Tabori version of the play, which I shared with Jonathan Church. It revealed the rich potential for comedy and political engagement in the play. Jonathan and I bonded very fruitfully and realised the funny dialogue, danger and lucid insight into corruption that enables fascism to prosper meant we could make the production special. Jonathan and Gabrielle Dawes assembled a fabulous acting company and creative team including Matthew Scott, Tim Mitchell and Mike Walker who honed a lethal lithe chariot of a production.

You’ve won Olivier Awards for roles in both straight theatre and a musical. Which genre of performing do you prefer?
I love range as an actor and have been blessed with range. The key for me is to avoid indulging in facility. The eight Olivier nominations are special for me because I feel I aspired to raise my bar in each new genre, play and musical. Lucky me.

What is the favourite role you’ve ever played?
My favourite role is always the one I haven’t done yet! However, exhausting as it is, I can honestly say Arturo Ui is a hot contender.

What is the finest performance you have ever seen?
Whenever the actors’ innate and un-disguisable true muse is flowing with and through the context of the play, character and production I get a thrill. It’s very rare and requires courage, taste and humility.

If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
I could play Robert De Niro’s brother in a film about his long lost British twin.

Do you have any regrets?
My only regret is my intense focus and dedication to theatre and its discipline has meant I’ve not nurtured better time with my family. My son Ilan is an actor and documentary film maker, my daughter Carla is a theatre designer and my wife Sue is an Artistic Director for a dance company, so they do all understand though.

What is your favourite memory from performing in The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui so far?
Being squeezed into the Minerva wig cupboard (my dressing room) with Jes my dresser, Claire the hair wizardess and Luke the props man, wearing my Arturo Ui underpants & sock suspenders doing tattoos on my limbs! All this while Piccadilly Circus passed by the door.

Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
Any sacrifice is offset by reward, they are connected!  But not taking enough holidays, especially family holidays, without a script to learn.

What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
My wife’s freckles.

What could you not be without?
Listening to the company dressing room banter and Jaffa Cake challenge. The record is five in 32 seconds!

Do you have a pre-show routine or any rituals?
Pre-show stretches, a gentle warm-up and a little moan about my aches on a matinee day!

Where do you head after a performance?
Usually home, but a quiet meal with good folks is occasionally a joy.

What ambitions would you like to fulfil?
I’d love a man-cave of my own with wood working tools and a great sound system.

What do you look for when taking a role?
A role that liberates something in myself so I can liberate it in others.

Why should people come to see this show?
People should see The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui because the production is an affirmation of theatre’s power. It’s gripping, inventive, funny, upsetting and challenging.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I’d be an architect.