Best known as a stand-up comedian and panel show guest, Rufus Hound takes to the Soho stage in Utopia this week. The collaborative project, written by a host of authors from playwrights Anthony Neison and Simon Stephens to MP Chi Onwurah, leaves dystopian visions to the cynics and explores what the world could be like if humankind was both human and kind.
Official London Theatre quizzed Hound and discovered a technophile fast-food lover with a couple of influential teachers:
What made you choose to try theatre?
I don’t really feel like I’m ‘trying’ theatre. I went to a school called Frensham Heights between the ages of 13 to 16 and was basically a kid who lived in the drama block. All I did when I was there was read plays, write plays, rehearse, paint flats… all under the tutelage of the most brilliant drama teacher, David Proudlock. He drilled us in the fundamentals of stagecraft so whilst I appreciate that I am a long, long way behind in my theatrical education, it feels a lot less like ‘trying’ and more like ‘returning home to’.
What attracted you to the show?
Steve Marmion. At the point we all signed on there was no script. There were a bunch of ideas and promises, but it was Steve describing the kind of piece he wanted to make that enthused us all. It’s high concept with plenty of low art, yet with a real sense of politics and purpose. He talked about Utopia in the same way that David Proudlock taught me Oh! What A Lovely War! and so from that moment, I was in.
What sparked your interest in performing?
I emerged from the womb singing the theme from The Muppets. Noticing everyone was smiling approvingly, my destiny was set. I would imagine that’s roughly the same for every performer isn’t it? Some foul need to have the demonstrated appreciation of amassed strangers. Awful.
Who or what has inspired you?
David Proudlock, unsurprisingly, but a few teachers before that. Larry Hershon my old English teacher, Jim Henson, Kevin Smith, Bill Hicks, Stewart Lee, Andy Nyman, Mork And Mindy… there’s a lot of things that inspire me. That way I feel I can spread the blame for what they’ve inspired.
What is the finest performance you have seen?
Mark Rylance in Jerusalem. I think he bypassed all notions of acting and bee-lined to some sort of wizardry or voodoo. I have never felt I know a pretend person as well as I knew Rooster. Utterly magical.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in, who would you cast, who would direct and what would it be?
I’d cast exactly the right people, the director would be the one with all the Oliviers on their mantel and it would be both critically acclaimed and massively profitable.
What do you consider your big break?
I don’t really think I’ve had my ‘big’ break yet. After your big break you have to sustain. I’d like to think I’m still growing, especially when it comes to being an actor. I’ve done some things and people have seen me do them, but I’ve been relatively careful not to be too known for any one thing. After that, I worry that you’re very limited in what people allow you to do.
Have you made any sacrifices for the sake of your career?
I’m currently in Newcastle, where I have been for three weeks, having not seen my beautiful wife or two toddler children for two of those, earning less than my mortgage. I haven’t had a proper holiday (where I haven’t had work to do) for three years. I’ve missed my best friends stag do. And any actor reading this just said “Boo f***ing hoo”. To an extent, being a performer becomes your life as much as it is your career. Everything has to just slot in, but I couldn’t do what I’m doing now without an incredibly supportive and brilliant partner.
What is your idea of Utopia?
Utopia for me would be a benign dictatorship. And whenever anybody says that, you have to remember that they wish to be the dictator.
When did you last experience something that renewed your faith in humanity?
My faith in humanity runs pretty low at the best of times, but I see brilliance in the small things all the time. A tube seat surrendered for an elderly gent. A teenager helping a stair-struggling mum with a buggy. Humanity is kindness, really, especially toward strangers.
What do you do when you’re not performing, rehearsing or writing?
The internet. If like me you’re fairly monkey minded, then the internet is perfection itself. You have an idea or thought or passing interest and within moments you can start reading up on it. I know just a little about quite a lot.
What will always, without fail, bring a smile to your face?
Isn’t it disgusting when someone lacks the imagination to answer anything other than their children? I always think it is. And then I had some. And then I understood.
What book, film or album would you recommend to a friend?
Book – Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. Nourishes both brain and heart. An incredible work about the relationship between father and son, man and machine, mind and existence, id and ego, metaphysics and motorcycling. It was reading this that made me love motorcycles as much as I do.
Film – South Park The Movie. One of the greatest satires ever committed to celluloid. It punishes those who are too sniffy about low art, by not allowing them a moment’s respite from the dick jokes to appreciate the utter brilliance of its message.
Album – Too many to choose from but at home Elbow’s Build A Rocket Boys is rarely far from the turntable. Guy Garvey’s beautiful poetry, Craig Potter’s deep production and five of the nicest human beings alive. Heaven.
What could you not be without?
My laptop. Computers are everything now. They are how I answer these questions, how I send them to you, how I can call my wife and see my kids, how I watch movies and listen to music, catch up on TV, go shopping, commune, play, create… and a friend of mine even told me that there’s a way of looking at naked women on it, which sounds interesting. Might look into that when I have the time.
What ambitions would you like to fulfil?
There’s only one ambition that I’m trying to fulfil and that’s to die without too many people thinking “Thank god that a******e’s gone.” The rest of it I’m just trying to enjoy and make the best of. Would I like to win an Oscar? Of course. But I’ve met the people who are really driving for that and I find their single-mindedness terrifying. So instead I’ll just make the most of the opportunities that come my way and work my backside off.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes. Loads, and they’re all about the way I’ve treated people. I wish I was better at empathy. I try.
How would you like to be remembered?
As the greatest human being that ever existed. Wouldn’t everyone?
What would you choose as a last meal?
If you’ve ever seen me eat, you’d know I treat every meal as if it were my last. However, some combination of pizza, cheeseburger, chicken shish kebab and Brewdog beer would probably do the trick.
Do you have any advice for young performers?
Enjoy it. Don’t be a dick. Remember that your need to be the centre of attention isn’t necessarily a good thing. Let it spiral out of control and you’ll become utterly poisonous. Be polite. Try your best. Enjoy the good times and the highpoints. You’ll forget them even as they’re happening. But above all, love me most.
If you weren’t a comedian, what would you be?
Broke. Really f***ing broke.