For many performers in their early 30s, starring in two of the biggest and most acclaimed British dramas of recent years might be taken as a launchpad, firing them, like a circus performer from a cannon, to the heady heights of Hollywood, never to set foot on a British stage again.
Arthur Darvill, the third wheel of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan’s Doctor Who years as the endearingly open hearted and surprisingly heroic Rory and the concerned vicar of the beleaguered town in Broadchurch, chose differently.
Immediately after disembarking the TARDIS for the final time and falling foul to Steven Moffat’s horrific creation the Weeping Angels, Darvill swapped travelling through space and time for travelling to and from the Garrick Theatre, where he starred in Our Boys. He filmed Broadchurch around the same time then headed off to Bruges to film bodice-ripping BBC period drama The White Queen.
With other plays and TV offers cluttering up his world like Whovian memorabilia on a sci-fi fan’s coffee table, Darvill received a phone call. His agent wanted to know if he’d audition for the Broadway production of Once.
Though he’d never seen the show, or Oscar-winning film on which it is based, his friends were full of praise for the Olivier Award nominated heartfelt musical that feels very much like an antidote to the classic jazz-handing, high-kicking Broadway fare. He was a fan of composer Glen Hansard’s work, was hugely impressed by director John Tiffany’s Black Watch and soon found himself immersed in the show’s Irish charm, preparing for his audition.
So began Darvill’s eight month adventure into Broadway life.
“I grew to really love the positivity of New York,” he laughs, “which was odd at first, because I’m a cynical b***ard!” That, in itself, feels odd to me as throughout our phone conversation which, admittedly was at times more broken up than a dropped pint glass, there was barely a hint of cynicism to be found.
“It was just a really happy meeting of passionate people.” That is how he describes the creation of hit musical Once, which he joined for the show’s second Broadway year. “Enda Walsh [the book writer],” he says, “is a brilliant observer of people. The music Glen has written comes completely from his guts. The way John Tiffany works as a director, and Steven Hoggett [choreographer] and Martin Lowe, the MD, they all work with such passion. There’s not a second when you think they’re just coasting.”
He’s now played Once’s leading man, Guy, an Irish busker who is about to give up his musical ambitions when he meets a young Czech mother who changes his life, opposite six different Girls. His London leading lady, Zrinka Cvitešić, is nominated for an Olivier Award this weekend. “She amazing,” he says. “She has a real magic and playfulness with it, which is so much fun to be on stage with. I feel like I have to fire on all cylinders to match her.”
By all accounts, Darvill more than manages, though at the moment he’s trying to “de-funny” his performance a touch after, by his own admission, getting a little carried away with the ego boost of receiving laughs from the audience. His background in music – Darvill also writes songs and has contributed the music to theatrical productions including The Frontline, Been So Long and The Lightning Child – has, he thinks, given him a little insight into both how Guy, and Hansard, feels about the songs: “I know what that thing is to go out there and put a song out that you’ve written which completely sums up how you’re feeling at that moment in time. I’ve drawn on that experience a bit.”
Even his reason for returning to the role in London, having already played eight months in America, is as sweet as a chocolate-covered sugar cube dipped in Golden syrup: “My granddad and my nan can come and see it if it’s here,” he says.
For a second, it feels like the inner cynic will emerge when conversation moves on to America, and using the profile generated by Doctor Who, Broadchurch and Once to make the leap to LA. “I’m not one of those people who can go over there and sit around for pilot season doing meetings for three months,” he explains, before adding that despite his initial scepticism, he’s “warming to LA more. I didn’t like it as a place at first, but I’ve realised they have book shops and record shops and villages and place you can actually walk.”
Surely, if anything can draw out this cynicism, it must be Doctor Who. Darvill’s appearances in the sci-fi behemoth over three series has garnered him a mob of excitable and eccentric – or as Darvill puts it “weird and wonderful” – fans. But no. “I love how enthusiastic people can be about it. I think it’s wonderful. Doctor Who has done me some really huge favours and I’ll never knock it.”
I don’t believe his fabled cynicism ever existed. Either that or his time in New York has had a more profound effect than Darvill realises.
“People will still mention Doctor Who to me when I’m an old bearded man playing wizards,” he concludes, “which is obviously the ultimate aim.”
Ah, there it is.