What was your first theatre experience?
I remember seeing The Seagull with Ian McKellen – it was a standing performance, and I didn’t even notice I was on my feet for three hours. But I was quite late to acting, about 16 or 17 – I’m definitely not one of these stage school kids. It was rebellion. I wanted to do something different to everyone else – I hated school and I didn’t want to go to university. I had a great drama teacher who went to LAMDA, where I ended up going – he made out it was this really tough boot camp: 6,000 apply, 30 get in, and they beat the shit out of you. I liked the idea of that challenge.
And the people really drew me to theatre. I worked backstage as a tea boy at Her Majesty’s Theatre and had a great time. It’s a myth about Hollywood and the theatre industry that it’s full of divas and drama queens – 99% are really nice. I wasn’t around nice people in my day-to-day life at the time, so that definitely appealed.
Is it true you’d also applied to the army?
Yes, at 17 – and I’m very glad that didn’t work out! That was the mood I was in. Typically rebellious teenager.
How long did you study?
I did a year at LAMDA. I’d probably had enough of education by the time I arrived there. I think drama school is one of those things that’s what you make of it – I’m still not convinced you can teach someone to make an actor, but it’s a great environment for you to figure yourself out. I spent my weekends with friends trying to film scenes for a show reel, which I then told agents was professional work. One humoured me enough to take me on. Then I got the lead in War Horse, which was pretty unreal.
And you were playing a tree before that?
Yes, in Dunsinane for the RSC – I was in the chorus. But I really thought that was as good as it got; I was always taught that that’s the height of what an actor can wish for, and I still think that really. To be with acting greats, who are respected all over the world, and working in that incredible environment is pretty special. I’ve been really pining to get back to theatre. Then I heard about Ed Harris doing Buried Child, and knowing Sam Shepard wrote a lot for Ed, I thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience just to see the production, let alone be in it.
Was it an easy transition coming back to the stage?
I kept doing play readings while I was making films. And the first day of rehearsals I thought “Oh yeah, this is why I got into acting.” That collaborative process, you just don’t have time for a rehearsal period in films. In cinemas, you’re probably seeing the first or second time an actor’s done that scene, and they only met the actress in the make-up trailer that morning.
What do you enjoy about Shepard’s writing?
It’s so good – the deeper you go, the more you discover. Like all great playwrights, you never stop finding new things in their work. Ed and Amy [Madigan] have done the show on Broadway, but in the rehearsal room you wouldn’t know it – every single time they did it differently. It’ll be the same with performances: each one will be magical and unique, and that’s very exciting for audiences.
Did you do much preparation?
I did, but no matter how prepared you are, you have to be able to throw it all out the window and completely alter your performance nine, ten times a day. It doesn’t work unless you can be fluid with whatever the director and other actors throw at you. There wasn’t a shred of ego from anyone on this.
Read the full interview at BroadwayWorld.