Interview: Alan Davies

This was originally published in Fest magazine here

Alan Davies is a rare breed of celebrity. One of the most recognised faces in British television, he shuns media attention; preferring to spend time at home with his wife and two young children. But 2012 sees a big change for the curly haired comedian as he embarks on his first standup tour in over a decade – a fifty-something date extravaganza that will take him up to the end of the year.

So why the sudden change of heart? “I was pushed back into live comedy by a friend of mine who’s a promoter in Australia. When we went over there to film QI Live, I thought I’d have a go at doing some standup again. Initially, I worried I’d never think of anything funny, but by the end of it I was quite pleased with what I had.”

The trip down under in late 2011 gave Davies his first taste of a solo stage performance for a decade: an experience that validated his desire to return to standup. “I never intended to take such a long break – the years just sort of slipped by,” he muses. This has certainly become a recurring theme for a number of his contemporaries, including Harry Hill, Jack Dee and Eddie Izzard, who are undertaking tours after what has been, for many of them, a 10 year standup sabbatical. “You can’t resist it,” Davies explains. “Once you try it and get that feeling again, you think: ‘I must get back into this.’”

The road to this year’s festival has been a long one for Davies, and one not without its frustrations. His most recent drama, Whites, was cancelled by the BBC last year after its first series; a decision he calls “the biggest disappointment of my career.” But as one door closes another opens, and this provided that added push for Davies to end his standup hiatus.

Like many of his peers, his absence on the live circuit has been well compensated for with a strong presence on the small screen. After shooting to fame as the titular role in BAFTA winning drama Jonathan Creek, the funnyman was “in the right place at the right time” when a spot on the QI panel opened up in 2003. “It’s been a privilege to be a part of it, and sitting next to Stephen Fry makes me feel very lucky – a lot of comedians would happily take that gig. I did have a wobble with it when I wondered if I should continue as it’s on so much, and I worried I’d never get cast in anything if people constantly saw me in that. But going out to Australia gave us a shot in the arm, and using new comedians renewed it for everyone.”

The Fringe is offering a kind of redemption to the 46 year-old, who is looking forward to the no holds barred nature of his standup show. “After a long time in television, it’s quite nice to have the freedom to talk about what you want!” A long-time fan of the festival, which he labels “the best arts event bar none,” this year will mark a more relaxed approach to his performances.

“With Life is Pain, I’m more comfortable talking about things that are personal to me. I think that comes from being 46 and not 26, which is how old I was when I took my first one man show to Edinburgh. I’ve passed up that sense of ambition and being worried what people think of me, as back then I was really worried about the kind of impression I was making. That can really affect the kind of comedian you are.”

Having mastered both live and televised comedy, books and radio, is there anything else left for him to do? “I’ve been saying this for years, but I’d love to do more films – something with running around and car chases. You don’t get many 46 year-olds doing that…” he laughs. And after Edinburgh? “I’ve got no work after the tour, so effectively, I’ve got about a 40 year holiday!”

Interview: The Blanks aka Ted’s Band from Scrubs

L-R: George, Philip, Sam, Paul

Hi, guys! What are you up to in LA?

Philip: Having a martini by the pool in my leopard skin thong.
Sam: I’m panhandling on the corner of Crescent and Sunset Heights.
P: He’s just touching people’s pans. He likes to handle them.
S: I’m just begging. It’s up and down – that’s showbiz.

Sounds rough. So, what were the early days of The Blanks like?

S: One of our first gigs was for Philip’s grandmother’s 80th birthday party in Las Vegas, and we said we could provide the entertainment.
P: My grandmother is an inveterate gambler and boozer, by the way.
S: Hence Vegas. So at that point we still hadn’t agreed on a name, and thought we should make Philip the lead guy as it was his grandma’s birthday. So we said we’ll be ‘Phil and the Blanks’…geddit? And after the gig was over, we took the first part out.

I read that Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence fell in love with you after watching you perform at the annual Christmas party…

S: Yeah, and then he married us.
P: He wanted to have us, but he could only have us in the show.
S: He wanted children but it just wasn’t the right time. We didn’t want to be tied down.
P: We were young actors in Hollywood, it wasn’t the right time to have children.
S: I regret it now, but at the time it seemed like the right decision.

Did you expect the band’s sky rocketing success as a result of the show?

P: It really was like we strapped in and rocketed to the A List parties. One minute we were sitting around in our underwear singing harmonies, panhandling on corners, staring up forlornly at the Hollywood sign from Beachwood Canyon, and the next minute, we were at the Oscars, on the red carpet, partying with Steve Carrell, Angelina Jolie…

What was the best part about being involved with the show?

Sam: Free food! Free food!

Anything about the band at all, or was it just the food and the girls?

Sam: How did you know about the girls?!

I just guessed.

S: Well that was a good guess. That’s what it became all about with us, and then George developed a substance problem, which often happens in these stories, and he was in and out of rehab.

So there’s a very rock and roll side to The Blanks, then?

P: Every week at the end of shooting, we’d get this giant chocolate fountain brought in to the set. We would take off our clothes and stomp around in it – it was amazing.
S: We were out of control. Bill Lawrence had to give us a talk and make sure we straightened it out. He threatened to remove us completely in spite of the fact that without The Blanks, Scrubs really didn’t have much going for it. But we straightened up and got out of the fountain, and things were fine after that.

How does it feel to be taking the show to the Fringe?

S: I’m very excited because I’ve had friends over the years who have done the Fringe festival and told me what a great experience it was. When it presented itself to us, we really jumped at it.

Have you got any plans to sample the Scottish culture?

P: Big plans.
S: Girls wearing kilts, eating haggis, and playing golf. Did we just insult everyone in Scotland?!
P: Listen, I’m part Scottish.
S: I’ve got some Scottish in me.

You can’t use Scottishness as a defence!

P: I dated a Scotsperson once so I can say whatever I want.
S: My grandmother was a full blooded Scotsperson.
P: That’s the person I dated!

Back to the music – do you think you’ve changed much as a band over the years?

S: Any hugely successful band has its problems, like George’s substance abuse – he was addicted to chocolate. And Philip got involved with this woman who got into all kinds of trouble and tried to take the band over.
P: It’s hard, because how do you tell Sam’s grandmother that she can’t organise things anymore?
S: That’s right, you were with my grandmother. I forgot that part.
P: When it’s family, it’s hard to say something.

How did you all meet?

S: eACappellaHarmony.com
P: Are you on it?

Not right now…

S: Well, if you ever want to date an a cappella group, we’re very romantic, we’re good looking, we have stable jobs, we’re wildly rich…
P: And if you stand on a balcony, we’ll serenade you with candles in our hands

Do you ever call each other up and say: ‘I need to woo my significant other tonight, can you come round so we can sing a few harmonies?’

P: We did that once and Paul ended up spending the weekend with my girlfriend. It was bad. It’s a very incestuous thing we do. And not in the good sense either.

What do you think would make the average Fringe-goer want to see your show?

S: If they want a little sing, a little dance, a little seltzer down their pants, they will enjoy our show.
P: If you like the idea of cavorting naked in a chocolate fountain, you’ll like our show.
S: That’ll bring people in by the dozen.

 

This article was originally published in Fest magazine on pages 38-39 here

Interview: The Milk

L-R Luke, Dan, Rick, Mitch

Hi guys, how’s the tour going?

Rick: The tour has been really enjoyable so far –unlike the other tour we did a couple of months ago it has been intermittent with festivals so you’ll go from five or six club venues to a few thousand at a festival, and then back to the club gigs again. It’s a more schizophrenic way of doing it, but it keeps you on your toes a bit more.

What has been your favourite venue thus far?

Mitch: Ibiza and Majorca Rocks. Everyone’s out on holiday and there’s a party atmosphere, but Leeds has also been really good, and Bedford.

Are you looking forward to the British festival scene?

M: I love festivals but it’s a shame about the weather! We’re doing Beach Break but Beach Break in the wet isn’t quite the same. We’re doing bigger festivals this year and we’ve gone up on the bill and onto the bigger stages, so it’s really something to look forward to.

How does getting more recognition feel?

M: You just want more of it; you have one bit and it’s like great, cheers, now where’s the next thing.

R: It’s a self-perpetuating hunger for more good news. The manager will come in and give us good news, we’ll celebrate for ten minutes and then we’re back again saying what’s next. You can understand why evil dictators exist, because you kill a few people and you want to kill a few more.

How did the band get started up?

Dan: We go way back – me and Mitch played football together in the under 9s, Mitch and Luke are brothers, and we started making music when we were at secondary school. We were a punk outfit for a bit and we were fucking awful! We toured around, chucked our gear into the back of an old Escort, packed a tent and a bag of weed and just played where we could.

What has the reaction been like?

Luke – After that we all went our separate ways and our parents said ‘go and get real jobs, you bums,’ so we did that, and a few of us did the university thing. But a couple of years into working life we all decided we hated our jobs, so we decided to give the band a go again, and things snowballed from there. It’s been really overwhelming, especially when you gig in places you’ve never been before like Bedford and they’re sold out. We’re still at that stage where a couple of people might know of us but most still don’t, so to go onstage with people scratching their chins wondering who you are to screaming your name when you’ve finished the set and singing along to the songs is pretty special.

R: We did a gig on Saturday night in Leeds and we were playing tracks from the album that have not been played on the radio before and we’re still trying to work out how people knew the words!

D: – We’ve got a little fanbase up north and they follow us from gig to gig up there.

Do your fans have a collective name?

L: Some girls called themselves the Milkettes and the lads were the Milk army, but it’s open!

How did the name for the band come about?

L: It’s the worst name…But it’s not offensive in any way and you can’t misspell it, and it is what it is. We came up with loads of stupid names on the back of this band name generator website just for a laugh, and all this crazy crap came up including Kenny Cornflakes and the Milk, so we thought we’d be called The Milk until we could think of something better to change it to. But by the time we’d thought of something better, we were signed to Sony records, so it was like ‘you’re The Milk, motherfuckers, deal with it!’ And that was that.

How would you describe your sound?

M: It’s eclectic – The Milk sounds like four of us getting together and taking key elements from soul and mixing it with contemporary hip hop.

Do you share the song writing?

D: There’s a million ways to do it and we’ve done every single way. It might be that someone comes in with an entire song, it might be that someone comes in with a riff, someone comes in with a lyric – and if someone comes in with a song, it takes the four of us to turn it into a Milk track. Some bands have the song writer and the lyricist and the other members are arbitrary, but we’re all about working together. We all write as well which helps, because it means there’s less pressure on one person to do it all, and we can share the burden.

When you started out did you have a specific goal in mind that would mean you had made it?

D: You start out wanting things like to play V Festival, and then you play there and you want to play higher up the bill next time.

R: We did Ibiza Rocks supporting Ed Sheeran, and he’s obviously a very successful artist; whether you like him or not, he’s very successful at doing what he does, and when we were hanging out backstage it came up in conversation that he was playing Wembley in a few nights time for a Capital Radio gig. And he said ‘yeah it’s great, I’m only playing three songs though’ – so even at the stage where you’re an artist being booked to play Wembley stadium, the artist is still saying, ‘I want to get further up the bill, I want to have my own set.’ And I think that’s good, because it’s not a healthy situation for an artist to be content, because you get kind of lazy and would lose your motivation. I would.

M: It’s the sort of thing you look back on when you’re fifty and you’ve done it and we’ve all split up and we hate each other, you’ll look back and hopefully be proud of what you’ve achieved. Unless you’ve got three Grammys in your pocket and you’ve headlined the Pyramid stage, I don’t think we’ll be happy! It’s all little steps – you can’t go from nothing to that straight away. We’ve got a lot more festivals this year and we’re higher up the bill, the album’s coming out, more people are slowly getting to know about us and that kicks it all off. You don’t really know when you hear about a band – what’s that moment where it clicks and suddenly everyone’s aware of The Milk? There’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes – we’re gigging round everywhere and suddenly The Milk is in everyone’s consciousness. I think we’re just on that journey now.

Do you think that will happen in the near future?

All: That’s the plan!

Would you compare yourselves to other artists?

M: I wouldn’t say there’s a direct comparison: I really like what Black Keys are doing. I think you can compare us to any soul act over the years, Maverick Sabre being one of them, Amy Winehouse being another. Our album is very much about Essex and where we’re from – there’s no conversation about New York or anything like that.

L: The easy description of us is that we’re DJs with instruments. Essex hasn’t really got a music scene, just the clubs we grew up with, and I get bored when a band stops their tunes in between. We just keep the music going and want people to have a great time, get pissed up with your mates and just enjoy the soundtrack to your evening.

R: We link our songs to little parts of other people’s songs just to keep ourselves entertained, and try and push the live show and the musicianship up a little bit.

Do you have good support back home?

R: We gigged at a club near us in Southend a couple of weeks ago right at the beginning of the tour, and there were queues round the block – it was sold out. It’s by no means Wembley stadium, but it’s one of those things that when you’re a kid fucking around in bands, you always wanted to sell out that venue in your hometown.

What’s that feeling like?

L: I think that was one for the little Milk boys when they were fourteen – a little high five to them. We did a gig at Scala in King’s Cross as the last date of our last tour, and we were thinking we’d have to do some serious work to sell the tickets. But two weeks before it, the gig had sold out, so that felt amazing.

R: They’ve just booked us for the Shepherd’s Bush Empire which is nearly three thousand people, so now we’re shitting ourselves for that! Hopefully we’ll conquer that and then we’ll shit ourselves for the next step up.

Do you think it’s good for artists to have that element of fear?

L: I think the fear helps you push on, and the pressure. If it was easy selling, everyone would do it.

D: We’re all song writers, you need to have a bit of anxiety and fucked up-ness in your head in order to write decent lyrics and songs, you need that anxiety.

Who are you influenced by?

M: It’s easier to list the ones we’re not. When it comes to song writing and ambition, we look up to The Beatles, in terms of the sound and ethos, it’s more like the rhythm section of the James Brown band.

R: Sonically, when we’re trying to put a live show together, we look to people like Chase & Status and The Prodigy because you go to a festival in the last few years and no one’s coming near people like them – they put something together that’s so huge that kids go apeshit for. I don’t really like them but Pendulum do the same sort of thing, it’s just so much more of an encompassing experience than indie bands staring at their trainers going through a three minute ditty.

L: It sounds fresher than a lot of bands who are out at the moment like Two Door Cinema Club and The Wombats.

Are there any parts of the world you want to crack?

D: When I was younger, you’d always hear about bands going to Japan, so that’s one place I’d love to tour.

L: I think we’re going to be doing a few European dates this summer. I think our sound would be good for America – it’s the classic case of English bands selling back American music to them. It worked for The Beatles!

Do any of you have any secret talents?

R: I used to pull a brilliant face called ‘the toad’, but I dislocated my jaw doing it so I can’t do it anymore.

What’s your favourite song to perform?

D: I love playing Picking up the Pieces.

R: I’m most enjoying Kimmy Kimmy.

L: I’m digging B Roads.

M: I like them all!

Interview: The Apprentice winner Ricky Martin

 Congratulations on your win, Ricky! How does it feel?

Incredible. As you can imagine, it’s all very surreal to me to finally get the opportunity to set up the business I always wanted.

What made you apply to the show in the first place?

I applied to it because I’ve always wanted to make that leap of faith to set up my own company. I’ve been in recruitment for the past six years and I’ve always wanted to go out and make a higher return on money than what I could make working for a business. Not only is getting a quarter of a million pounds during recessionary times difficult, but Lord Sugar’s involvement and his expertise made me want to get involved. I applied for the process to ultimately win it: I never would have applied to the old format only because this one offers a business partnership rather than a job.

How will your new business be different from other recruitment agencies?

The main difference in the business is that it’s focussing on supporting areas of ethical need –it’s ethical recruitment, so it’s not recruiting for everything, just the things that matter. But there are a lot of things that Lord Sugar and I need to sit down and explore before we really advertise what’s going to make it so different and unique. He’s already brought some new ideas into the business and I’ve got a few ideas, so we want to find the synergy between them.

You seem quite at home in front of the camera – would you ever consider fronting your own Apprentice style business show?

The whole showbiz element isn’t something I’m interested in right now. As a by-product of The Apprentice, there are a lot of people recognising you and wanting to speak to you but actually, I don’t really want to enhance that, I just want to get my company set up and run with that. If I can help to inspire enterprise in some way whatever that might be in the future then of course I would want to encourage that but right now having my own Apprentice type show is bottom of the list of priorities!

Lord Sugar described you as being a safe option. What did you make of that?

I think that’s absolutely fair. When Lord Sugar says ‘safe’, he means he can see my business working – I didn’t take that as an insult or a backhanded compliment. I think that’s recognition that what I’m doing tailors to what he’s looking for which is to do what you know, keep things simple and to be straight forward and that’s exactly what I offered him.

Would you encourage others to follow a similar path to you?

If they’re passionate about doing something, they should follow their heart and go for it. Without the wrestling talk, though!

Lord Sugar, Karren Brady and Nick Hewer – who would you snog, marry, and avoid?

I couldn’t possibly answer that!

This article was originally published on page 22 here

Interview: This is England’s Thomas Turgoose

Hi, Thomas! How did you get into acting?

I never really thought about it as a career to start off with – when I was younger I wanted to grow up and be a football player! [This is England’s Casting Director] Des Hamilton was looking round the country for people who hadn’t acted before, and he came to a youth centre I used to go to when I wasn’t in school. He auditioned a few children there and I turned up as my cheeky self and it went from there. I was really lucky.

In my audition, which is on YouTube, I’m asked if I’d like to be an actor, and I say that I’ve never thought about acting. But I love it now, and when I’m on the set with Shane [Meadows, writer and director of This is England], there’s nothing more that I want to do.

Do you think you’ll ever get tired of playing Shaun in This is England

No, I don’t think I ever will. It’s obviously such a great pleasure to be on the set with Shane and all the guys. [Shaun is] such a great character and means a lot to me.

You deal with a lot of heavy storylines in the show – how do you draw on such dark emotions? 

For me personally, I need 10 minutes to myself with my earphones in and listen to songs personal to me, such as music played at my mum’s and some of my friends’ funerals.

A lot of the time, directors do a workshop where you sit and write about the appearance of the character and where they were brought up – details like that, which also helps.

What was it like working on Birdsong?

It was mental, I was with a different cast in a different country, and the budget was much bigger. It’s great to do both sides; big budget productions abroad, contrasting to being with Shane in Sheffield. It’s crazy.

You’ve acted for both TV and film; can you ever see yourself getting on stage? 

It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and discussing with my agent, little bits and bobs, but it’s never really appealed to me massively. I think I would get stage fright: when you’re on set and you do something wrong you can just do that scene again, but if you’re on stage you kind of have to get yourself out of it. I would definitely like to try it in the future.

How do you deal with fame and growing up in the glare of the media?

I still live in Grimsby, I still live in the same house. I think if I ever tried to be someone I’m not my friends would probably smack me, and my dad as well. The thought of not being nice to people does not appeal to me. It’s nice coming back to Grimsby where no one really cares, it’s good like that.

You won an award when you were 14 for Best Newcomer, what was it like having that acclaim at such as young age? 

It was mad, to get the nomination in the beginning was crazy. Being at an awards ceremony with Helen Mirren…I was 14 and I thought, this is ridiculous, and then I won! No one really expected it.

Do you have any hidden talents that people might not know about, any secret skills?

I am a qualified football coach, and I am a qualified photographer. I did photography when I was a bit younger, when I was 16/17, I went to college and did my National Diploma in photography. I have just done my level one and level two qualifications in football coaching.

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?  

Go for auditions, know your lines and try and be yourself. Definitely don’t try and be someone different.  Joe Gilgun, the actor who plays Woody, always advises to be who you wish to see, so be yourself, and don’t be anyone you’re not.

Do you ever get star struck?

I have only really been star struck once when I met Les Battersby (Bruce Jones) from Coronation Street I had no idea what to say. I’ve met Jonny Depp and that was a massive deal, but I think growing up and watching Bruce in Corrie and actually meeting him, I think that’s the only time I’ve been star struck.

This interview was originally published on IdeasMag here

Interview: Cabin in the Woods’ Fran Kranz

Hi Fran!  You’re most recognisable from Dollhouse. What was it like working on such a popular show?

It was great.  It was my life for a good two years.  The friends I made there are friends for life and obviously my relationship with Joss (Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse) is something I cherish.   Apart from being brilliant and original he’s also a great leader.  He’s inspiring and makes you want to be your best.   So that being said they were a blissful two years and I was very sad to lose it.  The writers were very kind to me.   My character had a truly inspired arc and got to show so many colours over the life of the show; colours I would have never imagined at the beginning.  That’s a wonderful thing about television – you don’t really know where the story is going because often the creators don’t either.  It develops.  Your character can change and evolve organically over the life of a series.  It was so unexpected what became of my character Topher.  Our stories got more twisted and the world got more imaginative.  We were like kids playing in the corner, doing something really weird, before the parents or teachers finally see it and shut it down.  The fans were great.  It’s still very heartwarming to be recognized for the show -people really did love it, and I loved it too.  So when I do meet a fan I genuinely feel a good connection with them. Don’t be afraid to say hi!
You’re currently starring as Bernard in Death of a Salesman on Broadway – can you tell me a little bit about your role?
Bernard is the Loman family’s neighbour. Miller describes him when he first appears as ‘earnest and loyal, a worried boy.’  Today we’d call him a nerd. Willy Loman calls him ‘an anaemic’, ‘a pest’, and a ‘worm.’ Later in the play you see Bernard as a young man and he is about to argue a case before the supreme court.  Miller describes him on that entrance as ‘a quiet, earnest, but self-assured young man.’  When I first auditioned for the role I asked the director, Mike Nichols, if he had any thoughts before I started.  He said, ‘With this guy it’s all about the transformation.’  What I love the most about acting is probably disappearing into a character entirely different from myself.  In a word, transformation. He said the perfect thing. It was a good audition and it’s a great little part -surprisingly challenging. The scene with Willy is masterfully written, blending exposition and tragedy together. It’s two men that have been asking essentially the same question for 17 years, ‘what happened to Biff?’, and finally getting to talk about it.  Willy and Bernard share the same life changing event, and they are essentially family – it’s a beautiful, heartbreaking scene.  

What’s it like working with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield in the production?
They are basically the best actors of their respective generations. I know they would hate me for saying that but I believe it. The entire cast is excellent though – I learn from all of them, top to bottom. But Phil and Andrew are deep wells of sensitivity with such amazing talent and understanding of human behaviour. I heard Phil refer to his work not as ‘storytelling’ but rather ‘problem solving.’ That makes a lot of sense having watched him work; he examines things in the smallest detail. It takes me a while to catch up with him but when I do I always think, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s right.’ And when he finally did get up and play Willy Loman it was a sublime work of art. He’d exhausted so much of the man and the story that you saw a fully realized human being with a lifetime of memories and heartbreak and hope. He’s awesome. And I remember thinking Andrew was going to be the best young actor when I saw the trailer for The Social Network. I know that’s weird. I have a man crush. There is something graceful and elegant about him, but on the other hand, he is as raw as any actor I’ve ever seen. But surrounding all this raw feeling he has technique sculpting it in a controlled way so that the story is never lost. Despite all the amazing people involved in Death of a Salesman, working with Andrew may mean the most to me because being a young actor myself to be around the someone like him is a great thing achieved.     
Can you tell me a bit about The Cabin in the Woods and your role in the film?
I can tell you nothing about Cabin in the Woods. I would have to kill you. Seriously though, they have it under lock and key but trust me it’s better that way. What I can say is that I play a lover of herbs, Marty. He appears to be your typical stoner/slacker/wise-cracking type that occasionally philosophizes but he’s very loyal and possesses more courage than you might think. Marty and his friends take a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods. It turns out to be a very bad weekend for us and a lot of other people. There is a lot of blood. And I think more people die in this movie than in any other movie ever made. Seriously.    
You’re also in the upcoming adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. How is the film different from the Shakespearian original and how do you think audiences will respond to it?
This project was so much fun.  It came about in such a casual way that I never considered it would receive so much attention and interest.  Joss often does play readings at his house but he told us this time he wanted to film one. I really believed we might just be reading a play with a camera on us, but then things began to take shape. Some production people contacted me asking for my social security number, and I was totally surprised. I asked ‘Are we getting paid for this?’  Then I was asked for costume sizes, allergies, the whole laundry list of things that happen when you make a real movie. We started having rehearsals at his house and there was a grip truck outside.  It was like a real movie.  But I still thought just that, ‘it’s like a movie but we’re still screwing around, right?’  I remember the first day of shooting I stopped at a Starbucks and the girl working there was a Dollhouse fan. I told her I was going to Joss’ house right now. She was like, ‘Oh my God that’s so cool.’ Then she looked confused and said, ‘What are you guys doing at six in the morning?’ And I said, equally confused, ‘I guess we’re making a movie.  Much Ado About Nothing?’  I still didn’t get it. But I like to think though that this was all Joss’ master plan.  He wanted to have fun as he always does but I think for the style he was going for he needed his actors to be as relaxed as possible. This is not the kind of Shakespeare on film you are used to. It is not all grand production value and epic backdrops. It is not period. It is not in colour. But there was an intimate and casual nature about the production that bled into the story we were telling. We had barely enough time to memorize the lines. Every actor seemed just as surprised and unaware of the fact that we were making an actual movie, but as each day ended we grew more and more confident. Now I walk around saying, ‘Yeah I did a movie of Much Ado About Nothing last year. We’re thinking Cannes or Venice. Something fancy.’ The final product will be a very fresh take on Shakespeare and a lot of fun. It’s a great play.  
You’ve worked with Joss Whedon on several projects – do you hope this collaboration will continue in the future?

100%. I can’t imagine ever saying no to him. He’s original. That’s the best, right?  
You’ve acted on stage, television and film – which is your favourite and why?
That’s too tough – I like them all!  Ultimately it depends on the story you’re telling.  I’ve been lucky with my two professional plays – they are both successes with great writing, a great cast and a great director. I hadn’t done a play since college when I first did Bachelorette off Broadway – it had been five years, and I couldn’t believe I had been away so long. It’s so much fun, like being back in school. The table work and rehearsal time is so stimulating it’s like taking a great class. You have so much time to figure out what you’re doing and explore the play in such detail.  I feel so invigorated after a good rehearsal. Then there’s the real communal and ensemble aspect. You can become very close to people doing a play. You trust each other. There is so much pressure in live performance that all that depending on each other makes for a real deep bond. I love the people I’ve done plays with, and the shared experience is very real and unique. There’s also the tangible connection with the audience.   When someone says they liked me in a movie I’m obviously happy but there is a distance there. We didn’t do it together. And the movie or television show was done so long before the person sees it that there is a time gap as well. If someone says they liked me in a play I think it’s a bond. We were both there. 

Film and television are wonderful too though.   Film is the culmination of all the arts.  It’s infinite.  The worlds we’ve seen in cinema and more and more in television are so meaningful to everyone that how could you not enjoy making them.  Plays are ephemeral but film, we hope, is forever.  The movie Cabin in the Woods is so great I believe that I could die tomorrow and be proud of my film career.   

But I’ll try to be specific.   I was always frustrated in film that you did not have a lot of rehearsal time.   Often you’re lucky to get any rehearsal time at all.  Especially in television.  You get your script sometimes the night before and you just rehearse in order for the cameras to get an idea of what it’s going to look like.  It’s more technical than creative.  But eventually I realized this was something to embrace.  If for no other reason than necessity but still I started to see it as an opportunity to be free with the lines and the character.   It’s easier said than done but you can’t be afraid to fail.  You have takes.  You have time.   I think it’s possible to be too knowledgable of your scene and character in film.  If you go in with fixed ideas and extensive background you may miss opportunities.  If you’re loose with the material you can take chances and are free to try wildly different things take after take.   And that is what you want.   Because ultimately as an actor once you’re done it’s out of your hands.   It becomes the director’s or the editor’s or usually the producer’s.  You want to leave it all out there on set so you can be comfortable that there isn’t much more you could have done.  In theater it’s the reverse.  It goes from the director to you.   Once the show is up and running the part is yours.   I like that.  
I guess it sounds like I like theater more.  I don’t know.  To do a good movie and a good play every year would be a sweet life.   
What made you first decide to get into acting?
I’d act out in class so often and cause so many disturbances that they thought I might be able to direct a lot of that energy in a more positive way through theatre. I was eventually told to audition for the school play. I definitely remember a teacher always being annoyed with me and once instead of snapping at me asked ‘have you ever thought about auditioning for the play?’  There was another class I had in middle school called Communications where we would have to give speeches on different topics.   Instead of just being myself and talking about whatever it was I had to talk about I would create these bizarre characters doing the lecture instead.  I remember doing something on orthodontists or dentists and I played this crazy imbecile who ruined his patient’s teeth.  I brought in a mask for the patient and used fake blood and everything.  That teacher definitely suggested I should do theatre. When I started it was mostly fun because I liked theatre kids and I got good roles. I wasn’t fully in love with it yet. And this will sound bad but I didn’t fully respect it yet. I didn’t see it as a real art form or something that you could be truly passionate about and not just do for the perks of the job.   I grew up in LA and I honestly saw acting as movie stardom. But one night when I was rehearsing The Merchant of Venice, the theatre teacher and director at my school, Ted Walch, was trying to get something out of my performance as Shylock. I remember then thinking what I was doing was okay for High School but it wasn’t great. I knew it. And he knew it. I had hit a wall. It was in the evening and I think it was just the two of us.  I’ll never forget it though. He finally searched through his extensive Laser Disc collection, yes Laser Disc, and pulled out Oliver. He showed me a scene of Alec Guinness playing Fagin – I only knew him as Obi Wan Kenobi –  and it was an epiphany.  He was two different people entirely, down to the finger tips. After that I got it, the bug or whatever it is. I fell in love. It wasn’t even a question of respect and worth it was all answered and I knew I’d be doing it for the rest of my life or die trying. It was a beautiful thing. It’s been my greatest love ever since.  
What did you study at Yale and what was your experience of being a student there like?
 
I was a humanities major – I realize that’s not a common major and I always quick to qualify it with ‘I know that sounds like bullshit, but it was actually pretty cool.’ It’s essentially the oldest major at Yale and it’s basically a broad liberal arts education: you get a lot of everything. I think when the school first started there was a more standard curriculum and students would find focuses within it.  But the important thing was to have a good knowledge of the classics, the renaissance, art history, literature, philosophy, etc. I knew I wanted to be an actor but I didn’t want to major in it or feel like I was in a conservatory, so this was the perfect major for me. I did many plays in school – maybe too many. And I did do some acting classes. But I loved my major because I wanted that kind of education.  I love art history and literature, and there’s plenty of food for acting there too. It also gave easy access to the great tenured professors; I took classes with Harold Bloom, John Gaddis, Donal Kagan and Christopher Wood to name a few. I really loved Yale and the people I met there. I wish I was still there – I may not have used my time as productively as I could have. I like to have fun. So I think I will always have lingering regrets to be back there and studying.  It’s a really special place.  
What advice would you give to aspiring actors hoping to break into the industry?
I think you’ve got to give 200%, and do as much work as possible because you never know who might see your work. Do online videos, do sketch comedy, improv, take classes, go to open auditions, do plays at your local black box, put on stuff yourself, whatever. Just do as much as possible, because it’s true that it can take just one thing. But hard work is key – you’ll never forgive yourself if you didn’t give it your all. The competition is insane and you have to know there is always someone working harder, so don’t take the easy route.    
What are your future career ambitions?
I want to write and direct one day. Yup, I said it. Just like everyone else. I really do though – I’ve been very fortunate as an actor so far and I hope that continues but I do really want to make my own stories one day.    
Do you have any hidden talents that your fans don’t know about?
 Molly Price, an actress in Death of a Salesman, told her son that I play the piano beautifully. I don’t know what she’s talking about but at one point in my life I was pretty good. Maybe I can find that again. I wish I could cook really well.  And I wish I played for the Los Angeles Lakers, though that wouldn’t be much of a ‘hidden’ talent.    
What is your favourite film of all time?
Star Wars.  Need I say more?  
This interview was originally published here

Interview: The Thick of It and Mock the Week’s Chris Addison

Hi, Chris! How did you get into stand-up comedy?

When I left the University of Birmingham, what I really wanted to do was to direct plays. About a year after college graduation I wanted something creative to do, so I ended up doing stand-up, because it’s the simplest thing you can do, in terms of organisation. I know most people will think it’s terrifying, but it really is the simplest thing to do from a logistic point of view. So that’s really why I did it, for a creative outlet.

How did you go into acting after your stand-up work?

I did a political comedy night and for the first and only time in my stand-up career I did it as a character, as character Dr Tristan Hardy from The Mail on Sunday doing a lecture on immigration. I think Armando Ianucci saw it and thought I was a character actor. Armando and I met a few months later on the News Quiz on Radio 4, and afterwards he was telling me about this idea for a show that he had, an up to date version of Yes Prime Minister.  And we were talking of our love for Yes Prime Minister and our love of political comedies, and he said I should come in and talk about his new project. A few months after that I went in and did a weird improvising casting – instead of reading off a script, I had to improvise a scene with the producer of the show, and then I didn’t get called back and I thought that was the end of that. But, just before Christmas that year I got a call asking me what I was doing the first week of January as I had a part in this show.  So that was the first time I acted really, in The Thick of It.

What advice would you give to aspiring young actors or comedians?

I guess the only advice that I would give to anybody going into anything creative is to generate your own work. You can’t sit around waiting for castings and auditions, the power lies in making stuff. If you want to be an actor it’s so much better to be someone who writes their own shows and put’s their own shows on because then you’ve always got something that you can do and show yourself off with. I would say whatever you do, don’t sit about.

When you first got involved with The Thick of It did you imagine it would be so successful?

I think when we all first started to do it, we realised that we were kind of onto something. We only recorded three episodes to begin with due to money, the director said that he couldn’t show what he wanted to show in half an hour as people wouldn’t get it, but he made the money stretch in extraordinary ways. At the end of the process we all thought that we’d done something extraordinary. It was a really odd thing to do because it involved a lot of improvisation, so everyone involved was terrified about whether it was going to work out, or how it was going to work.  When we saw the first screening we thought, this is good, and then the reviews started to come in. So by the time we put the second episode together, praise had already been lavished on us, so we were in a very fortunate position that midway through we knew that we were onto something good.

How did it feel taking the series into a feature length film?

There were obviously some adjustments. The only characters that stayed absolutely the same were Malcolm Tucker and his side kick Jamie, everyone else got slightly different versions, for example Toby is still very close to Ollie, although he’s a lot nastier. But it didn’t really feel very different, because by the time we got to the film we’d already had two, two hour long specials for The Thick of It , where we’d expanded the world and the cast was growing. So we were used to the idea of bringing new people, and when Tom Hollander and Gina McKee came in it didn’t seem unusual to us. We started off filming it with many of the same crew, the same writers, same director and many of the same cast, so it just felt like making the telly series, with slightly less flimsy props. It was only at the very end that we went to the States to shoot out exteriors in Washington. So it started to feel like a film very gradually, it didn’t feel like we were thrown into a whole new mix: it felt like little by little we added on to the exteriors of doing the television show and made it into a film.

You’ve had a very varied career; can you pick up one particular highlight to date?

I’ve done so many different things; I’ve had my own radio shows, written my own TV shows, sitcoms, I’ve written books. There are so many things that I’ve been able to do, and at the beginning of each thing I’ve pinched myself. When you’ve done some work and then you walk into a room that’s been set up to deal with the work that you’ve produced, that’s really exciting.

What was your experience at the University of Birmingham like?

I studied English between 1991-1994, I was in Lake Hall on the Vale for my first year and then I lived in Selly Oak. I spent a lot of my time in the Guild actually, we were quite Guildy people my lot, we did lots of plays. I used to like doing a lot of society stuff; I was in Carnival in my first year. I went to nightclubs which no longer exist, and we used to go for a big night out on Fridays at the Guild. I was co-chair of the Guild theatre group. I loved my time at Birmingham, I think of it often, not always without regret. I just went to the 40th birthday party of my best friend who I met on my first day there, we’ve now known each other over half our lives and he’s my children’s Godfather. Most of my social world still includes people that I was at Birmingham with. I think that place was the making of me.

Can you tell me something about yourself that your fans may not know?

I desperately need a wee? I don’t think there’s anything about me that I haven’t already made clear through the media and Twitter.

Have you got any hidden talents?

I have no hidden talents; all of my talents have been used in the attempt to make a living. So that’s really why I ended up in comedy in the first place, as I had no other talents.

Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

Wow, I see myself on my privately bought Caribbean Island. I see myself as Director General of the BBC, and then all channels will be comedy all the time.

On the subject of comedy, what comedians or comic actors and actresses do you most enjoy watching?

There are loads. I think when you work in it you start laughing less and appreciating more, so I value when people can make me laugh and forget myself. Billy Connolly is the best; I’ve never seen him without him making me unable to breathe, at some point, from laughter; which is the highest compliment I can give. I will never get bored of watching Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who was Elaine in Seinfeld, I think she’s amazing and hilarious. There are so many brilliant comic actors and actresses in this country and it seems almost unfair to single people out, but those are two people who reduce me to a fit of quivering joy.

What upcoming projects do you have this year?

Well firstly I plan to sort out Syria, and then Mock the Week starts in June, and then I’m going to have a nice sit down, maybe with a bag of crisps.

Do you still audition for roles, or do you wait for them to come to you?

I can’t remember the last time I did an audition, but then I also can’t remember the last time I was offered anything either! I think anybody will come in and read for a part, the thing about auditions, and what I’ve realised from holding auditions, is that casting directors have a thing in their head of what that part is, and they want to see who fits it best. So you should always go in and read for a part. Maybe there is a piece of advice that I can give to young actors, don’t ever be despondent if you don’t get a part because it’s not personal; they’ve got an idea of what they’re looking for and it’s almost nothing you can do about it, you either fit their profile or you don’t.  I auditioned people a couple of months ago, and we had big names coming in. It’s very nice to be offered stuff but I’m always happy to go in and read.

This was originally published in Redbrick newspaper on page 18 here