Live performance is both one of the main drawcards of being a performer and one of the most stressful parts of it. At which point in the process of being involved in a new project do you cross that line?
I’m not sure there is a specific point where you cross that line. I fluctuate between both of those aspects multiple times a day. I’m naturally a fairly introverted person, so the thought of standing in front of thousands of people every night isn’t something I feel completely comfortable with. But when it comes down to it, I love the magic of theatre and I love that I get the opportunity to transform myself into Riff Raff every night. There’s also a certain excitement I get when I’m working on a project that I find fulfilling. I don’t think I ever take for granted the fact that I am currently one of the lucky performers who is working, and as a result I always try and go beyond what is expected of me.
Do you have techniques to improve either scenario – consistently enjoying the performance aspect (it is a job, after all) or mitigating the stress (of all the issues – from iffy pay to annoying audiences)?
I attempt to give the best performance that I can every time. After nearly 1,700 performances of Rocky Horror, I haven’t remotely become bored of doing the show. However, I still get a little bit nervous before every performance, and I think that has stopped me from being complacent. My brain makes every performance feel like it is my first. I’m not sure why! Sometimes I wish it didn’t. I think – as a performer – you have to accept that some days things aren’t going to go your way. You are going to make mistakes and if you’re tired you might sing a bum note. It’s been important for me to try and shake those things off and not overthink things. After years of performing in Rocky Horror, I feel like I have the support of the incredibly loyal Rocky Horror fans. Those audiences have played an important part in keeping me stimulated. They can be wild and hugely entertaining themselves and I have a huge respect for them.
How do you choose projects? What needs to turn you on before you audition for something?
In many ways, projects choose me. As an actor, you have an agent who puts potential work and auditions in front of you. The hope is that this work has already been filtered to a point where – for the majority of time – you’ll have something in front of you that you are keen to audition for. Most actors I know just love working and being in work and choosing projects isn’t necessarily a luxury that we get to experience too often. But for me, I basically just want to work on projects that I can be proud of.
What are the hooks in a script that you like to hang a performance or the generation of a character on? Depth, dialogue, nuance, reality versus fantasy – what speaks most profoundly to you?
Well, that’s dependent on the script. Some scripts give you lots of clues and others really make you work for it. If you don’t have much information to guide you then research and imagination becomes incredibly important. For Rocky Horror, Riff Raff is an amalgamation of those sidekick characters from the old B-horror films. There was always the persecuted hunchback, gravedigger or peculiar manservant. So, my first port of call was watch lots of movies from that genre. The actors of that time all had a distinct style of performing and that gave me the perfect starting point to develop character from.
The lifestyle of a working actor is a difficult one to square with family life, or a day job, or half a dozen other aspects of a traditional routine. How do you make it work?
In many ways, I haven’t been able to have a traditional life. But I’m not sure I ever set out to have one. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the majority of the last eight years. The longest I’ve been in one place over that time is four months and for at least three of those years I wasn’t anywhere longer than seven days! That can be incredibly challenging to maintain a commitment to anything apart from your job. I suspect I was only able to tour so much because I didn’t have any ties. I have huge respect to anyone in the industry who can maintain a career whist having a family – I can only imagine how challenging that is. But, for me, life has been about experiencing as many different things as possible – and the job really has allowed me to do that. However, I don’t think I’ll be touring forever as my current fantasies tend to be about nesting in my own home and owning a dog or three.
Touring a show can be the holy grail for an actor – long contracts, plus the excitement of seeing new places and performing for new audiences. Where does it fit in your list of priorities?
My main priority – in recent years anyway – has been my work. I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision or not. If a door opens I’ve always been pretty good at going through it to see what’s on the other side. I suspect I’m just going with the flow and seeing what happens – and I think that applies to my life and my job. Luckily as an actor – because jobs don’t tend to last a long time (even a year’s contract can go in the blink of an eye), you get to reassess and potentially change direction quite often. When I get older and look back on my life, I just want to have had an interesting life.
As a performer, you’re often asked to deliver on a set of expectations – the playwright’s; the director’s; the rest of the casts’; the audiences’… What sort of input do you prefer to (demand to?) have as an actor?
I like to do a lot of research before I hit the rehearsal room. I want to have a strong concept of who the character is and I like to feel like I’m as prepared as possible. Then I have the freedom to explore all possibilities and be in a position for my ideas to grow. There’s always the possibility that you’ve gone down the wrong path, but I’d prefer to be strong and wrong and have something to work with. When it comes to an actor’s input into the show they are doing, it is great to be in a room where you feel you are free to try things out, explore, and make suggestions. But, at the end of the day it’s your job to bring the director’s vision of the show to life and it’s them who get the final word on how you portray your character and say your lines. I try and shake off anyone else’s opinions. There aren’t many jobs where a review of how good or bad you were on that day gets published online or in a newspaper. That can be a stressful thought, but these days I attempt to not read them unless someone tells me I should.
What other roles do you, or would you like to, play in the industry – now or in the future? Writing, production, direction? And what about each or any of those excites you?
I want a bit of everything. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps! For half of my acting life I worked on plays and for the remainder I’ve worked on musicals. Luckily, I’ve also had the occasional moment where I’ve dipped into TV, radio and film. When it comes to theatre, I haven’t just worked as an actor, I’ve also been a stagehand, producer, usher, writer, designer, and a director. Being versatile has played an important role in my survival in the industry and has kept me inspired and stimulated. In regards to the future, I love the idea of directing again and I would really love to do some more theatre design. I have a sneaking suspicion that my main skills lie, but we’ll have to see if that door opens. As an actor, I want want roles that inspire me. I don’t care if they are big or small or in plays, musicals, theatre or TV. I’m happy as long as I’m creating something and it doesn’t matter to me what medium that happens to be in.