Posted on March 6th, 2016 by admin

Liverpool’s finest on childhood ambition, the perils of being a father, playing the bad guy, and his love for his hometown.


When you decided to leave school at 16 and become an actor, did you have any idea what it would actually involve?
I had no idea. When I told my parents – we were living on a housing estate in Liverpool – I wanted to be an actor, it was as if I’d said I hoped to become an astronaut. They didn’t know anyone in the profession. They couldn’t phone my Uncle Tony to ask if he’d take me on. All I knew was the emotional impact acting can have on a person. I’d acted at junior school but there was no drama at my secondary modern. I was unhappy there for many reasons. I wasn’t academic. I remember asking myself: when was I last happy? The answer was: when I was acting. So I decided to pursue that happiness. I told every new adult I met: “My name is David and I want to be an actor.” I did what you’re not supposed to do and put all my eggs in one basket, but I looked after that basket.

I’ve just been watching The Ones Below, a new thriller directed by David Farr, in which you play Jon, a weird, childless, possibly psychotic man determined to have a family, living in the flat beneath another, apparently more normal, couple expecting a baby. The plot plays on the vulnerability of being a parent, doesn’t it?
I went to a screening with my almost 18-year-old daughter and asked if the film put her off the idea of having a baby? She said it put her off the idea of having neighbours! It is 21 years since our first child was born. I remember the anxiety as a man: how would I provide for a family? And I remember driving away from the hospital thinking: why are they letting us go? Do they know who we are? Fortunately, I was blessed with a wife [novelist Esther Freud] who had been gearing up to becoming a mother for most of her life. She had that desire. I was quite freaked out at the time.

Do you feel relief that that period of life is over?
I look back with relief and nostalgia. Sometimes it seems like yesterday, sometimes years ago. I have a terrible memory. My wife can remember everything.

I kept noticing the creepy details of your performance as Jon. His head movements are unnaturally slow… does this sort of physical detail develop unconsciously?
I consciously decide on someone’s rhythms as a character: who they are professionally, how they interact. We see this man on screen before we know we’ve met him. He walks in to get a takeaway and you should glimpse a stiffening of his body because he has overheard his neighbours being rude about his garden. He is an angry man, suspicious of the world.

He seems to be someone who makes a public performance out of his private life. Have you met anyone like that?
I’ve met people who say things about themselves, who almost overshare. This is who I am, this is who I work for, they let you know the image they want to present. And then they usually turn out to be quite different from what they are determined to project.

You have played many fearsome roles – the most extreme being the Governor in the US zombie drama The Walking Dead; would you like to play nicer characters? Or do devils always get the best lines?
Nice roles tend not to be interesting. I like complexity. Yet many of the supposedly bad characters I’ve played (exempting the Governor) are good people. Stephen Collins in State of Play [the BBC series] makes a terrible decision but you have empathy with him. I try not to make moral judgments about characters from the outside. Everyone is the hero of his or her own story.

 You’re just finishing in Hangmen in the West End, Martin McDonagh’s latest hit play. How do you stay fresh in a long run?
I love this play – you stay fresh because the writing is so good. And you never forget the audience hasn’t seen the play yet. Each new audience takes ownership of the show. And a line can change everything; you will find you are minting it afresh. There have been times when I’ve hit a wall, but this show is such an energy-giver. I’ll miss it when it is gone.

How insecure are you on a scale of 1-10?
It depends on the day. I can get right up to a 9. On good days I’m a 3-4. Every actor, no matter how successful, gets insecure. Insecurity feeds creativity. I’ve never looked for job security – I’d get bored. I like to have a suitcase packed because you never know when someone might phone and say: “We’re making a film in Australia.”

If one of your children wanted to be an actor, would you encourage him or her?
I’d be worried. But it’s a parent’s job to be worried. If I felt they were inspired by it, I’d be glad because acting leads to literature and art and empathy. That’s why it is so important to keep doing drama in schools. It gets children to ask: what it’s like wearing someone else’s shoes?

believe you got married on Southwold pier – do you still spend holidays in Suffolk? What do you think is special about the county?
The people are so engaging, I love the locals and the landscape is so magical: a shifting place with nothing twee about it. And I love the books that describe it, especially Esther’s last novel, Mr Mac and Me.

Or does your heart actually belong to Liverpool, to your roots?
Yes, my heart does belong to Liverpool. I’m proud of growing up there. It’s a place that takes the arts seriously and fights for it. The Everyman is a place I’ve always adored and still do – it’s such a vibrant theatre.

Can you name three things you enjoy that have nothing to do with acting?
Reading, music and Liverpool FC. It sounds trite but it’s important. You can get into a conversation through football, it’s not just about watching overpaid men kicking a ball around. It can also be a gateway to talking about other things.

The Ones Below opens on 11 March

Source: The Guardian

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