He’s a man of many parts, is Iain Glen. He was the dastardly Sir Richard Carlisle, Lady Mary’s suitor in series two of Downton Abbey and he played Margaret Thatcher’s father, the redoubtable Grantham grocer Alf Roberts, in The Iron Lady, alongside Meryl Streep. On stage, he did a memorable turn – literally – cartwheeling while stark naked opposite Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room. He’s tackled most of the major Shakespearean roles and appeared in Doctor Who, Spooks and Game Of Thrones.

Now, here he is again as Jack Taylor, a rough and ready ex-policeman in an eponymous new Channel 5 crime series set in Galway, and 51-year-old Iain couldn’t be happier. ‘I think I’d like him if he existed,’ he says in his soft Edinburgh burr. ‘He drinks much too much but he’s a moral man who dances to no one else’s tune. In his own, cackhanded way, he’s trying to solve society’s woes. He’s willing to pursue crimes that the government or the police have given up on. He’s a loner with a slightly dangerous edge that women find attractive.’

So far, five feature-length dramas based on writer Ken Bruen’s stories have been filmed. It’s a world away from the glittering white-tie-and-tails dinners at Downton. Iain says he loved playing Sir Richard, not least because he already knew several of the cast. ‘Hugh Bonneville is a very good friend of mine. I know Jim Carter [Carson the butler] and I’ve worked with Dame Maggie before. In my opinion, Lady Mary and Sir Richard would have been rather well-suited. They’d have had quite a sparky time together. And being a baddie gives you a little bit more room to play with. But I wanted him to be a genuine threat to Mary’s feelings for Matthew. The audience had to believe that the relationship could have had legs. Then, when it was clear his feelings weren’t ever going to be reciprocated, he resorted to the threat of black-mailing her by exposing in his newspaper the death of the Turkish diplomat in her bed. Good stuff.’

His most memorable theatrical experience, he says, was in The Blue Room. ‘It was one of those dream jobs. The director Sam Mendes sent me a letter. Everything was in place. Nicole Kidman had already been cast. We’d play it in London and then on Broadway. Would I like to do it? Three-and-a-half seconds later, I was on the phone to him.’

He met Nicole Kidman at Sam’s house. ‘We were going to be working together, intimately, for a long time. It was important that we got on. I needn’t have worried. I found her so focused and rather brilliant as an actress. We had a very happy rehearsal and then it turned into this phenomenon.

‘It’s a personal quirk, but I’ve never minded being nude in public. In this case, the play revolved around the sexual act so it was justified. But it was slightly comical. ‘There was I, cartwheeling, doing handstands and playing the piano without a stitch of clothing to little or
no reaction. And yet, when Nicole briefly slipped out of her dress, her back to the audience and showing only the hint of a buttock, you could feel a frisson run around the theatre.

We stayed good friends for about two or three years but life moves on.’ In his defence, he has rather a lot of demands on the domestic front. His son, Finlay, by his ex-wife, actress Susannah Harker, is 17. He met his cur- rent partner, actress Charlotte Emmer- son, ten years his junior, when they were appearing at London’s National Theatre in different productions.

They have a five-year-old daughter, Mary, and Juliet, born at Christmas. How’s he coping with fatherhood again in his early 50s? ‘If I think ahead to how old I’ll be when Juliet goes to university, it does give me pause for thought. But I’m lucky I’ve got quite a lot of energy. There’ll certainly be no chance of vegetating on the sofa.’ He’s just returned from Morocco where he’s been filming Series 3 of Game Of Thrones in which he plays Jorah Mormont. And there’ll be further forays into Jack Taylor’s dysfunctional world. ‘You’re looking at a happy man,’ he says

February 23rd, 2013 Jack Taylor admin 0 Comments

He’s a man of many parts, is Iain Glen. He was the dastardly Sir Richard Carlisle, Lady Mary’s suitor in series two of Downton Abbey and he played Margaret Thatcher’s father, the redoubtable Grantham grocer Alf Roberts, in The Iron Lady, alongside Meryl Streep.

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On stage, he did a memorable turn – literally – cartwheeling while stark naked opposite Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room. He’s tackled most of the major Shakespearean roles and appeared in Doctor Who, Spooks and Game Of Thrones.

Now, here he is again as Jack Taylor, a rough and ready ex-policeman in an eponymous new Channel 5 crime series set in Galway, and 51-year-old Iain couldn’t be happier. ‘I think I’d like him if he existed,’ he says in his soft Edinburgh burr.

‘He drinks much too much but he’s a moral man who dances to no one else’s tune. In his own, cack-handed way, he’s trying to solve society’s woes. He’s willing to pursue crimes that the government or the police have given up on. He’s a loner with a slightly dangerous edge that women find attractive.’
So far, five feature-length dramas based on writer Ken Bruen’s stories have been filmed. It’s a world away from the glittering white-tie-and-tails dinners at Downton. Iain says he loved playing Sir Richard, not least because he already knew several of the cast.

‘Hugh Bonneville is a very good friend of mine. I know Jim Carter [Carson the butler] and I’ve worked with Dame Maggie before. In my opinion, Lady Mary and Sir Richard would have been rather well-suited. They’d have had quite a sparky time together.

‘And being a baddie gives you a little bit more room to play with. But I wanted him to be a genuine threat to Mary’s feelings for Matthew. The audience had to believe that the relationship could have had legs.

Then, when it was clear his feelings weren’t ever going to be reciprocated, he resorted to the threat of blackmailing her by exposing in his newspaper the death of the Turkish diplomat in her bed. Good stuff.’ His most memorable theatrical experience, he says, was in The Blue Room. ‘It was one of those dream jobs. The director Sam Mendes sent me a letter. Everything was in place. Nicole Kidman had already been cast. We’d play it in London and then on Broadway. Would I like to do it? Three-and-a-half seconds later, I was on the phone to him.’’In my opinion, Lady Mary and Sir Richard would have been rather well-suited’

He met Nicole Kidman at Sam’s house. ‘We were going to be working together, intimately, for a long time. It was important that we got on. I needn’t have worried. I found her so focused and rather brilliant as an actress. We had a very happy rehearsal and then it turned into this phenomenon.
‘It’s a personal quirk, but I’ve never minded being nude in public. In this case, the play revolved around the sexual act so it was justified. But it was slightly comical.

‘There was I, cartwheeling, doing handstands and playing the piano without a stitch of clothing to little or no reaction. And yet, when Nicole briefly slipped out of her dress, her back to the audience and showing only the hint of a buttock, you could feel a frisson run around the theatre. We stayed good friends for about two or three years but life moves on.’

In his defence, he has rather a lot of demands on the domestic front. His son, Finlay, by his ex-wife, actress Susannah Harker, is 17. He met his current partner, actress Charlotte Emmerson, ten years his junior, when they were appearing at London’s National Theatre in different productions.
They have a five-year-old daughter, Mary, and Juliet, born at Christmas. How’s he coping with fatherhood again in his early 50s? ‘If I think ahead to how old I’ll be when Juliet goes to university, it does give me pause for thought.

But I’m lucky I’ve got quite a lot of energy. There’ll certainly be no chance of vegetating on the sofa.’ He’s just returned from Morocco where he’s been filming Series 3 of Game Of Thrones in which he plays Jorah Mormont. And there’ll be further forays into Jack Taylor’s dysfunctional world. ‘You’re looking at a happy man,’ he says.

February 22nd, 2013 Jack Taylor, Television admin 0 Comments

Crime thriller fan Iain Glen finally gets to fulfil his ambition and play a sleuth in the adaptation of Ken Bruen’s books for the small screen. Iain, whose recent credits includeGame Of Thrones,Downton Abbey and Spooks, stars as alcoholic loner Jack Taylor, who was thrown out of the Irish police for hitting a government minister. TV Choice meets the actor to chat about his new show that was filmed on location in Galway, where the author Ken Bruen also lives…

What’s it like playing a character as intense as Jack Taylor?
Well, I’m quite hyperactive myself — I’m a bit of an adrenaline freak — so I do have the energy. But, God, I smoked so much! I don’t smoke now, but every time I return to the role I have to start again.

How did you get involved?
I’d worked with the director a long time ago in a drama called The Fear. Our paths hadn’t really crossed since then, and he contacted me and said that he was developing this series and the producers were keen for me to play the role, then he sent me the original book by Ken Bruen and the screenplay. I thought they were great.

Does it feel like quite a responsibility bringing a character from a book to life for the first time?
Yes, it does. It’s not quite the same as playing a character who’s loosely based on someone who actually lived. I did Otto Frank inThe Diary of Anne Frank, I’ve done a few people who lived, or are still alive. That’s even more of a responsibility.

When you’re portraying somebody from fiction, it’s not so much of a responsibility. But you’re taking on a role and you think, ‘Why did they think of me?’ And you’re slightly surprised and flattered, and then you get on with it. So the advantage of having the books there is there’s lots of lovely background and detail, and Ken is a brilliant writer of dialogue — they tried to get as much of his original dialogue in as possible.

You’ve said you’re a fan of crime thrillers. It must be even more rewarding to be part of the genre yourself now…
Exactly, it is. I’ve honestly not spent time coveting roles as an actor, but I’ve definitely always wanted to play a private eye. It’s a real treat to get the chance. You know, when you’re pursuing a particular crime, when you’re unravelling evidence — it’s a lovely concoction as an actor to engage with. I think I’ve enjoyed playing Jack as much as any role in recent years.

February 12th, 2013 Jack Taylor admin 0 Comments

As five stagings of ‘Uncle Vanya’ hit UK theatres in a few months, why does its existential gloom speak to us so profoundly?

In a rehearsal space in east London the actor Ken Stott is poking disconsolately at the contents of a Tupperware box. It’s his lunch and he is clearly on a diet that is affording him no fun. “You won’t be able to see me by Monday,” he observes, gloomily.

It’s a moment that could almost have been lifted from the play he is rehearsing. Stott is playing Uncle Vanya, a grouchy old so-and-so, who, in Christopher Hampton’s version of Anton Chekhov’s 1897 original, even says of himself: “I do nothing except grumble like an old sour grape.”

Stott is in good company: his Vanya will be one of five to grace British theatres within a few months. Indeed the production, directed by Lindsay Posner, opens in the West End within days of a Russian-language performance by Moscow’s Vakhtangov company, directed by the renowned Rimas Tuminas, with leading Russian actor Sergey Makovetsky in the title role.

So why is this self-styled “cantankerous old codger” so much in the spotlight? Is it a coincidence? Or is there something in his grumpiness, self-mockery and frustration that speaks particularly to our time? And if so, why should that be?

Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is a masterpiece: a humane, funny and heartbreaking study of wasted potential. But boil it down and you end up with something as dull-sounding as suet pudding. It opens on a run-down rural estate painstakingly maintained by Vanya and his niece Sonya. We first meet the local doctor, Astrov, complaining about the tedium of provincial life, and then encounter Vanya who, at 47, is undergoing a mid-life crisis of epic proportions, kick-started by the arrival of his brother-in-law, a pompous professor, and his beautiful wife. Nearly everyone feels sorry for themselves – particularly Vanya. So why do we warm to him so?

Makovetsky thinks the appeal lies in recognition. “All of us are Uncle Vanyas,” he says. “Most people who see the performance say that it is about them.”

Stott agrees. “Most of us spend the vast majority of our time complaining about something,” the actor says. “And everyone reaches the stage where they become preoccupied with what is going to happen in the second half of their lives. In this play everyone is in a crisis about that.”

Vanya’s crisis is specific: he has spent his life maintaining the estate in order to support the professor’s career. But when the tetchy academic arrives in person, Vanya suddenly feels a fool. He senses that he has wasted 25 years servicing an opinionated charlatan. Iain Glen, who played Vanya this spring, suggests that his predicament, though particular, is universally recognisable.

“I think Vanya is particularly poignant for middle-aged people who suddenly think: ‘How do I find myself here?’ ” he says. “Nearly all the characters are suddenly brought to a point where they begin to ask themselves those life questions. ‘Why did I make that choice, why have I ended up with this person, where did the time go?’ ”

What is also important is the fact that this introspection strikes at a moment of enforced indolence. Like most of us, Chekhov’s characters start to brood when they are tipped out of their normal work routine.

“One misconception about Chekhov is that his characters were idle sort of people with not enough to do,” says Glen. “That’s certainly not what Vanya’s about. These are people who are usually very, very busy, and then something happens and they grind to a halt. It’s the arrival of this professor: the way he wants to live his life is completely at odds with the way the house has been run. Everyone is brought to a halt and in that halt starts to look inward to where they are.”

But while the frustration may be general, it is Vanya who is singled out in the title – and as “Uncle” Vanya. It’s an affectionate appellation, but not one designed to confer heroic status. It draws attention to the unfulfilled potential in his life: Vanya is not a father, grandfather, husband or lover.

“He’s only uncle to one person,” says Glen. “But he is that figure within the Russian household who kind of looks after things: the worker, the person who they could all depend on. He becomes unpredictable and undependable and inconsolable and it throws everyone’s world upside down.”
But does the play’s current popularity arise only from its timeless qualities? Or does this emotional tumult feel particularly pertinent for a 21st-century audience facing a precarious future and the loss of old certainties? Tuminas, director of the Vakhtangov’s Vanya, suggests that this might in part be true. “People nowadays are very desperate,” he says.

Tuminas describes a disorientation in Russia: “The main feeling is the loss of a dream. I agree with the great Russian philosopher who said that a country is defined not by its geographical location or by the language of the nation but by whether it has its dream or not. Liberty and democracy were once a dream for us but it hasn’t been eternal.”

Tuminas’s production is groundbreaking. Wildly physical, darkly comic and gleefully absurd, it dispenses with all the usual Chekhov furnishings. His characters rattle about on a near-empty stage, propelled by their feelings. “It’s a physical realisation that time is slipping through your fingers,” he says.

The American Richard Alger is co-director of Theatre Movement Bazaar’s Anton’s Uncles, which toured Britain earlier this autumn. He too feels the resonance of the panic in Chekhov’s play. “I think the idea of not fulfilling your dreams is very big in the Zeitgeist,” Alger says. Anton’s Uncles strips down the original, emphasising its wild fluctuations of mood. “You’re left with something very raw and that’s what’s appealing about his work,” he says.

It’s not just what Chekhov says that feels fresh then – it is how he says it. Recent English productions have shaken off the reverent melancholia of earlier stagings and embraced the emotional rawness and trapped, febrile energy in the play. When the characters soliloquise, we seem to listen in on their thoughts. Stott says this demands truthful delivery: “You have to be doubly careful to try and achieve that nakedness: stripping off a layer and showing the soul.”

Posner, his director, adds: “It’s not the plot that’s dynamic. The journey of the characters is the source of dramatic tension.”

In its earliest form, the play incorporated a suicide and a happier ending. But Chekhov changed this for a failed shooting and a more ambivalent ending: Vanya and Sonya return to their labours in a final scene that contains both solace and aching sadness. His characters may despair, but in the end they keep on keeping on. Less dramatic, perhaps, but far truer to most people’s experience.

In the end it is this profound, sympathetic honesty that speaks to us. “People always have the sense that life is just slightly better over there,” says Iain Glen. “There are very few of us who think, ‘You know what, I’m really happy right here: this is perfect.’ That’s not what we are. And that’s what Chekhov wrote about.

October 26th, 2012 Theatre admin 0 Comments

SFX: What were your highlights from the first series?

Iain Glen: Just getting on board in the first place. It was a big thing to come to the UK, and you know the word was in the air about HBO doing this massive new series, and because it was set so far back in time that European and British actors were in the loop for it. And it’s a big slice of work to come here, to Ireland in particular, but we’re been working in Scotland, Morocco, Malta and stuff. So it was a highlight getting on it and for it to be picked up, which you never know – they’re quite brutal about if it’s functioning or if it’s not functioning, if they like what you’re up to or don’t. They’re hard on the writing, hard on everything, and so the pilot taught everyone a great deal, and they’re willing to spend the money to get it right.

What are the big challenges of playing Jorah?

He’s got a lot going on. I like that he offers in some way a contrast to a lot of the relationships in it, which are fairly tortured or dishonest. Although the beginnings of his relationship is slightly suspect, he’s very pure in his intent once he gets going with the princess. He loves her and admires her, and I think that stays true through the course of the series. He’s a good guy in a world where in which there are not too many.

Have you read any of the books at all?

Yeah, when I was initially offered it I looked at the book. They have to give you a kind of outline as they’re asking you to commit years ahead, so I got a sense of what’s unfolding. Initially we weren’t sure how far it would roll so you don’t want to be disappointed reading ahead and then finding out you’re not doing it. And also there’s a slight complication after a while, the writers are doing their jobs very, very well, but in some ways the sentence they least want to hear begins with “but in the book my character does…” So you back off! It’s fantastic for research, but not really for trying to get everything that’s in the books in to the screenplays.

There’s a lot of information in there…

There’s a lot of lovely, fantastic information, it’s the history of the world in which it’s all taking place, and it’s all there in his books.

So what can we expect from season two?

Well, I think more of the same, but you’re not burdened with having to set all the story lines up. I think it’s really on a roll, and there was great confidence coursing through everyone with the second series. It’s lovely to have a thumbs up critically and audience wise, it went really well and so now you can just really enjoy it and get on with it. And I felt that was right through production, crew, actors, you think “ah, this is great, we’re on something that’s working.”

And there’s a lot more action in story for you this season?

There is, it’s great. Our story always travels, the Dothraki are nomadic people so our landscape always changes, and we meet different problems all the way along the line. You meet us at the beginning of the second series at a very low ebb, near starvation. So there’s great contrast in our storylines this season

March 28th, 2012 Game of Thrones, Movies admin 0 Comments

The characters are a world apart: the ruthless, upwardly mobile newspaper publisher Sir Richard Carlisle in Downton Abbey’s Edwardian England and Chekhov’s self-pitying Uncle Vanya, aimlessly wasting his life away on a country estate in pre-Revolutionary Russia. But these disparate roles have both been inhabited by Iain Glen, one of the finest actors of the last 25 years.

Although millions have seen him performing in the hugely successful period drama series on ITV, he has now returned to his first love, theatre, to tackle one of the great classical parts at the intimate Print Room in Notting Hill (in a new version by Mike Poulton, directed by joint Artistic Director Lucy Bailey). Regular TV and film work may have raised Glen’s profile – and bank balance – considerably but it is on stage that he has really flexed his acting muscles during his varied and consistently excellent career.

When I interview him at the theatre in a lunchtime break from rehearsals only a fortnight before Uncle Vanya opens, he seems surprisingly relaxed and gives carefully considered answers in his native Edinburgh accent. When I ask him how things are going, he jokes, “After two and a half weeks of rehearsing I could lie and say that we’ve unraveled great secrets and everything’s going wonderfully but it’s a time to experiment, make mistakes and hopefully discover things. Rehearsals are the most exciting but also nerve-wracking time. It changes day by day: something falls into place but at other times you feel off-kilter. Chekhov, as much as any playwright, offers the opportunity for a rich reality but if you’re not making as much of the writing as possible you can feel very superficial!”
Of course, the depth and complexity of Chekhov’s plays mean that they can be approached and interpreted in multiple ways, and as a tragicomedy, Uncle Vanyacan move very quickly from pathos to farce.

Glen comments, “British tastes for Chekhov have changed a lot over the years. We used to be much more earnest and reverential, and it’s only relatively recently that we’ve started to appreciated his humour fully. We are aiming to make people laugh as well as cry, as long as the comedy supports and does not undermine the seriousness. There is an absurdity in so many of Chekhov’s characters but shown with a compassionate humanity so that ultimately there is some hope for the future of these sad people with their frustrated dreams.”

Glen’s protagonist undergoes a sort of mid-life crisis: after managing the estate with his niece Sonya for many years they are now in danger of losing their home because his late sister’s husband, a retired professor, wants to sell up to live luxuriously with his new young wife in Moscow. Glen is aware of the pitfalls: “Of course, I have to make sure that Vanya does not come across as a boring whinger. I am wary about analysing a character while I’m playing him, but he’s basically a kind, funny man who helps others without feeling that he has realised his own potential.” Glen has grown a full beard for the part, which suits his ruggedly handsome looks. “It just felt right to me – I don’t feel my way into a character from the outside but sometimes appearance can help with getting into the mood.”

Glen, who turned 50 last year, is almost an exact fit for the 47-year-old Vanya, while his wife Charlotte Emmerson (in real life ten years younger than Glen) will here be playing his niece – though as he points out, there is not necessarily a big age gap between the characters as Sonya is the daughter of his elder sister! The only other time he and Emmerson have acted together was in another Poulton adaptation, Schiller’s Wallenstein, at Chichester in 2009. They first met ten years ago at the National Theatre even though they were acting in different shows – he as Stanley Kowalski opposite Glenn Close’s Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and she in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia trilogy. Glen recalls, “We would bump into each other in the corridors, me in my sweaty T-shirt and she in her beautiful nineteenth-century costume, and romance blossomed!”

I wondered if Glen’s approach to acting has changed much since he graduated from RADA (where he won the Bancroft Gold Medal) in 1985? He replies thoughtfully, “Yes, it was different when I was young. These days I like to get on top of the text earlier – it used to feel pre-emptive to learn all the lines before rehearsal but now it feels nothing but liberating because it takes the script out of your hand so you can focus on listening to the other actors and responding to them. Also, it all feels a little less important than it used to, in a healthy way I think – when I started out in my early 20s it was my entire world, but now I have other priorities, with my family.” (Glen has a 17-year-old son from his first marriage to actress Susannah Harker and a four year-old daughter with Emmerson.)

Glen’s certainly enjoyed many highlights in his theatre career, playing a number of big roles in the classic mainstream repertoire, and working with top actors and directors in the West End and on Broadway. He was nominated as Evening Standard Best Actor for his Henry V (RSC/Matthew Warchus), and has been nominated three times for Olivier Best Actor Award in the Boubil/Shonberg musical Martin Guerre, David Hare’s The Blue Room (playing opposite Nicole Kidman) and Dominic Cooke’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for the RSC. When I ask him if there are any particular roles he is burning to play in the future, he says, “I’ve never coveted or hoped for those things – that’s a recipe for disappointment. But when I’m approached about doing a project I often think, yes, this is a character I really need to play!”

In 2010, Glen took on perhaps his biggest challenge by playing the substantial part of Pastor Manders in Ibsen’s multi-layered play Ghosts while simultaneously making his directing debut. His West End production divided critics, some saying he’d stretched himself too thinly, while others gave it rave reviews. Had the experience given him a taste for directing? “I found it very demanding and hadn’t fully appreciated the difficulty of wearing two hats. But I prepared by knowing my lines outright before starting to direct, as well as having a wonderful assistant director in Amelia Sears and a very talented and accommodating cast. But although I pretended quite effectively, the bottom lime was that I didn’t enjoy the responsibility – there is something superficial about acting in terms of engaging deeply for a short amount of time and then forgetting all about it which suits my personality!”

Although Glen admits that “theatre writing is often better – it makes more demands on you as an actor but if you can pull it off it’s very satisfying,” he also says, “I love screen acting too, so I’m very lucky to be able to do both.” He made an impressive start to his film career winning the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 1990 Berlin Film Festival for his performance as the convicted Scottish murderer Larry Winters in Silent Scream (directed by David Hayman), but though he’s made a number of films since then he hasn’t landed the heavyweight leading roles which he performs so well in the theatre. His most recent film was Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady, where he played Mrs Thatcher’s idolised father Alfred Roberts, a small businessman and mayor of Grantham. What was it like being responsible for Britain’s first female prime minister? He laughs. ‘Well, I suppose I was a role model for young Margaret – she picked up a lot of her principles and beliefs from the way I lived my life!’

On TV, Glen has been rather more prominent – most recently appearing in adaptations of the Irish crime novels Jack Taylor, the MI5 drama Spooks and the HBO medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic, not to mention the mini-heritage industry that is Downton Abbey. He says, “No one could have predicted what a massive hit it would become, and I was very fortunate when I jumped on board in the second series. It’s a real ensemble piece – I knew lots of the actors already and it was great fun to work on.” As for the commissioned third series, he can only add that “things are evolving but I’m sworn to silence.”

But it’s in live theatre where Glen has done his best work. And currently you can see him – complete with beard – up close and personal on stage at the Print Room, Notting Hill, where Uncle Vanya runs until 28 April.

March 28th, 2012 Downton Abbey, Television, Theatre admin 0 Comments

The third in our series of interview from the international press round table interview junket (see our previous two interviews: Charles Dance and Michelle Fairley), this time we’ll cross the narrow sea, through the tall grass of the Dothraki sea, and into the red waste and beyond to talk with Iain Glen, who plays Ser Jorah Mormont, Daenerys’s guardian, advisor, companion…. and perhaps a bit more. A Scottish actor gifted with a charm and a voice that apparently gets not a few hearts racing, Glen has done a bit of everything on stage and screen, including roles in blockbusters like Kingdom of Heaven and smash hits like Downton Abbeyand, of course, HBO’s Game of Thrones.

In the interview below, Glen discusses a range of topics: Jorah’s relationship to Daenerys, what we might expect over the next season, how it was to work in Dubrovnik, and more.

Q: How does it feel to be part of something where you know what’ll be happening to your character?

“The structure is very much taken from the books, which I feel the series is very faithful to. So if you want to, you can read right ahead and get a sense of what you’re doing—”

 Q: Have you done that?

“No. No. You can get a hunch by, when you do the series, when you’re contracted. So, Sean Bean was contracted for a year, because [makes chopping sound], but I was contracted for five or six years, so you know its a long-running storyline. It doesn’t feel useful to read ahead too much, and you’re busy doing other things. It’s the writer’s job to contract these big novels and turn it into a filmic format, and I think they do it very, very well. Once I get the new series, I read the book because it has useful background material to it. But until that “You’re going to get the go” button, I sort of hold off from that.”

 Q: Did you know the books before hand?

“No, not at all. It’s one of the interesting things about it is that it’s a milieu that a lot of people thought it wasn’t necessarily for them. For others it is for them, but I think we’ve attracted people who wouldn’t necessary be drawn to it. I think that’s because it’s very adult in its flavor, its the mature side of the genre, and I think the world that is portrayed is very plausible if you look back in man’s history. Of course, it’s a totally invented landscape, invented peoples, invented everything, but it feels plausible, it feels like you can imagine that people really lived like that, that the politics were really that way, the warring peoples, the structure of the family, the role of women… I think everything feels like it’s true, bizzarely. It gives it very good muscle, and makes it maybe more substantial than other things of that ilk.”

Q: Have you kissed Daenerys this series?

“I can’t tell you! No, you’re going to have to watch it.”

 Q: How did you find filming in Dubrovnik?

“It was great! It’s ridiculous that my filming is all in the really gorgeous, lovely warm place with the nomadic tribe. The vast majority of the actors have to work in really cold, horrible places—ice walls and wet and so on—and I always go to the really nice bit that the crew was looking forward to. Dubrovnik was particularly lovely, and I think very popular with the producers because it offers such a vast array of landscapes, very good production facilities and crews, with a very friendly working environment. A very beautiful city.”

Q: How long did it take to shoot the second series?

“It ran about three and a half months, something like that. They run two units at the same time. You may have one unit working in Ireland while a different unit is working in Croatia. I don’t think it’s all the time that there are two units, but a lot of the time we have two units.”

Q: When did you start filming this series, compared to the end of filming last series?

“It’s been the same for the first year and second year. We start filming about the end of June, July, and it runs through till maybe three and a half months or something. I’m not entirely sure about the whole show, because I’m just around for that lovely bit.”

Q: How many days did you spend on the set?

“For this series, I’d say twenty five days. something like that.”

Q: You seem to spend the series covered in grime.

“Yeah. Most of us do! That’s the world you’re portraying, they weren’t generally going back and having a nice shower and getting all cleaned up. That just comes with the territory.”

Q: Was it fake dirt or real dirt?

“Oh, it was fake dirt. Sometimes they’ll do all the makeup and stuff, but sometimes you roll around in the sand or what have you to dirty up the costumes a bit. But mostly its makeup.”

Q: What was it like working with Emilia Clarke, and do you think that she makes a good dragon queen?

“I think she’s wonderful. You hold your breath when you go into a long series like this, because you’re hoping the central actors you’re working with will be good and you get along with them, and right from the word “Go”, Emilia has been completely lovely. I think she’s a very, very good actor. In the first series, she starts as this innocent in a very alien world and during the course of the series she becomes this warrior queen. I think she’s doing that very well and very plausibly. And we always have a laugh, which is important when you’re filming.”

Q: Any examples?

“No, no, just going out and having fun. We had Harry Lloyd with us during the first series. This time we had Peter Dinklage and Jerome Flynn, because they were filming in Croatia at the same time as us. It was lovely to having someone to go out with to drink, and we had lovely times going out on boats during day trips and stuff. You feel pretty lucky.”

Q: Did you have any big scenes with the CGI dragons this series?

“There are. They feature, they’re ever-present. So they don’t overpower the story, the writers have been very choice about when they’re featured. Sometimes you’ll see them being put in their cage at the top of a scene so that you can continue on clean of them. Because it takes a lot of work to set up the CGI within the scenes and stuff. Again, the series is very good at whether it’s the wolves or the dragons, they do them very, very well.”

Q: Do you think Jorah’s feelings for Daenerys can be compared to modern views on men having feeling towards girls?

“I suppose there’s an element of truth to that. I think youthful beauty—youthful, feminine beauty—is very attractive to most men, and sexually attractive… without being disturbingly young, of course! There’s a truth about that. The reason I have a big beard is that I’m about to play Uncle Vanya, the Chekov play. One of the central things in that play is that it’s about this man who idolizes this beautiful, youthful woman who arrives on the scene, who’s married to a much older man. And so it’ a mixture of feelings—if I could just have some of that youth, I could rejuvenate myself—and I think that’s quite often an element of relationships between older men and younger women. But it’s also something tinged with a sort of sadness, because you’re in the second half of your life and you meet someone who’s in the first half of their life.

“So, it’s slightly different—it’s not different actually, because in Uncle Vanya I never get her, but there’s something true about that in Game of Thrones as well. You have to be very careful because you asked if I had kissed her or not, but the longer you deny it, the more exciting it is as storytelling. The moment you allow something too much to happen, something dies I think. So it’s something you want to keep in the air. You get very much the story that he would love to possess her and make her his wife, but so far that feeling hasn’t been reciprocated, which keeps it potent.”

Q: What does Jorah think about the strange powers that Daenerys has?

“Initially he was very suspicious as everyone else was, but he witnessed at the end of the first series her extraordinary powers when she survived the pyre and gave birth to the dragons, so he’s entirely persuaded of her powers.”

 Q: Season one was more of an introduction to the characters and setting. Do you feel this series starts up in a higher gear?

“When you try to set up a story that contains such a wide variety of characters, you can’t be anything but introductory, getting everyone up and running in terms of the relationships between the characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s an hour and a half film or even writing a book, you’ll have a sense of that, that you can very rarely just come right into the middle of the story. There was a degree of setting up in the first series, and hopefully that wasn’t done with too much exposition. Now, it always rejuvenates and new characters will come in—and the writers are quite brutal about removing characters, so there’ll always be change—but everyone trusts the material and we can just tell the stories now without thinking too much about setting up storylines.”

Q: Can we expect more war scenes?

“Yeah, yeah. I think so.”

Q: How did you find the Dothraki lines?

“They’re a nightmare. It’s this gobledy-gook language that’s very, very hard to learn, but it’s very much worth the effort because when you try and just make up your own, it always sounds very foolish. This very bright linguist [David J. Peterson] developed this entire language, and so whenever a line is needed he’s referred to. He comes up with it, and it’s always very consistent. But it’s really hard. One line is okay. But if you have a speech… man, it’s hard, it’s really hard.”

Q: How do you practice the lines, so you can get the right emphasis for emotions?

“You really just need to learn it by rote. It’s this series of nonsense syllables. David says the line for you, so you learn the pattern but he doesn’t really do the intonation and he’s also American, so it sounds different. But he gives you the right sound. And then you think very clearly about the line in English and how you’d say it as you say the Dothraki line. So if it’s a line in Dothraki where you’re angry, you’ll learn it again and again to get it right.”

Q: So is Peterson there?

“No, no, he’s in L.A. But he’s always on the line, so if they need something they call him up.”

Q: Does Jorah show regrets this series?

“Uhm…. yes. You’re desperate to find out what happens this series, aren’t you? You’re going to have watch it! But yes, there’s a little bit of that this series.”

Q: You’ve managed in the middle of two of the biggest TV phenomenas in the last two year, with Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. How do you have time for it, and what are the differences between them?

“As an actor, you’re at the mercy of the work that comes your way. With Downton, it was very different because I was coming into the second series when it was already popular, whereas with Game of Thrones I was there from the very beginning. You really have to relish when it’s there, because goodness knows it isn’t always, because you do so much for film and TV that never gets the audience that you’d hope for. It’s a real treat, and certainly I feel it when I’ve shopped in Sainsbury’s more than in the last few years. People always want to know what’s going to happen. “Do you end up with Lady Mary?” And actually, they don’t reallywant to know.”

Q: Good time for English accents, isn’t it?

“Yeah, really good time. It’s that funny thing that when you go back in history a certain distance, people think English accents, which is good for us lot. Somehow a too-strong American accent, rightly or wrongly, would jar and certainly in Game of Thrones. But that’s just a conceit that we’re used to in film. The fact is no one really knows how people sounded then. Having done Shakespeare, great debate exists about just how people sounded. It’s just a per-concieved notion, it doesn’t raise any eyebrows or questions if you stay to a neutral-ish English accent.

“But you know, in terms of the two series, they’re both lovely. One is terribly English, very single-location based, all about these all very well arranged costumes, and a sort of delicate, fine story with things being understated or unstated. And the other is incredibly visercal and outside and colorful and exotic. Everything is stated, hearts are worn on the sleeves.

March 27th, 2012 Game of Thrones, Television admin 0 Comments

Find out more about the man who courts Lady Mary Crawley… Iain Glen plays Sir Richard Carlisle, a wealthy newspaper tycoon.

A wonderfully versatile actor who has previously starred in such diverse dramas as Wives and Daughters, Spooks, Doctor Who and The Diary of Anne Frank, Iain starts by describing his character: “He is an inordinately wealthy newspaper proprietor with the power to make or break reputations. He finds himself in the enviable position of being the latest suitor to Mary. Mary’s family are initially wary of his new money. But he is determined to belong there and do what he needs to become part of that family. She represents a world that he feels he should be part of.”

So does he really love Mary, one of the most popular characters from the first series? “Yes,” replies Iain. “He nurses a genuine love for Mary. In her, he sees an independent woman with great spark and intelligence, rucking up against the expectations of women from her class. He is willing to give Mary her head.”

“The third person” in the relationship between Richard and Mary is, of course, her ex, Matthew. He represents a potential spanner in the works for Richard. Iain says that, “It’s complicated, because Mary harbours an unfulfilled passion for Matthew which will never go away. Richard gets to know about that and feels threatened and wants to exorcise it from her. That is one of the threads of this series, and it comes between them.”

Iain continues that in many ways Richard and Mary are very well suited. “At this point, we don’t know whether they will get together, but any future marriage would have genuine passion. Richard cannot be dismissed. They’re both independent, forceful, tough people. Their relationship is hot, not sexless. They are suited to each other, but also fiery. There would be many an argument along the way. It could go either way!”

The actor has relished working with Michelle Dockery who plays Mary. “She’s a wonderful person. She’s great fun. We have a real laugh together – were both great gigglers. It sounds like a paradox, but when the writing is very good, you become really dependent on the other actors to realise a scene. “Michelle and I talked a lot about our screen relationship – I really value her opinion. She’s a marvellous actress. You might think that she is tailor-made for the role of Mary, but she isn’t. She’s just made it seem that way.” The actor believes that viewers have been so drawn to Downton Abbey because of its marvellous subtlety. “The first series struck such a chord because we live in a world where so much of public life is revealed. Everything in modern life is so stated, not hidden.

“We now live in a much more morally compromised world with far fewer absolutes. Period drama such as Downton Abbey investigates a subtler world where people’s moral dilemmas seem so much more nuanced than now. In that world people wrestled with quieter issues. We look back on it and think that it was a better, often kinder place to be.” He adds, “In those days, characters struggled with whether they could express their love for someone. Nowadays we live in a world where you don’t think twice before jumping into bed with someone. We’re bombarded with images and everything is on display. So we like to go back to a world where things were not shown. Period drama is about what is not said and what is under the surface. Viewers have to work harder but they like that responsibility. Period drama like Downton Abbey really satisfies audiences.”

Source: http://enchantedserenityperiodfilms.blogspot.co.uk/

July 29th, 2011 Downton Abbey, Television admin 0 Comments

Iain Glen and Lesley Sharp talk about their roles in a new production of the perennially shocking ‘Ghosts’.

It’s a sign of the huge scandal that Ibsen’s Ghosts caused that it didn’t receive its world premiere in Norway, but in Chicago. Such was the consternation that greeted its publication in December 1881 that for some time it was considered untouchable in Scandinavia and beyond – simply as a printed script let alone as a play fit for performance.

As one commentator noted: “In Stockholm on the day of publication – there was a rush to the bookshops. But the excitement vanished in silence. Absolute silence. The newspapers said nothing and the bookshops sent the book back to the publisher. It was contraband. Something which could not decently be discussed.”

Set in rainy, western Norway, this tale of a woman (Mrs Alving) who once tried to leave her philander-ing, abusive husband but was persuaded by the local pastor (Manders) to return to him – bearing him, as a consequence, a son cursed with syphilis – horrified the English press, too. The Daily Telegraph famously joined the chorus of disapproval when Ghosts (in Norwegian Gjengangere – the translates as “Revenants” or “The Ones Who Return”) premiered in London in 1891.

A leader column in the paper denounced it as “an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly; a lazar-house with all its doors and windows open”. The actor Iain Glen, who is directing a new translation by the Irish playwright Frank McGuinness for a West End production in which he himself plays Pastor Manders, found a brief break during his hectic rehearsal schedule to sit down with his co-star Lesley Sharp (Mrs Alving) to discuss its enduring appeal. I began by asking about that astonishing initial reaction and why Ghosts haunts us still.

Iain Glen: It was as if Ibsen had dropped a bombshell, wasn’t it?
People couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. Ghosts was regarded as disgusting, immoral, nihilistic, meaningless. Some of the things people were very shocked by, we are obviously less shocked by now, particularly his depiction of religious morality – how it can twist people – but at its heart, the play strips away a dysfunctional relationship between a mother and son and that’s still very perturbing.

Lesley Sharp: The great thing about the play is that it’s about the truths in a family that don’t get told. There may be very good reasons for that, but it can do enormous damage. And that’s still happening today. Mrs Alving sent her son Oswald away to protect him, but in the process she damaged him irrevocably. Having tried to be the best mother she could be, she has been partly responsible for his unhappiness and it’s unbearable. It’s a fantastic story – she’s tearing herself up with guilt every day for what she did to her son. Psychologically, it feels very accurate.

DC: Critics often praise you for roles in which you’re withholding apparently uncontainable emotion – is that why you were drawn to the part here?

LS: I’m drawn to characters that are interesting, it’s simple as that.
I’ve just played Mari, the mother in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, and she’s the antithesis of Mrs Alving – she’s a bipolar alcoholic who can’t keep her mouth shut. That was great to play! What is never good is if you’re playing a character and they are described as “a mother”. Then you’re just playing a character who is in relief to the child, so it’s the child’s story. What you want to see is the mother’s story, too.

DC: Iain Glen, you’ve had recent experience in Ibsen – playing Judge Brack in Richard Eyre’s acclaimed 2005 revival of Hedda Gabler. Do you see similarities between Brack and Manders – they’re both intensely controlling, aren’t they?

IG: In some ways, he’s a cousin part to Brack, but he’s also the complete opposite. Brack is very world-weary, with a cynical view of society, while Manders has a naivety about him, an innocence that a lot of religious-minded people can have. I think the play is more complex if we can’t readily dismiss Manders.

LS: There’s also a lot of sexual feeling that he’s repressing. He has had a great internal struggle. If you say he’s just dessicated you’ve given yourself nowhere to go.

DC: Something that’s novel about this is the fact that you’re making your directorial debut here, Iain Glen, as well as acting in the play. That sounds like a tough gig.

IG: It’s in at the deep end, isn’t it? I’ve had a few things like that in my career. The first Shakespeare play I did was Hamlet and I’d never spoken Shakespeare professionally before I did that. This was [producer] Thelma Holt’s crazy idea. We’ve had a good relationship for many years, cemented by The Crucible, which she produced in London and which was a very happy experience for me. We’d always said we’d try and do something else again and I’ve often expressed a desire to direct.

Thelma feels very strongly about Frank McGuinness’s translation and has worked on two previous Ibsen versions of his – A Doll’s House and Peer Gynt – both of which were successful. To do both jobs, you have to surround yourself with people who support you. As an actor in rehearsal, you’re used to these spurts of energy where you investigate a role and then have someone sit on the side and respond to it. Not having that assessment could be a bit mind-blowing but I have a brilliant associate director [Amelia Sears] who is providing that crucial pair of eyes.

DC: How are you finding this rather unusual arrangement, Lesley Sharpe?

LS: It’s not something I have had experience of before, but Iain is absolutely there as a director. He has a vision of the piece. In essence, we’ve got two directors but the two of them are completely simpatico. It would be very confusing if they were giving different notes.

DC: The subsidised sector lays claim to so many classics. Does the case need to be made for Ghosts being revived in the West End?

IG: It’s not the easiest of sells, is it – Ibsen in the West End? We simply want to attract an audience that is drawn to a fantastic rendition of a masterpiece. We will try to serve up the best production we can, and hope people respond to it.

LS: I think that there has been a snobbish attitude to the work that happens in the West End, as if the good work takes place in the subsidised sector and the West End is where the commoners go. But there’s a buzz about the West End now. You can go and see Sheridan Smith being fantastic in Legally Blonde. You can see Mark Rylance being fantastic in Jerusalem. And it’s really exciting as actors to feel we’re part of that too, with Ghosts. We’re just saying – “Here’s a chance to see something else which we think you’ll really enjoy as well. Come and take a look!

February 16th, 2010 Theatre admin 0 Comments

Leading actors do not often make the leap into directing, but Iain Glen has wanted to for years. “I’ve been aware of the work I do as an actor _being directorial in feel,” he says, “I have ideas about how a play could manifest itself, a sort of overall picture. But 95% of the time, I keep my mouth shut.” And it might have remained that way, had the producer Thelma Holt not intervened.

Glen first met the “eccentric and delightful” West End veteran in 2006, when she oversaw the London transfer of the RSC’s The Crucible (in which Glen, as John Proctor, gave an incendiary performance). Holt was casting around for new projects for him, but nothing came to fruition, until he took part in a test-run private performance of a new version of Ibsen’s Ghosts, by Frank McGuinness. “Afterwards, I went into flights of fancy about the play and how one could realise it,” says Glen. “That seemed to be enough for Thelma to say, ‘Well, why don’t you direct it?’”

Which is why for the past few weeks he has been locked in a rehearsal room in a former factory in London, preparing for his directorial debut. “I’ve never been so wired,” he says. His elder brother Hamish is a director – he runs the Belgrade in Coventry – but Glen hasn’t sought his advice. He doesn’t need to: in his 25-year career, he has worked with Nicholas Hytner, Richard Eyre, Michael Boyd, Declan Donnellan, Dominic Cooke and Sam Mendes, soaking up influences that other fledgling directors might never encounter.

Glen is also performing in his production, playing Pastor Manders, whose stern morality forces the other characters to live lies that unravel. “It’s not as mad as it might seem,” Glen says of his dual role. “Once Manders establishes the strictures that everyone else is living under, he steps back, and the heart of the play is the relationship between a mother and child.” Nonetheless, he admits he is finding it tricky. “As an actor, I’m familiar with having bursts of energy, where you’re giving things a try, and then you have down time. Here, I have those bursts of energy and then, snap, it’s for you to dissect what’s gone on. I’m happiest when I can just be a director, and watch.”

Is a career change on the horizon? “I’m too in love with acting,” he says. And he’s not sure he likes the demands placed on a director. “You have to have conviction, in a way that you don’t as an actor. The danger in theatre is always that it looks staid and rehearsed, so it’s healthy for actors to be unsure and playful. With directing, there are concrete decisions to be made: is it going to be black or white? Are you going to be here or there?” Initially, Glen says, he dithered; now, he is more definite. “Directing is very grown-up, in a way that I’m not. I’m too much of a big kid.”

You wouldn’t know it to see him on stage: whether he is performing in Miller, Chekhov or Shakespeare, Glen is a commanding presence, meticulously illuminating a character’s psyche. In person, though, this 48-year-old is as fidgety as a toddler. He tugs at the collar of his blue linen shirt, rubs his tummy, does up a button, stretches out his legs, snaps upright, scratches his ankle, musses his hair, cups his blond goatee. Sitting next to him in an auditorium must be a nightmare.

This restlessness is evident in Glen’s CV: beyond the classics, it takes in everything from independent British movies to Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, via BBC costume dramas, a nude appearance alongside Nicole Kidman in David Hare’s The Blue Room, and the musical Martin Guerre. No wonder he’s never been typecast: he has never settled at anything long enough. Glen left Rada in 1985 trained only for theatre, yet went straight into the TV film Blood Hunt, with actor Andrew Keir. “Suddenly I was in front of a camera with this lovely older actor. The world transformed for me.”

While he’s mildly frustrated that “invariably the things people have seen are your least proud work”, he appreciates the advantages of appearing in big-budget Hollywood fare. “It pays well, and that allows you to have a certain quality of life, to do that interesting radio play. I have a problem with actors who get involved in these things and complain: you make the choice and you should do the best you can.”

Prank calls and leotards

Glen started acting while at school in Edinburgh, but not in the conventional way. Instead of “dressing up and pretending to be Brutus”, he and his friends, including the future DJ Nicky Campbell, would terrorise locals. Glen would lie in a pile of leaves and pretend to be dead, until a passerby spotted him and panicked, at which point he would leap up and laugh. “I would give trauma to people,” he says, properly ashamed. He and Campbell also called a talk show on Radio Forth with a series of fake personalities. “I would say I was a mugger, or a glue manufacturer with a product that was safe for kids to sniff.”

By his own admission, Glen was a “teenager from hell”. He was unhappy at school and at home, locked in competition with his two older brothers. Acting, which he discovered at Aberdeen University, allowed him to escape himself. When he dropped out to study at Rada, Glen transformed into “an annoyingly good pupil. I was into my leotard, doing my vocal warm-ups before anyone, asking what more I could learn. I was disgustingly obedient.”

His fractious youth is now “the cause of great laughter” in his family; he is lucky that his own 14-year-old son Finlay, from his marriage to actor _Susannah Harker, isn’t giving his father the same hell. “Finlay’s a mellow soul,” says Glen. He and Harker divorced in 2004; Glen met his current partner, Charlotte Emmerson, while they were acting in different productions at the National Theatre. The couple have a two-year-old _daughter, Mary, whose “manic ebullience” sounds more typical of her father – and who ensures that he stops thinking about work the moment he arrives home.

Not that Glen lacks distractions: he keeps busy with sport, plays piano and guitar and still has the odd rock-star fantasy: “If I could go on stage and be Mick Jagger, just for one song, that would be brilliant.” It’s never going to happen, but Glen doesn’t mind. “If the next five years of my career could be like the last five, I’ll be happy. But a time will come when I won’t want to do it any more. All I would wish for – and it’s wishing for a lot – is that I’ve put enough aside to say: OK, I don’t need to work now, I can retire.”

February 8th, 2010 Theatre admin 0 Comments
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