How does it feel to be playing Tommy Cooper?
This is a dream role for me as Tommy is one of my comedy heroes. I grew up watching him along with Morecombe and Wise, Les Dawson and Laurel and Hardy, and many other “old school” comedians. I was so influenced by them that I decided from an early age that that is what I wanted to do, to be a performer, to make people laugh. I became an actor at the age of 15, joined a rep theatre company and learnt my craft. 27 years later, I’m playing my hero, a genius and a true comedy legend.
ever played Tommy before?
No, never. But it’s funny – all my life I’ve been a comedy actor, I’ve done a lot of farces and comedies, and so many of the reviews have said that I’m like Tommy Cooper. I always get Tommy Cooper references in reviews whatever I do so I suppose at some point it was inevitable that I was going to play him.
How did you
go about tackling the role?
Because I’ve always been a fan of his anyway I do know a lot of his routines, but the difficulty in being Tommy Cooper is mastering the scenes when Tommy isn't performing, when he’s being himself. There are no recordings of him when he isn't "being Tommy Cooper". He was always "on", playing up to the camera and never gave anything of himself away.
There is one documentary called The Untold Tommy Cooper where they are talking to him, and you can see he is tired. They say "this must be exhausting", and there is one line where he says "yes, it is" where he is not "being Tommy Cooper". So I have this one sentence to work out what he’s like when he’s not "being Tommy Cooper". Because whenever he was on television, in interviews or performing he was always being Tommy the magician and entertainer.
always been a fan of Tommy Cooper?
I’ve always been a fan of his, always. But then I’ve always been a fan of that old style comedy – Morecambe and Wise, Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper – ever since I was a kid.”
you describe the play?
Basically it charts Tommy’s life, it’s all about him and how he was both as a performer and as a person. It’s a brilliant play because people are obsessed with him in this country. It’s very truthful, so it’s all about his dark side as well as his genius – and that’s what’s great about it. You get the whole story. It’s a great night out as you get all the laughs, but there’s also a side of him that nobody knew. There are things about him that I didn’t know until I’d read the script, that the writer Tom Green had found out. So it’s a fantastic play.
famously collapsed from a heart attack on live television in front of
millions of viewers on the variety show Live from Her
Majesty’s. You visited that on the anniversary of his
death this year. What was that experience like?
It was a weird feeling, walking in the same stage door he walked in that night; entering from stage left, the same side he entered and standing in the middle of the stage where he stood for the last time. Goosebumps, hairs standing on the back of my neck, shivers. I experienced them all standing there.
A member of the crew appeared and said: “that’s where he died”, pointing to the prop store stage left: “they dragged him into there, and that’s where he died”. I followed the crew member into the tiny room and just stood there trying to look for signs of Tommy. Of course there weren’t any, just a prop monkey from The Phantom of the Opera, the show currently playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
been your favourite roles so far?
One of my favourite roles was Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I played Hardy in a play about Laurel and Hardy’s life. I played Bud Flanagan in Underneath the Arches, the story of the Crazy Gang. I seem to have played a lot of dead comics! I enjoy all the Ray Cooney farces like Run For Your Wife. I enjoy work where I can break out and talk to the audience. That’s why I like playing pantomime Dames at the end of the year.
I do yes. Since I was 16 or 17 I’ve always been on tour so I do enjoy t, it’s what I’m used to, it’s what I do.
Do you find
that audiences differ?
They do, because people laugh at different things. What’s weird, and what you learn when you do a lot of comedy, is that people laugh at different things in different parts of the country. But also people laugh at different things depending on where you’re standing on stage which always freaks me out. If you’re standing down-stage you’ll get a bigger laugh there than if you were standing in the middle of the stage. You can always tell now what audiences are going to find the funniest and that’s just down to the experience of doing it.
Williams, Tom Green’s new play Being Tommy Cooper opens at
the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford on Friday, May 3 and runs there until
Saturday, May 4 before embarking on a national tour.
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