20 Questions With … Colin Morgan
Date: 4 February 2008
Whatsonstage.com Newcomer of the Year nominee Colin Morgan – who returns to the Young Vic this week to star in 1970s cop shop drama A Prayer for My Daughter – explains why Pedro Almodovar is scary & how claustrophobia can work on stage.
Rising star Colin Morgan has had a phenomenal year. The young actor was still in drama school when he was cast by director Rufus Norris to make his professional debut in the title role of last year’s premiere page-to-stage adaptation of DBC Pierre’s Booker Prize winner Vernon God Little at the Young Vic.
Morgan immediately followed that up with another adaptation, across the road at the Old Vic, in Samuel Adamson's screen crossover of Pedro Almodovar's Oscar-winning Spanish film All About My Mother, in which he played Esteban, son to Lesley Manville, in a cast that also featured Dame Diana Rigg and Mark Gatiss. For those two performances, he has been nominated for Newcomer of the Year in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards (click here to vote!)
Offstage, Morgan has managed to find the time for filming an episode of Doctor Who and to appear on TV in Catherine Tate's Christmas Special.
The actor now returns to the Young Vic to star alongside Sean Chapman, Corey Johnson and Matthew Marsh in the first major London revival of A Prayer for My Daughter. Thomas Babe's psychological thriller first found success at London’s Royal Court and New York's Public Theatre in the 1970s. Written in the shadow of the Vietnam War, Babe’s play explores political relations through personal interactions. At a grubby New York City police station in the early hours of a summer night, two police officers and two criminals shake up notions of good and bad, hero and villain. Dominic Hill directs.
Date & place of birth
Born 1 January 1986 in Northern Ireland.
Lives now in
The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
If you hadn’t become a performer, what might you have done professionally?
This sounds really bad, but I have only ever wanted to be an actor. It’s actually the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. At school, whenever one of the careers counsellors told me I couldn’t be an actor, I used to say I’d be something like an arts correspondent. So journalism, I guess.
First big break
Definitely Vernon God Little. When I got offered that role, I just couldn’t believe it. I think Rufus Norris took a bit of a risk giving it to me, being someone who had never done a professional role before. It was exciting and extremely scary. I was lucky to be given the chance to do that.
Career highlight to date
On the press night of Vernon God Little, we were coming out for our curtain calls and we took a few bows. The rest of the cast were saying “let’s go on again”. I was leading the cast out every time so I went on and I was taking my bow before I realised that I was actually the only one on stage. I was really embarrassed. The director Rufus Norris came up to me afterwards and said “one of my favourite moments in all of my career was seeing you come on stage because you looked like you were about six years old”.
You recently appeared in All About My Mother at the Old Vic. Was there a lot of pressure in bringing this hit Spanish film to the stage for the first time?
I think the idea of putting a Pedro Almodovar play on stage for the first time in 20 years was a big thing for the Old Vic so we felt the pressure on press night. Almodovar was there and other people who were involved in the film were there so that night was pressurised. But throughout the creative process, it just felt like any other play really. There wasn’t too much on the actors. We just wanted to concentrate on the characters.
What roles would you most like to play?
If they ever make a film of Terry Pratchett's Mort, I want to play the character of Mort. He’s death’s apprentice.
Cast-wise Lesley Manville, Mark Gatiss and Diana Rigg were all amazing to watch in rehearsals for All About My Mother, just to see how they work. Big learning for me in television was with David Tennant on Doctor Who - he puts 110 percent into everything he does. That was amazing, just to pick up on his technique really. The cast I’m working with at the moment – Corey Johnson, Sean Chapman and Matthew Marsh - are all brilliant. It’s great to see those guys working.
I really enjoyed working with Samuel Adamson on All About My Mother. He was really great and he added so many details to the play. Him being around all the time in rehearsals was great. The same was true with Tanya Ronder, who wrote Vernon God Little. She was in rehearsals the whole time. It becomes very much like a two-way process when you’re doing a piece of new writing and it’s great to work with someone who is open to change and also able to explain things to you. What was more nerve-wracking was when DBC Pierre, who wrote the book of Vernon God Little, saw the show because he had no idea of the process of what had gone on so he was just seeing the end product. It was the same when Pedro Almodovar came to see All About My Mother - nerve-wracking. I really like all the Irish playwrights like Frank McGuinness and Martin McDonagh. I like some Samuel Beckett stuff and I really like Shelagh Stephenson and Joe Penhall as well.
Rufus Norris was amazing. I haven’t worked with many yet, though. If I ever got the chance to work with Sam Mendes, I think I would feel in some way complete. In terms of films, I like Tim Burton, Alejandro Gonzalez and Terry Gilliam.
What was the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you? And the first
It’s really difficult to get to things when you’re performing. I went to see The Sea at the Haymarket because I know someone in it - Mariah Gale, who was also in Vernon God Little. I thought it was a really brilliant production. Mariah was brilliant, and I thought David Haig was amazing. I was actually on stage – in a local pantomime - before I saw something on stage. I’ve got a vague memory of going to see Puss in Boots at the Grand Opera House in Belfast when I was about six or seven. And I can remember my parents used to take me to puppet shows.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My dad always says be nice to the people on the way up because you’ll need them on the way down.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I’d like to see what it’s like to be inside the head of Tim Burton. The guy just fascinates me. I’m a fan of most of his films and also his book, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy. He has such an interesting perspective on things.
I’ve got loads. Right now I’m reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I like most of Terry Pratchett’s books, and I also like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The Life of Pi.
Favourite after-show haunts
I normally just go to wherever is closest. When I’m at the Young Vic, I really like the Windmill, which is right next door.
What made you want to accept your role in A Prayer for My Daughter?
I just thought it was an amazing piece of writing. I didn’t know anything about the play or about Thomas Babe before so it was a bit of an eye opener. When you first start reading it, it appears to be some kind of cop drama, but as you read more, it becomes a lot more complex. I had a lot of ideas about my character Jimmy, and I felt as if I could really get my teeth sunk into it and have a bit of fun.
Can you tell us a little about your character?
Jimmy is 21 and he’s a Puerto Rican New Yorker. It was fun to work on the accent for that. He’s a drug addict, a loose cannon who got married when he was 16 as a result of having a daughter. He has an odd relationship with Simon, who’s played by Sean Chapman. He refers to Sean as his father when in fact he isn’t. He’s more of a teacher who’s teaching Jimmy a way of life, a kind of eclectic spiritualism. Jimmy has a lot of childlike aspects. He’s described as being disturbed and hard to get a line on. He’s a pretty messed-up individual.
How has the play changed for this London revival?
Certainly the staging is completely turned on its head. The play was written to be performed under the proscenium arch. At the Young Vic, the way we’re doing it is flipped so the audience are on either side of the stage and the action cuts right down the middle. You can’t escape from the room where it’s all happening. At our first preview, it felt so claustrophobic and enclosed. I think that gives it a completely different vibe.
What’s your favourite line from the play?
My favourite line is when I’ve just stolen a gun and one of the cops asks me to put it down and I just say, “I don’t know, but maybe not”. I just love that line, I don’t know why.
You made your professional debut at the Young Vic in Vernon God Little. What’s special about the theatre?
There is just a good vibe about this building. They put on some really great shows and are always doing new and exciting things. I think this time round they’ve done it again and have chosen a really exciting play to put on. I’d love to do something at the National, in the Olivier. I think it would be amazing to see what the challenges are there. The Globe would be an amazing place to perform in too. I had always wanted to perform at the Old Vic so it was good fun that I got the chance to.
You’ve been nominated in the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Awards for Newcomer of the Year. How does that feel?
I’m really pleased. You just do the plays and you don’t always think that people notice so I am really excited to just be nominated. It’s brilliant. I would just like to say a massive thank you to anyone who voted for me and thanks for the support. It is really much appreciated.
- Colin Morgan was speaking to Kate Jackson
A Prayer for My Daughter opens on 6 February 2008 (previews from 31 January) at the Young Vic, where it's playing until 15 March.