20 Questions With...David Haig
Date: 21 October 2002
Actor & writer David Haig, currently starring in the West End return of Life x 3, considers giving up acting, the extravagance of Gallic humour & the appeal of Picasso's promiscuity.
Fans of film and television may recognise David Haig's face from his hilarious turns in the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral and the BBC comedy series The Thin Blue Line, but the actor's career has been steeped in the theatre.
His myriad theatre credits - at the Royal Court, the National, the RSC, on tour and in the West End and on Broadway - include: Tom and Viv, Our Country's Good (for which he won an Actor of the Year Olivier in 1988), The Recruiting Officer, Berenice, Volpone, Measure for Measure, Gasping, Dead Funny, Art and, simultaneously, House and Garden.
Haig's additional screen credits include Talking Heads (Playing Sandwiches), Keeping Mum, Crime and Punishment, Station Jim, Portrait of a Marriage, Love on the Branch Line, Lady Jane and, to be released later this year, Two Week's Notice, with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock.
In recent years, Haig has turned to writing as well as acting, with two plays - My Boy Jack and The Good Samaritan - already premiered at Hampstead Theatre and another two on the way. He is also working on a television adaptation of The Good Samaritan and has been commissioned to script three more films.
With his acting hat on, Haig can currently be seen in the West End return of Life x 3, written by Art author Yasmina Reza.
Date & place of birth
Born 20 September 1955 at Aldershott Barracks.
Lives now in...
South-east London, near Greenwich.
First big break
Tom and Viv at Royal Court in 1985 (which also transferred to Broadway). It was the first time I worked with Max Stafford-Clark - I loved his direction - and it was the first thing I did that was perceived to be a big national hit. You can do lots of great roles, but until they're seen by the right people, casting directors and such, you don't really get noticed.
Career highlights to date
On stage, Our Country's Good in 1988 (for which Haig won an Olivier), Angelo in Trevor Nunn's Measure for Measure and Alan Ayckbourn's House and Garden at the National. On television, I'm proudest of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. And on film, I've just recently finished filming Two Weeks' Notice, with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock, which will be released in December.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Both versions of Art. In the West End I played Marc in the third cast - which is saying something with a play that's had 27 casts! - and on Broadway I played Yvan. It was interesting doing two different parts in a three-hander and interesting experiencing an American audience's reaction on the one hand and a British audience's on the other. Dead Funny, which I did for nine months at the Vaudeville Theatre with Zoe Wanamaker, was another favourite, as was a lot of the work I did at the RSC. Also this production of Life X 3. We first did it last year and returning to it now afresh has been good.
Zoe Wanamaker. I loved working with her and I loved Terry Johnson's play so that was a great experience. I like my three current co-stars (Belinda Lang, Serena Evans and David Yelland) very much, too. We all get on incredibly well.
Max Stafford-Clark, John Dove, Matthew Warchus, Howard Davies. They're all good for different reasons, but the bottom line is their understanding of human behaviour and their ability to communicate that to the actors. It's one thing knowing how a play works theoretically, but a very different thing to be able to communicate it. And did I say Trevor Nunn? Him too, he's definitely one of the best.
I love Terry Johnson, Arthur Miller and Yasmina Reza. Of the dead ones, Chekhov and Shakespeare. Also, I wouldn't say I'm one of my own favourites, but I will say that writing my first play (My Boy Jack which premiered at Hampstead Theatre in 1997) was one of the most challenging and interesting things I've ever done. I'm in the middle of a new play for Hampstead now.
You've done a variety of film, television & theatre work. Which do you prefer?
Ultimately the stage because, historically, that's what I'm used to. But there's no difference really in doing good quality stage work and good quality film work - the fulfilment is the same. That said, I do love the buzz of a live audience, that's always exciting.
What role would you most like to play still?
Iago in Othello.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Edward Albee's The Goat on Broadway. It's the most fascinating and unexpected play. Some people hate it, but I thought it was very provocative and enjoyable. Of course, that might have been because I was in New York and having a nice time.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Keep subsidising the smaller, interesting London theatres that create new work and pour more money into the provinces. Just write 'subsidy' and underline it three times with an exclamation.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Picasso, assuming I could have his talent and his endless stream of beautiful women. It's funny that he's never criticised for that promiscuity. Others would be judged amoral, but he got away with it because he was an artist and a genius. I'd also like to swap with him because he got to live in a nice part of France.
Favourite holiday destinations
It's clichéd but I love Tuscany.
At the moment, I love Music & Silence and Restoration, both by Rose Tremain.
I am incapable of telling jokes. I have only one and nobody has ever laughed so I'm not going to tell you because you won't laugh.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I wonder if I would have ended up being a writer in the end. If I had to give up one or the other now, I'd give up acting. I always used to think I'd be an art historian or a teacher, but that was only theoretical. I don't think I would have enjoyed either of those professions.
Why did you want to accept your part in Life X 3?
Because it's extremely funny, and the character I play, Henri, is not a million miles from my own personality. I love Yasmina Reza's writing, this combination in form of naturalism with precision.
Do you think Reza's Gallic humour differs from English humour?
Her extravagance of emotion is quite Gallic, but when British actors use that it's very powerful because it's so rare here. The combination is wonderful. Her writing is extremely dark, extremely accurate and extremely funny.
How did you feel about returning to the production after a year's break?
I've never done a production quite in this way before, but it felt very good returning to it. In re-rehearsing it, there are things that suddenly perk up and say, look at this freshly or differently.
What's your favourite line from Life X 3?
I don't give a fuck about Turku, I don't give a fuck about Turku, I don't give a fuck about Turku.
What are your plans for the future?
I've got to finish the play I'm writing. I don't plan to appear in it. Whoever is in it has to be a superb pianist. It's set in Paris in the 1870s and is about the reclusive French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan and his relationship with another composer named Hiller. There are two very big pianos on the stage. I'm also trying to take My Boy Jack on tour and then I have another play next year.
- David Haig was speaking to Terri Paddock
Life x 3 continues at the West End's Savoy Theatre until 7 December 2002.