20 Questions With...Michael Nardone
Date: 5 May 2003
Actor Michael Nardone, who takes the title this week in Lope de Vega's Peribanez at the Young Vic, hates fame-seekers but loves his Scottish heritage, conservationist John Muir, proper pubs & a Gagarin Way anecdote involving Harold Pinter.
A seasoned stage practitioner, actor Michael Nardone has appeared in upwards of 70 productions to date, many of them in his native Scotland.
These include, at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre The Marriage of Figaro, Merlin, Wildman, Mirandolina and A Stranger Came Ashore and, at the Traverse Theatre, Knives in Hens, Widows, The Speculator, The Collection, Buchanan and Europe.
It was also at the Traverse that Nardone first appeared in the play that would bring him to the wider attention of national critics and London audiences - Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way. The co-production between the Traverse and the National Theatre Studio opened at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival before heading south to London for two sell-out seasons at the NT Cottesloe and then transferring last year to the West End for another limited engagement.
Burke's debut play won rave reviews and critical acclaim for Nardone and the rest of the four-strong cast. It also won, at Edinburgh, the Scotsman's grand prize as First of the Fringe Firsts as well as the TMA Award for Best New Play and the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright.
Nardone's other stage credits include Victoria (RSC), Elidor, Tom Sawyer (Contact Theatre, Manchester), Cain and Abel, Bouncers (Chester Gateway) and What Every Woman Knows (Watermill, Newbury).
On screen, he has been seen in Dot the I, The Match, Soft Top Hard Shoulder, Being Human, Ultimate Force, Holby City, Rockface, Rose and Maloney, Silent Witness, Taggart, Tinsel Town, The Bill and Nature Boy, amongst others.
Nardone now returns to the London stage to take the title role in a rare revival of Lope de Vega's Spanish classic, Peribanez, directed by Rufus Norris at the Young Vic.
Date & place of birth
Born 20 January 1967 in Ballingry, Fife, Scotland
Queen Margaret's College in Edinburgh.
Lives now in...
A small market town called Kirkby Stephen in the Eden Valley in Cumbria. My wife was brought up there, and when we got married just after I left drama school, we went to live there. When I'm working down here, I'm staying in Harringay in north London.
First big break
I suppose it was probably playing The Marriage of Figaro at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh. Ian Woolridge, who was the artistic director at the time, took a bit of a chance and asked me to play it. I'd only been out of drama school a couple of years, and I'd been mainly doing TIE (Theatre in Education) and a couple of plays at the Traverse in Edinburgh. Figaro was the first big thing.
Career highlights to date
I've done so many plays now, you know. Peribanez is a way up in the 70s or something in the number of plays I've done - it's fucking millions when I think about it, and they've all been great. The opening night of Gagarin Way at the National was a really big moment, not just for me but for everyone involved. If you're an actor from Scotland, it can be hard. You serve your apprenticeship in Scotland, you do the rounds of all the reps up there and you build up your CV quite a lot, but in London they still don't take you seriously. So to be given the opportunity to do a play like Gagarin Way, absolutely in your own tongue - in this case, it was Fife colloquial - at the National Theatre ... For all of us, it was very stimulating. It was nice to have an opportunity to say: well, listen, we're alright, we can do it as well as you can. The timing was also strange. It opened just after September 11th and, even though it was written about three years before and was about something else entirely, it was unfortunate that some of the parallels were the same. We tried really hard not to have that in our minds when we were doing the play but you couldn't avoid it.
Favourite production you've ever worked on
I did a play at the Traverse a few years ago called Knives in Hens. It was David Harrower's first play and it was fantastic. I thought at the time that it was the best new play I'd ever read. And another favourite was a play called The Collection, written by another Scottish writer called Mike Cullen, which was about debt collectors and also fantastic. But there's loads of stuff I could go through. It's all relative.
How, if at all, do you think Scottish & English audiences differ?
To be honest, I don't pay much attention to all that, I just do my work and go home again. There is a different sort of theatre up there, of course. There's still a big variety scene in Scotland - you know, the seaside kind of specials - and those productions are always sold out and are massively popular. The West End is different entirely. It's not so much Scottish versus English - there I think people's expectations are pretty much the same - it's more about the differences between London as opposed to anywhere outside London.
I've been really privileged to work with some older Scottish actors, two in particular I can think of. Tom Watson, who sadly died last year, was a fantastic, fantastic man and he lived in Fife as well. I played his son a few times on the telly and in theatre and we had a really good relationship. He was a brilliant teacher, just a reservoir of experience, you know. He was always giving - he could be an old bastard as well, but he was very open with younger actors and would always offer advice. It's just the same with Edith McArthur, another great Scottish actress. You couldn't help but learn from these people. There are other people too. There's a friend of mine called Sean Scanlan who I've done a lot of work with. We've played some duologue scenes together on stage and I absolutely loved that. He's a great actor so I really love working with him.
Ian Brown (now artistic director at West Yorkshire Playhouse) is my favourite, he's been very loyal to me over the years. He directed me in The Collection and a play by David Greig called Victoria that we did at the RSC a couple of years ago. I'd like to go up to Leeds to work with Ian again. And John Tiffany, of course, who directed Gagarin Way. That was a particularly difficult play to negotiate and I thought it was really well handled and also we had such a time doing it. I've done so many plays and you work with so many directors. Some of them you can't remember and some of them you see from time to time and some of them mean something special, like Ian Wooldridge who gave me that chance at the Lyceum. I don't forget that. At the moment, I'm enjoying working with Rufus Norris. I'd never heard his name before but he's an up-and-comer, so they tell me! And now I've worked with him, I can see it's true. He is definitely going somewhere, no question.
Lorca is one of my favourites. I love The House of Bernarda Alba - even though there's no part in it for me! Lope de Vega is not too dissimilar. It's the passion, the sheer poetry in the language that I like. That's one of the reasons I wanted to do Peribanez. I also like Arthur Miller and David Greig. And a very personal favourite is Bryan Elsley. He does a lot for TV these days (40, The Crow Road, Rose and Maloney) but he's also a great adapter of novels for the stage. I was in an adaptation of Tom Sawyer that he did.
What roles would you most like to play still?
When I get to the right age, I'd like to do Eddie Carbone from Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. I'm not Italian-American obviously, but there are qualities in him I see in me. It's just a great play too, a real, truthful exploration of human nature. So, maybe when I'm 50, or maybe not. Who knows? I've never done any Shakespeare either so I should probably do some of those, though I'm not sure which ones.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
A school production of Grease that my 14-year-old son Ben was in. That's the only thing I've seen. The nearest theatre to where we live in Cumbria is a two-hour drive away so I don't get much opportunity to go.
How would you advise the government to secure the future of theatre?
Stop removing drama from the school syllabus. Every child in every high school and primary school should be doing it. Theatre should be accessible. Even if kids don't want a career in theatre, they should get a chance to become a theatregoer.
Generally, in this country, I think respect for actors is at an all-time low. It's hitting rock bottom, you know, and it's a problem because actors are now expendable, we are not valued any more. People presume that an actor thinks they are better than anybody else because of what they do. We're fucking not, we are no different from anybody else. And I have no respect for anyone who works in this business and openly advocates this idea, none whatsoever. I have no respect for anybody who has a desire to be famous. The only people who have respect for actors these days are other actors or people who are addicted to the theatre. That's a shame because it's a fantastic heritage that we have in this country.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Since the day I was born, I have supported Glasgow Celtic Football Club so I would have loved to have been Hendrik Larsen the other night when he scored the winner for us away from home at Portugal. It was probably one of the biggest nights of my life as a Celtic fan because we reached the final of the UEFA Cup. If I could have swapped places with him with ten minutes to go, I bloody would. On a serious note, I would swap with a man called John Muir. He was a conservationist who emigrated from Scotland to California when he was ten and essentially he's the inventor of the National Park. Yosemite was formed by him because he predicted the future, and he said, if we don't protect any of our planet then it's going to be destroyed. That's why vast areas have been protected, and if they hadn't been, they'd be gone like everything else. He was a pioneer and a lover of the countryside and nature.
Favourite holiday destinations
Actors with three kids can't afford holidays. Our family did go on holiday to France last year; it was the first time the five of us had all been away together overseas. We went for two weeks and camped in a little site next to the beach with some friends. My family come to London when I'm here.
When I was at school, we always read Shakespeare and Hardy and other stuff that wasn't from Scotland. And then I left school and realised there was a whole wealth of Scottish literature - novelists like Robin Jenkins and Neil Gunn, who are fantastic. My very favourite writer is a man called Eric Linklater. All of his books are my favourites, but there is one called The Dark of Summer, set in the Second World War, which comes top. He has the best command of the English language that I think I have ever read.
Favourite after-show haunts
I'd love to give you all the answers like the Ivy and Soho House and all that stuff, but I've never been there so I don't know what I'm missing anyway. I'm not that bothered. I just want a really nice, down-to-earth, unpretentious boozer, with decent honest geezers in it, where you can get a quick pint - although that's a problem in London, isn't it? We get spoiled in Scotland because the pubs and bars are open very late. I live right in the Turkish quarter in Harringay and the Turkish cafes are open all night. You can have a very nutritious meal, which is kind to your pocket.
My computer's knackered, but when I am online, I spend a lot of time looking at people's personal sites, like the one for the folk singer Dick Gayghan. I look up to find out his tour dates and any new albums he's working on because he's one of my big influences, you know. My hobby is fly-fishing so I also look at sites for equipment and new techniques and things. Fishing is a very sort of philosophical pastime - the amount of thinking that's done while you're fishing is incredible.
If you hadn't been an actor, what would you have done professionally?
I would almost certainly have worked outdoors. Conservation is a massive, massive thing for me. I was brought up in a small town and I still live in the countryside, so I've been a country boy for most of my life apart from when I'm studying or working here. I feel very close to nature and I spend a lot of time in the woods and walking in the hills and forest by my house. Protection of the species and of wildlife in general is so important.
Why did you want to accept your part in this production of Peribanez?
One, because of Rufus Norris. After I'd met him, I thought, yeah. After Gagarin Way with the whole dialect thing and the swearing, Rufus has cast me in this because he wants me to do it in my own accent, though obviously it is a classic in the true sense of the word and it's written in English grammar. So for me it's a challenge because I want to be able to show that, even in my own tongue, my own accent, that I can handle the poetry and the passion in this writing. It's a purely personal thing. You want to say, see, we can fucking do this as well as you. And it's a fantastic play and a great part - really challenging, bloody hard. So for all those reasons I wanted to do it. And also I wanted to do a nice classy play in a nice classy London theatre like the Young Vic, where I've never worked before.
Why do you think the play is worth reviving now?
Lope de Vega wrote about 500 plays. Peribanez was probably written in a weekend or something - he was so prolific he just trundled them out. It's a fucking great story, and the study of human nature in this play is phenomenal. The question of honour was Lope's whole kind of raison d'etre. And it's all tied up with the religious superstitions of the people in the play, and how people at the very bottom end of the scale deal with people at the top end of the scale, people in authority, and how although they are opposite, they attract one another in certain ways.
What's your favourite line from Peribanez?
"I would compare you to roses if I were a gentleman but I'm a worker and wine is the thing." To me, that's an interesting thing because wine is often considered to be an elitist pastime, and roses are for gardeners, but in this somehow it's the other way round. It means a lot to me coming from my own personal background, you know, because my family were miners and it's the kind of line that one of my grandfathers would appreciate.
What's the funniest/most notable thing that happened during rehearsals?
This play has been a laugh in rehearsals, you get the usual story forgetting your lines and speeches and swearing a lot. I swear all the time in rehearsals - there's no swearing in this play whatsoever but somehow I manage it. Don't worry, I won't include that in performance. It's just part of the whole process - you know, sometimes you need a word and you find it and then you take the swearing out.
I have an absolute ripper for you from Gagarin Way. We were rehearsing it at the Old Vic before we went to Edinburgh, and one day we had a run-through. You know the play - there's a lot of shouting, a lot of bawling, a lot of laughter and swearing and what have you. So halfway through the rehearsal, the door bursts open and this guy comes in and says "What the hell is going on here, do you mind keeping the noise down," and then he turns to walk out. It was incredibly disrespectful - he just completely and utterly destroyed our whole rehearsal. And Gregory Burke (the author) was there, and you know, this is his first experience of theatre, actors, the whole thing and Gregory, just being the boy from Dunfermline, looks up and says "Who the fuck is this c**t?" with the person still in the room. We all exploded in laughter - it was Harold Pinter! And I think it was one of those ones where he was about to march out of the room, but suddenly it was a very tentative tiptoe out, closing the door gently behind him kind of a deal. Since then, I think Pinter and Gregory have conversed plenty because Pinter loved Gagarin Way, so that's why we're free to tell that wee story now. It was very funny.
What are your plans for the future? Anything else you'd like to add?
I have three sons and they are growing up really fast. It's become apparent to me that your children aren't with you for very long, and I think I just want to spend a bit more time with them. It's a difficult one because of where we live and where I need to work in London, obviously I spend a lot of time away from home and we are all very cognisant of that. I'd quite like to do more TV and film work, but I don't ever want to lose sight of my theatrical apprenticeship as it were. I'd still like to do one really good play a year, in London preferably, and just make sure that my kids aren't suffering because of the amount of time I've been away from home. It's something I'm kind of paranoid about so I just want them to get through school happily and without any confusion about having a father who spends Christ knows how many months of the year away from home. So see them off and then spend some more time with my wife. I want to travel because I haven't been anywhere. I want to go to the Middle East and North Africa. I want to see some wild places before there aren't any left. I want to go and see one of John Muir's giant redwoods, I'd like to see a glacier. I also want to get better on the guitar and just live a very long and happy life.
- Michael Nardone was speaking to Terri Paddock
Peribanez opens at London's Young Vic on 7 May 2003, following previews from 2 May, and continues its limited season to 4 June 2003.