20 Questions With...Jason Durr
Date: 24 November 2003
Heartbeat actor Jason Durr, who plays the demanding director in Sheffield Crucible's new production of A Chorus Line, reveals his own favourite directors, his fallback career as an astronaut & his thoughts on his first-ever musical.
Actor Jason Durr has become best known to television fans for his long-running role as PC Mike Bradley in the Yorkshire-set television series Heartbeat.
His other screen credits have included: on TV, Inspector Morse, Sharpe's Battle, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Femme Fatale, The Paradise Club, A Dark Adapted Eye, Christmas and Wrong Side of the Rainbow; and on film, Young Soul Rebels and The Killer Tongue
Before Heartbeat brought him into the nation's living rooms, Durr spent a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company, performing in Measure for Measure, Macbeth and The Blue Angel. His other theatre credits are The Destiny of Me and Wrong Side of the Rainbow.
This winter, Durr returns to the stage, after a five-and-a-half year absence, to face the challenge of his first-ever musical. In Sheffield Crucible's production of 1975 Broadway classic A Chorus Line, Durr plays Zach, the demanding director who auditions the 17 hopefuls vying for just eight places in a new show.
Date & place of birth
I was born in Singapore in 1967, on the 2nd of December, which is actually the opening date for A Chorus Line.
Lives now in...
North London, the Highgate area, which is very nice and peaceful. Hampstead Heath is nearby which is beautiful for long walks.
LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts).
First big break
In terms of what people think of as a 'big break', Heartbeat put me on the map. I spent four and half really enjoyable years working on that. I had a fantastic crew and was working in a beautiful, and magical, part of the country. I was very fortunate as an actor to work upon the North York Moors - a glorious part of this country. Theatre-wise, I presume it would be the Royal Shakespeare Company with my roles in Measure for Measure and The Blue Angel. Taking those shows to Stratford, and opening the new 'Other Place' theatre, was really wonderful.
Career highlights to date
I've been very fortunate to have played lots of different roles, and lots of good roles. I got the chance to be in the Ukraine, where we filmed Sharpe's Battle for a couple of months. Heartbeat and Inspector Morse, those were both highlights. Practically everything I've done is a highlight because I've never had a bad experience on anything I've worked on. I worked with Simon Callow at the BBC and then at the Theatre Royal Leicester with The Destiny of Me. Working with him was a great experience.
Simon Callow. Donald Pleasance, God bless him; he was wonderful and had a great sense of humour. Peter Ustinov, he has a wicked sense of humour too. Jean Simmons, who is legendary. We worked on a two-part drama in Scotland. While we were filming, a couple of young Scottish lads came up and asked if we were anyone famous. I said that I was working with Jean Simmons. And they said, "Gene Simmons from Kiss, can we meet him?" It was great hearing Jean's stories from Hollywood, about Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton.
Trevor Nunn was really fantastic, because of his attention to detail. Simon (Callow) brings his actor's knowledge and understanding to the rehearsal process. Adrian Noble, a wealth of talent there. Josie Rourke is an up-and-coming director, a real rising talent. There have been so many. Jonas Grimos, a Swedish director, is another; he brings wonderful enthusiasm to the projects he works on. Nikolai Foster, who's directing me in A Chorus Line, is a young director with an eye for both detail and the big picture.
I grew up on Shakespeare, Chekhov and Pinter. Homecoming and Betrayal are two of my favourites. Also Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and David Mamet plays like American Buffalo, Speed-the-Plow and Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet's style is a joy for actors.
I saw Oklahoma! at the National, which was directed by Trevor Nunn and featured my current co-star, Josefina Gabrielle, as Laurie. She was brilliant. Excellent. Chicago, though I haven't seen the West End production, is very good, too.
What are roles you'd like to play still?
One - that I suppose everyone says - is Hamlet. That's real a whopper of a part. Coriolanus is another. When I'm older, I'd like to play Teach in American Buffalo.
If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
This is unrealistic, but an astronaut. Purely because of the buzz of getting into space, looking back down on the Earth, and realising how small we all really are. Moon walking, that's a good day's work.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Whatever money goes to the Arts Council and to the regional theatres, spend it wisely. Do not stop funding theatre. Theatre is a really important, both as a cultural reference and as a part of day-to-day life. And we do it very well in this country. Perhaps an evening once a week at the big theatres, where all tickets were a pound, would be a good way to provide access to those who can't normally afford to go. It would also be good if the government could help more to export our theatre.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
The last thing I saw was Michael Grandage's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Sheffield. It was a very clear telling of the story, brilliantly directed and wonderfully acted. I went to the opening night of Jerry Springer - The Opera at the National and was really pleased to see the range of ages in the audience. The older, regular NT patrons were bamboozled, but the younger ones really got it. Lines like "Three-nippled, cousin fucker" do make you laugh. I also saw Elmina's Kitchen at the National. It featured a friend of mine, Paterson Joseph, and he was brilliant.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I quite like Gandhi. To be able to see and understand life through his eyes, that would be pretty wonderful.
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which Philip Franks got me onto. I recently read Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre, which is very funny. I'd recommend that one. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is another glorious book. I'm just starting Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so I can't tell you what it's about yet.
Favourite holiday destinations
I've loved travelling ever since I was a kid. I lived in Hong Kong for 15 years. Thailand would rate highly due to the beautiful beaches in the south and the mountains in the north. The Maldives are beautiful, too. When you go into the sea, there are literally thousands of beautifully coloured fish all around you.
My partner Kate, she's the real Internet wizard. We like Lastminute.com for travel and Bluemountain.com for greeting cards. Kate recently bought me the Rough Guide Website Directory, which costs about £3.99. You can flip through it to find art pages and buy art, or pages to buy food over the Internet. And it's pocket-sized so very handy.
Having worked on both stage & for TV, is there one that you prefer?
I enjoy them both enormously. They ask different things, really. I enjoy getting in front of a camera and the idea of creating good drama for television. But we're lucky in this country to be able to come back to the theatre, where you have the opportunity to really get your creative juices going and there's more rehearsal time. There's something about theatre; you're there, you have a live audience and you're working off of them. Before A Chorus Line, I hadn't been on stage for about five-and-half years, so it's great, in a way, to be able to rediscover acting again, to be able to rediscover theatre directors. I'm loving every minute of it.
Why did you want to accept your part in A Chorus Line?
Something that I've always tried to do is challenge myself. The show's a challenge because just about everything to do with it is new to me - I've never done a musical before. But I'm working with an extremely talented cast who are all brilliant singers, dancers and actors, and I'm enjoying everything about it.
What's your favourite number from A Chorus Line?
There are some great songs: "One Singular Sensation"; "Kiss Today Goodbye", which is sung beautifully; and, of course, "Tits and Ass" is one that the audience loves.
What are your future plans?
To spend lots of time at home with Kate, my little dog and my cat. We also plan on going over to Los Angeles, sometime next year, to work and to enjoy the California sunshine.
A Chorus Line runs at the Sheffield Crucible from 2 December 2003 to 24 January 2004, following previews from 27 November 2003.