20 Questions With ... Gerard Murphy
Date: 5 November 2007
Actor Gerard Murphy – who plays Salieri in Sheffield’s Amadeus, the final production before the Crucible closes for refurbishment – discusses Coronation Street, Russian translations & what Peter Shaffer has in common with Mamma Mia!
Gerard Murphy’s stage credits - at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bristol Old Vic, Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Northampton’s Theatre Royal, Birmingham Rep, Theatre Clywd, Watford Palace and elsewhere – include Hamlet, Henry V, Blue/Orange, Volpone, The Weir, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Moon for the Misbegotten and The Thebans.
On screen, Murphy has been seen in television’s Dalziel and Pascoe, The Scarlet Pimpernel, McCallum and Trial and Retribution as well as films including Waterworld and Batman Begins.
Murphy now returns to Sheffield Crucible, where he previously starred in Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins, to star as Salieri opposite Bryan Dick’s Amadeus in Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning modern classic Amadeus. The new production is directed by Nikolai Foster, who also helmed Assassins.
Set in 18th-century Vienna, Amadeus explores the relationship between the obsessive Austrian Court composer Antonio Salieri and his meteoric young rival Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Since its 1979 premiere at the National Theatre, the part of Salieri has been played on stage by the likes of Paul Scofield, Ian McKellen, David Suchet and Matthew Kelly, while Mozart has been played by actors including Simon Callow, Tim Curry and Michael Sheen. Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning 1984 film version starred F Murray Abraham and Tom Hulse as Salieri and Mozart respectively.
Amadeus continues until 8 December 2008, and is the final production at Sheffield Crucible before the theatre closes in January for a major refurbishment.
Date & place of birth
Born 14 October 1955 in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Lives now in
At the moment, I’m living in Sheffield, but I usually live in London. I move around so much that sometimes I don’t even know where I live. I love moving around. If I could, I would be of no fixed abode.
What made you want to become a performer?
I was appallingly shy when I was young. I realised I was becoming very introverted so I thought I had better do something where I have to talk and express myself. I went along to a local theatre and asked for a job. They thought I meant a job in the bar, but I told them I wanted to be an actor. I was about 16 and you can do anything at that age. They were looking for someone to play a child. I got the job and it all went on from there.
If you hadn’t become a performer, what might you have done professionally?
I think I would have ended up nursing. I have always been in awe of people in the medical profession.
First big break
There have been a few. My second job came when I left Ireland and got a job in Glasgow at the Citizens Theatre. I went for three months and stayed for three years. I loved it. It was a very powerful theatre to be part of. It was a theatre that had very sensible pricing policies and as a result was full all the time. Once I strayed into a bar in Glasgow which was quite rough. There was a group of guys who were looking at me like they wanted to kill me. I was nervous and then suddenly they started telling me that my theatre should do more plays by Seneca. That was the way the theatre was, it was owned by the city and loved by the city. Another big break came out of the blue when I was asked to do the film Waterworld. I suddenly found myself living in Hawaii and Hollywood for a year. That was an extraordinary experience.
Career highlights to date
One of them was singing in Assassins at the Crucible Theatre. I had never done anything like that before so it was an amazing personal highlight for me. I am still in disbelief that I actually did it.
I am very proud that I did some plays with Glenda Jackson. That was a great privilege and pleasure. I was also lucky enough to act with Robert Eddison. He taught me a lot about how people can influence you. Hopefully you can digest some of what you have learnt and reproduce it in a different way yourself to hand it on.
I love Noel Coward – he’s often maligned for being frivolous but I think He’s quite profound. I also really like Sean O’Casey and, of course, Shakespeare.
What was the first thing you saw on stage?
I remember that very well. I was still at school and I came to London to see Cabaret. I loved it. I would really love to see the revival, but I haven’t been able to get there yet.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Several people have told me that if you stop enjoying it you must stop doing it. I stick to that. A strange piece of advice that I have stuck to was given to me by Danny La Rue. I had never been to drama school and I was anxious to learn any skill. I asked him if he had any advice and he told me to learn how to walk downstairs properly. It has been more useful than you can imagine. Laurence Olivier once told me not to let anyone know anything about yourself, to keep them guessing. I don’t know if I have stuck to it but that was his advice.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Lewis Hamilton. I would just like to know what it’s like to do a life and death sport like that, to experience that buzz. I would swap places with any racing driver for a day.
I love War and Peace. I know that sounds silly but I really do. I stumbled on a very good translation of it. The translation that you read is important because some of them are really heavy. Apparently in Russian, Tolstoy’s language is vibrant and easy to read so there’s no need for a translation to be heavy. I also really liked Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. You get a feeling for the guy in the book that you don’t get in the film.
Favourite holiday destinations
New York. I love it so much that it’s hardly a holiday destination any more. It’s a place I love to go to relax. I go to the theatre and I listen to a lot of jazz. I love everything about New York as a city.
Favourite after-show haunts
I love a pint after a show. I don’t really mind where I get it. I love live music so anywhere with a band is enjoyable for me.
Why did you want to accept the part of Salieri in this production of Amadeus?
Nikolai Foster and I have worked together before and I think he’s a brilliant director, so I would be happy to do almost anything with him directing. We did Assassins together in 2006 and since then we did a production of My Fair Lady in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I’d never read the play before this, and I haven’t seen the movie so I’m an Amadeus virgin. It's an odd play. I hope I'm not disrespectful when I say it's like the classical Mamma Mia! - it has Mozart's greatest hits and a good play going on at the same time. And Salieri is a wonderful part, challenging in the right kind of way.
Would you describe Salieri as a "baddie"?
Well, yes. Baddie is accurate. He's certainly not a very nice man. Although, part of my job is to find sympathy with him. He's a tortured soul, he's riddled with jealousy. He is obsessed with Mozart's genius and feels that God has let him down. He is a baddie, but a baddie with a certain charm.
In addition to regular outings of Amadeus, Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Equus have also enjoyed major revivals recently. Why do you think his work endures?
It appeals directly to the audience because, as well as writing a good tale and using words well, he is a theatrical craftsman and that craft excites an audience.
What’s it like working with Bryan Dick as your rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?
It's heaven on earth. Brian is just wonderful to work with. I've been a fan of his for ages, it's a real pleasure. I hope it’s mutual. We get on very well. Actually, it's a lovely company with really lovely people.
What’s the oddest thing that happened in rehearsals?
Salieri eats an enormous amount of cakes. I have to work out what kind of cakes I can eat because he eats so many. I'm going for a "food meeting" shortly to discuss it. If I ate the amount of rich food that he does each night I'd probably have a heart attack and die.
What, if anything, is special about performing at the Sheffield Crucible?
It’s one of the greatest theatres in Britain. Because the space is so unusual, it lends itself to the epic and the personal. You feel very much in touch with an audience, they feel very close. It's got that arena feel which is a pleasure to play on. If a director knows how to use that space, and Nikolai does, you can do an excellent job in it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
To understand me you must know that I am a devotee of Coronation Street. It is possibly my favourite thing in the whole world. The standard of writing is so high. The David Platt storyline is masterful.
- Gerard Murphy was speaking to Tom Atkins
Amadeus opens on 7 November 2007 at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, where it continues until 8 December.