|Roger Lloyd Pack in Dealer's Choice|
20 Questions With ... Roger Lloyd Pack
Date: 7 January 2008
Actor Roger Lloyd-Pack Ė currently appearing in the Whatsonstage.com Award-nominated revival of Patrick Marberís Dealerís Choice in the West End - talks poker tactics, Russian masters, jazz joints and the joys of ensemble acting.
The son of actor Charles Lloyd Pack, Roger Lloyd Pack was exposed to theatre from an early age, but it was television that made him a household name. He remains best known as Trigger from the hit BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, which ran from 1981 to 2003.
His many other TV credits include The Vicar of Dibley, The Bill, Byker Grove, The History of Mister Polly, Poirot, Where the Heart Is, Born and Bred, Oliver Twist, Knight School, Heartbeat, Murder Most Horrid, Lovejoy, The Vanishing Man, Mr Bean, Inspector Morse, Alas Smith and Jones, One for the Road, Bouncing Back, The Professionals, Dixon of Dock Green and Doctor Who.
On the big screen, Lloyd Pack has recently been seen as Barty Crouch in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Amongst his other film appearances are Vanity Fair, The Avengers, Young Poisoners, Interview with a Vampire, Princess Caraboo, Hamlet, The Go-Between and Fiddler on the Roof.
On stage, Lloyd Packís many credits Ė in the West End as well as at the National, Royal Shakespeare Company, Almeida, Royal Court, Donmar Warehouse and elsewhere Ė include Art, Dick Whittington, The Last Laugh, The Rocky Horror Show, The Winterling, Blue/Orange, The Dark, Deep Blue Sea, The Tempest, Travels with My Aunt, The Caretaker, When We Are Married, Tartuffe, A Flea in Her Ear, School for Wives, Yerma, Kafkaís Dick, Wild Honey, One for the Road, Noises Off, The Homecoming, The Caretaker, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Lover and The Royal Hunt of the Sun.
Lloyd Pack is currently appearing as a hard-bitten poker professional in Samuel Westís critically acclaimed revival of Patrick Marberís 1995 debut play Dealer's Choice, which has transferred to the West Endís Trafalgar Studios following a limited season at Southwarkís Menier Chocolate Factory, where it was nominated for two of this yearís Whatsonstage.com Theatregoersí Choice Awards Ė Best Off-West End Production and Best Ensemble Performance (click here to vote!).
Date & place of birth
Born 8 February 1944 in London.
Lives now in
Tufnell Park, north London.
What made you want to become an actor?
My dad was an actor. I was at a school called Bedales which had a lovely old theatre. The smell of the place, the atmosphere of the whole thing just really got me. I was brought up going to the theatres, I suppose it was familiar to me. I liked the applause, I liked the attention you got being on stage. That probably compensated for a lack of appropriate attention at home - not that I wasnít loved, I was, but I certainly got something on stage that I responded to. Once I had been doing it for a while, I started to think I didnít need this attention, this actorís approval anymore, and I started to think ďwhy am I really doing it?Ē After that, it became about a love of words, of speaking words, of sort of being a channel for a writerís ideas. Actors are really interpreters for writers.
If you hadnít become a performer, what might you have done professionally?
I might have been a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst or something in the psycho world because Iíve always been interested in that. Iíve got a library full of books on that sort of stuff. Or I might have been a photographer. I like the idea of being a free spirit going around taking pictures. One of those two things was realistic. I also would have loved to have been a musician but that wasnít so realistic.
First big break
Working with Bill Gaskill at Joint Stock was the most important career-changing event for me. I learnt something that I hadnít understood before about myself and I sort of changed directions from there. That was in 1973 or 1974. It was the first production Joint Stock did with Max Stafford-Clark. Bill was a tremendous teacher. Iíve been very lucky in some of the people Iíve come across at critical times in my career.
In addition to Bill, Iíd have to mention people like Peter Gill, Tina Packer, Thea Sharrock, Richard Eyre and Harold Pinter. Samuel West has done a very good job on this play. Sam is an actor as well, of course. I donít see a directorís job as some directors might see it. I think an awareness that itís not about being in charge of the show is important. Good directing is about bringing out actors - understanding what different actors need to get a performance out of them, and winning their trust so theyíre able to give their best. Itís more a question of drawing out rather than laying on.
I find that a difficult question because there are so many. Paul Scofield was my hero when I worked with him very early in my career and he was a major influence. Max Wall was another one, it was extraordinary to work with him. Iím trying to think of contemporary actors I admire, but Iím not very good at remembering names. I think David Tennant is a really excellent actor, and Michael Sheen is tremendous too, though Iíve never worked with him. Also Harriet Walter and Penelope Wilton, theyíre wonderful. And I like Sally Hawkins a lot, who I worked with recently.
I love Chekhov, I havenít done nearly enough Chekhov for my liking. I havenít done enough Shakespeare either. Iím also very keen on Pinter and Ibsen is a favourite. Patrick Marber is now climbing up my list of favourites too.
What was the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
In the last year, I havenít seen that much because Iíve been on stage myself a lot. From June until now Iíve been either out of the country or on stage. I was very impressed with Twelfth Night, Edward Hallís all-male production with the Propeller Company. I also enjoyed Rupert Gooldís production of Macbeth. That was full of ideas and generally very well spoken and directed. I was excited by that.
What roles would you most like to play in future?
I like to be surprised. I would like to do some Chekhov, but Iím too old for most of the parts now. I might get away with Vanya perhaps. I'm interested in playing Shylock, and I wouldnít mind having a crack at King Lear. I played Lear before in a workshop production years ago at Riverside Studios, but I was far too young. I say Iíd like to do it, but part of me is too terrified at the prospect. Even mentioning it to you now, I think ďoh no, do I really want to do that?Ē. Generally, I donít crave parts, I enjoy whatever comes up and responding to peopleís ideas.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Thatís a difficult one. Iím going to go with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Iíd love to know what itís like to have a brain like his. He was an extraordinary man. Otherwise, Fred Astaire perhaps. I can dance a bit, I like swing in particular, Iím not bad.
It would be a Russian book, probably Crime and Punishment. Iíve just read Dr Zhivago and that was superb too. Thereís something about Russian writers for me. I donít know what it is exactly. The complexities and the depth of the language is part of it.
Favourite holiday destination
Italy, I suppose. I love all things Italian, apart from their football team.
Favourite after-show haunts
I donít tend to go out downtown a lot unless Iím in a show. I would probably hit Century. Thereís a nice little dancing dive in Wardour Street which I rather like. Ronnie Scottís is a good place but Iím not so fond of how tight the seating is now that itís been redesigned. I love going to listen to music if I can after Iíve done a show. I went to the 606 Club a few nights ago to listen to some jazz. The Pizza Express on Dean Street is good too.
I donít do a lot. I donít do Myspace or Facebook or - whatís the other one with the music? - Youtube. I just donít have the time. I probably use your website more than any other because you send emails and theyíre easy, you can just click on them. So I guess Iíd say Whatsonstage.com is my favourite.
Having had so much success on television, what keeps you coming back to the stage?
Creating and playing character. Television work by its nature is more two-dimensional. Youíre lucky if you get complex work in TV, especially these days. You donít rehearse and youíre not in charge of your performance because you donít know whatís going to happen to it ultimately. I still believe thereís something about live performance thatís essential to the human condition. The congregation of people in one place is fundamental and I like to be part of that. Not everyone likes theatre, of course. I think those that donít like it donít understand why they donít like it. Probably they just havenít experienced the good stuff. Thereís something very powerful about theatre when it really works.
Why did you want to accept the part of Ash in this production of Dealer's Choice?
I didnít accept it at first. I had a commitment in Greece that interfered with the first week of rehearsals. Iíd just been doing another play, a very gruelling two-hander with Martin Freeman called The Last Laugh which went to Japan, and I didnít want to do any more theatre for a bit. I emailed Sam West from Japan to explain why I couldnít do it, and he said he could give me the first week off so, in the end, I couldnít really refuse. I love the play. I like the writing, I like the sparseness and economy of it, and I like poker. I thought it would be good for people to see me play this kind of character as well. When youíve been in a mega popular television comedy, you become identified as a comedy actor. I thought this was a good stretch while also being within my range.
Had you seen the play before?
Yes, I saw the original production and liked it a lot, though, if I can say so, I think this is a stronger production. The play has stood the test of time well; in fact, it seems enormously contemporary. The emphasis on the father-son relationship is brought out a lot more in this production, which is essentially what the play is really about. Well, itís about lots of things, but in large part, itís about a manís failure to connect with his son. I didnít get that from the first production, maybe because the writer directed it. Writers arenít always the best people to direct their own work in my opinion, though there are one or two exceptions.
How would you describe your character?
Ash is a bit of a loner. Heís a professional poker player whoís had a rather tragic life. He lives on his own, he has no children, he works late at night playing poker, going from one game to another. And feelings donít come very easily to him, he lives life protecting his feelings. In the play, heís taken with a young man in whom he recognises a lot of himself. He gets as close as he can get to anyone with this young man. Itís not a gay thing - though unconsciously there may be some of that Ė itís more of a parent-child sort of relationship. Heís a loveless sort, rather bleak. In rehearsals, it was a pretty bleak experience for me getting inside him. You canít help becoming affected by a character when youíre first exploring them. Itís easier once a productionís up and running and you can parcel it away. During rehearsals, Iíd often come home and have a good glass of wine.
Why is now a good time to revive Dealer's Choice?
Poker is very much in now, isnít it? Every night thereís some poker programme on television and thereís an awful lot online. When the play first came out, not many people played poker. So I think it was a very shrewd choice of David Babani at the Chocolate Factory to do this now. Iíve played poker for some time, though not to the level of the characters in the play. Of course, Dealer's Choice is more than just a ďpoker playĒ. It is also very true about men. I think it lifts a little corner of a blanket on how men behave on their own, what they get up to.
How much does poker figure in your own life?
Iíve been playing for years on and off. I have a Friday fortnightly game. I enjoy what poker teaches you about yourself - like how you deal with loss, how you react to luck, how you can change your luck, how youíre affected by other peopleís bluffing and counter-bluffing, how winning or losing affects your own feelings of self-worth. Itís a kind of metaphor for life really and itís rather merciless. Itís a good idea to leave your ego behind you when you play poker. Ross Boatman, whoís also in the cast, is a professional card player. He plays for serious stakes. He was in the original production in a different part. This is the first play heís done for some years.
Whatís your favourite line from the play?
"A bit like aces, kids, I suppose. You fall in love with them. You canít pass."
Dealer's Choice has been nominated for Best Ensemble Performance in this yearís Theatregoersí Choice Awards. Is the ensemble aspect important to you?
Yes. It doesnít happen all that often. I know a lot of people who have come have enjoyed that. Thereís something very satisfying about seeing a group of actors working well together. Even people who donít work in theatre can tell when actors are generous towards each other and not letting their egos get in the way of presenting a writerís vision. It only takes one loose cannon to mess it up, for things to not work. But we have got a very strong cast, and that is a very fortunate and happy occurrence. It makes it more enjoyable to perform, of course it does, because if you get on, if you trust people, you can do different things, be more daring, and no one is going to think ďheís trying to get one over on meĒ. Weíve been directed very well in that sense.
What are your future plans?
Iím doing this play for four months, which seems like a bit of a life sentence from where Iím looking at it. But it will be fine. I have no firm plans after March. Iíll probably have a holiday. I may take a break from the theatre if I can. Although I love doing theatre, itís very demanding and it does steal your life in a way. Iíd quite like my evenings back. But I always say that and then someone offers me a part I canít resist.
- Roger Lloyd-Pack was speaking to Terri Paddock
Following its autumn run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Dealer's Choice opened on 11 December 2007 (previews from 6 December) at the West Endís Trafalgar Studios, where itís booking until 29 March 2008.
** Donít miss our Whatsonstage.com Outing to Dealer's Choice - including an EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with the director and members of the cast - all for just £25!!! - click here to book now! **