Past/Present/Future for ... Ben MilesDate: 1 March 2010
Ben Miles is currently starring alongside Rory Kinnear and Anna Maxwell Martin in Michael Attenborough's critically-acclaimed production of Measure for Measure at the Almeida, in which he plays the morally dubious Duke.
Miles was last on stage in Matthew Warchus’ revival of Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, both at the Old Vic and on Broadway. His other theatre credits include My Child for the Royal Court, Bollingbroke in Richard II for the Old Vic, The Cherry Orchard, The London Cuckolds and Mary Stuart for the National Theatre and Two Gentlemen of Verona, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He made his Almeida debut in Howard Davies’ production of The Tower.
His many television appearances include leading roles in Coupling, Cold Feet and Lark Rise to Candleford, as well as roles in Prime Suspect, Hustle, Sea of Souls and Trial and Retribution. On his film credits include Speed Racer, V for Vendetta, The Affair of the Necklace and Wings of a Dove.
PAST: My interest in acting started at secondary school; we had a great theatre department and a very influential drama teacher. Initially I did lighting and sound until I realised you could get more time off lessons if you were actually in the plays, so I thought I'd give it a go.
I applied to join the National Youth Theatre and did a short summer course with them (along with Lloyd Hutchinson, who is in the Measure for Measure company) - I greatly enjoyed that and then applied and got in to drama school.
I was lucky enough to get a job at the Royal Shakespeare Company quite soon after I left which was a wonderful place to start; I met some great actors and worked with some fantastic directors. It was like an MA course in acting really. I was influenced there by actors like Mark Rylance, who was playing Romeo and Hamlet, and others like David O'Hara and John Carlisle. I've looked up to them all ever since.
More recently, I've just returned from doing The Norman Conquests on Broadway. It was amazing; we were unsure as to how three plays about middle-aged English people who refer to places like East Grinstead and talk about badgers would be received in New York, but there's a huge Acykbourn fanbase over there.
Broadway is a relatively small place - everything is much more compacted. The West End seems to be slightly more spread out whereas Broadway just seemed denser in every sense. The pressure's very intense to succeed, news travels faster, responses are more immediate. A show's reputation, be it good or bad, is very quickly established in New York. It was intense in every way but an amazingly exhilarating four months. Plus we won a Tony for best revival which was great as it was a collective award, it said well done to everyone who was involved in the play. We all came back from it completely elated and exhausted!
The production started life at the Old Vic, where I previously did Richard II with Kevin Spacey, who's someone else I've long admired. I think he's fantastic both on stage and screen but his hidden talent lies in his ability to run a building, and he's transformed the Old Vic. It was really exciting to be offered a chance to not only work in that building with that history while it was transforming itself in to a viable venue, but also to work with Kevin Spacey and Trevor Nunn on a play by Shakespeare. It was a real privilege to do and great fun, and it's nice to be returning to Shakespeare now.
PRESENT : Measure for Measure has been on my desk for a while so I'm thrilled to be finally doing it. I was in a TV version of it for the BBC which David Thacker directed back in 1994. I played Claudio and I enjoyed very much, but TV was a different experience of it. It's such a different feeling to be performing on stage.
The Duke is very mysterious, I couldn't work out him or his reasons for doing things; he's very puzzling but that's a lot of the joy of it. Every character is interesting to play but he certainly keeps you thinking in rehearsal more than most. It's a beautifully written play with some amazing observations on the nature of life and amazing thoughts on mercy, judgement and forgiveness. There are vast themes as there are in all of Shakespeare.
Michael Attenborough said something in rehearsal that is very useful when you're doing Shakespeare; that the words written are the best words the characters could have at that particular time, in order to make that particular point. It's very thrilling to have that in a text. They're incredibly constructed pieces of drama – both in the structure and narrative of the play and the words that are used.
Our production is set in a non-specific 20th/21st century word. It's not tied down to one particular era; there are no telephones but there are also no horses and carts, no swords – it's in an era that as an audience you can see and relate to in terms of clothing and furniture but it's not nailed down to any particular timescale. The text has been cut slightly to make it snappier - to make the plot move at a pace that is acceptable for modern audiences and compress the whole time frame of it to make it louder and faster.
Measure for Measure fits the Almeida very well, as it's a very interior play. There are no great battlegrounds or blasted heaths or clifftops, it all takes place in rooms apart from the last act. It works very well in a small space, as there are lots of intense, confidential scenes. I think it's all come together very nicely, and we've got a terrific cast, including the exceptionally talented Rory Kinnear who I'm working with for the first time.
FUTURE: I want to carry on doing everything; film, stage and TV. I'm lucky enough to have regularly visited all three categories and it would great to keep doing it.
I don't really have a 'fantasy' role or lead. I'm aware of moving into an age category where roles are now probably realistic that weren't before but I don't have a wish list. I just wish to keep doing work and keep doing new stuff.
Next up I'm doing a four part drama for Channel Four called Homeland, that's written and directed by Peter Kosminsky who did The Government Inspector. The project is about the foundation of Israel after World War Two. I'm off to Israel to do that straight after Measure, and I'm greatly looking forward to it. Peter's a wonderful writer and director and I've always enjoyed working with him.
I can't really see myself writing or directing myself. Anyone who puts pen to paper and gives themselves enough discipline to write or direct is amazing, but I wouldn't fancy it. Maybe in the future, but not now.
Measure for Measure continues at the Almeida until 3 April 2010.