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20 Questions with... William Gaminara

Actor William Gaminara, best known for playing Leo Dalton for more than a decade in Silent Witness, is currently starring in The Body of an American at the Gate Theatre, which runs until 8 February

By • London
William Gaminara (Paul) and Damien Molony (Dan) in The Body of an American
William Gaminara (Paul) and Damien Molony (Dan) in The Body of an American
© Tristram Kenton

1. Where and when were you born?
I was born in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia (Northern Rhodesia at the time) in 1956.

2. What made you want to become an actor?
Playing head sheep in the Nativity Play at Nursery School. I only had one word to say... 'Bethlehem'... which I bleated repeatedly and got a (cheap) laugh.

3. If you hadn't become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I work as a writer as well so maybe I would have done that full time. I like the idea of being an investigative journalist, but I suspect the reality is a lot less glamorous than I imagine.

4. First big break?
Playing one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in Bill Douglas' film Comrades. It was my first proper screen work and I didn't really know what I was doing but it was a wonderful adventure which taught me a lot.

5. Career highlights to date?
A brief scene with Vanessa Redgrave in the same film; in Silent Witness doing an autopsy on a dog whose tail would not stop wagging; speaking Cantonese in a production of Macbeth knowing that if I got ​the intonation wrong the whole meaning would alter - all highlights in their own ways.

6. Any regrets?
That we don't have a multiplicity of lives so we can try out different ways of living.

7. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
Being taken to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre at the age of about eight. It wasn't just the play but the magic of that venue on a hot summer's night in the dark.

8. And the last?
It's not often that the production, the performances and the writing all match each other in a show. Jerusalem managed it in spades.

9. Who are your acting idols?
On screen the usual suspects... De Niro, Brando, Harvey Keitel. On stage I don't have any idols as such but I could name any number of British actors whom I admire enormously.

10. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
When you sit down at a poker table, the first thing you do is look round and see if you can spot the patsy. If you can't, then the patsy is you.

11. Why did you want to get involved in The Body of an American?
A variety of reasons; I spent a long time researching and writing a film about a War Correspondent some years ago so it felt like I was returning to a familiar and fascinating subject. It's a challenging and unconventional script which makes challenging and unconventional demands of an actor. Like all good plays, it leaves as many questions unanswered as answered. And at its heart it has two complex and intriguing central characters with whom I could immediately identify.

William Gaminara in rehearsals for The Body of an American
William Gaminara in rehearsals for The Body of an American
© Bill Knight

12. How have you prepared for the role?
My character exists in real life so apart from his autobiography (from which a lot of the play is drawn), there is video footage of him available. Otherwise the usual careful scrutiny and exploration of the text. We have also had the benefit of a dialect coach for a variety of accents/voices. Our author Dan O'Brien was also with us for the first week and having spent a lot of time with my character (in real life) was of course able to fill in any gaps.

13. Favourite line in the show?
"I'm paraphrasing now of course, but what kind of an ass-jag uses the word 'whilst'!"

14. What do you hope people take away from the show?
I hope they have a genuinely arresting and exciting theatrical experience, that they are engrossed in and intrigued by the relationship between these two men, and that if nothing else they leave with some greater understanding of what is involved in being a reporter working on the frontline in war scenarios.

15. What's your favourite post-show hang out?
My bath.

16. Do you often get recognised from your TV work?
Often enough to realise what a pain it must be to be recognised more often.

17. How do you unwind?
I play in a band (guitar and blues harmonica) and I play table-tennis and poker. But not all at the same time. I have also been learning Cuban salsa for a year or two.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
David Cameron, so I could hand in my resignation.

19. What's your favourite theatre joke?
A: What's the secret of comedy? ​B: Timing.

20. What's next?
Uncertainty as ever.

Read our five star review of The Body of an American here

The Body of an American, which is co-produced by Royal & Derngate, Northampton, continues at the Gate until 14 February

Tags: Gate TheatreWilliam GaminaraThe Body of an American


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