As an actor, Douglas Hodge is considered one of the foremost interpreters of Harold Pinter, having appeared in more than ten Pinter plays, including: No Man’s Land, Moonlight (Almeida and West End), The Collection, The Lover (Donmar Warehouse), Betrayal (National) and The Caretaker (West End – for which he was nominated for an Olivier).
Amongst Hodge’s other recent stage acting credits are Pericles, King Lear (National), Three Sisters (West End), the world premiere of Joe Penhall’s Dumb Show (Royal Court - for which he was nominated for an Evening Standard Award) and creating the role of Nathan Detroit in Michael Grandage’s West End revival of Guys and Dolls (for which he was nominated for both Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards).
Hodge’s screen acting credits include: Capital City, Middle March, True Love, It Could be You, The Russian Bride, Redcap and Spooks on television; and The Trial, Saigon Baby, Vanity Fair and Scenes of a Sexual Nature on film.
In 2003, Hodge made his directing debut with a revival of Harold Pinter’s Dumb Waiter at Oxford Playhouse. He is also an accomplished singer/songwriter, who regularly performs live at venues in Oxford and who recently released his first album, Cowley Road Songs.
This summer Hodge is multi-tasking as both an actor and director with two major London productions. Last month, he opened in the title role of Lucy Bailey’s staging of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Titus Andronicus, at the Globe; this month, his production of Philip King’s Second World War farce See How They Run, which had a regional tour earlier this year, opens in the West End.
Date & place of birth
Born 25 February 1960 in Plymouth.
Lives now in
Why did you want to become an actor? Training?
It’s a mystery to me. When I was a child, I was good at impersonations – teachers, friends, people on telly – and I thought that was acting. I stumbled into it accidentally from there. The National Youth Theatre was a godsend for me. Michael Croft (NYT’s founding artistic director) gave me my first Equity card. Then I went to RADA, but I didn’t like it much so I left early. When I was at RADA, I actually decided I didn’t really want to act, I’d rather direct. But then I kept being given acting jobs. Also I didn’t have enough confidence to think I could tell other people what to do at that age. Now that I’ve had 20 years of people telling me what to do, I have no qualms about that! Most directors never see another director at work so I think that does give me some advantage. Also as an actor, I wish directors had some sensitivity to how difficult it can be to actually perform a role.
First big break
Theatre-wise, playing Coriolanus in Deborah Warner’s production at the Almeida when I was 24 – which led to me playing Edmund at the National with Anthony Hopkins as Lear. On TV, Middlemarch or Capital City.
Career highlights to date
My first telly with Judi Dench (1989’s Behaving Badly). I’ve loved working with Harold Pinter. I’ve done more than ten of his plays. To work with him so closely has been an inspiration. I’ve also very much enjoyed devising and directing for NYT. And I’m directing my first film in the autumn. The working title is Love on the Murder Mile but that will probably change. It’s a cross between Trainspotting and Withnail and I. We’re casting it at the moment.
Favourite productions you’ve ever worked on
I loved Guys and Dolls and I miss it. It was such a different thing for me doing six months, eight shows a week and the whole discipline of dancing and singing every night. And we had a great company.
Did Guys and Dolls lead to your new secondary career in music?
I’ve always written songs but never played until three years ago when I started doing gigs in pubs and clubs in Oxford. It was an absolute shock when this little record company came to me and said, “can you record an album?” We’ve released it on the Internet. The songs are selling brilliantly on Itunes and now it’s on Amazon.com, though not the UK site. I can’t quite believe it. I’ve just been in the studio and recorded another five songs, but my music is having to take a backseat at the moment. I did some London gigs earlier, including one at Trafalgar Studios with the string section from Guys & Dolls. They did sell the album at the Piccadilly when I was in Guys & Dolls – but I don’t think it’s appropriate at the Globe!
What other directors do you most admire?
Matthew Warchus is wonderful, also Deborah Warner and Terry Johnson. Being a director is, I think, a mixture of being able to be a showman – making sure the audience are given a wonderful evening’s entertainment – and preparing the actors and the whole company to do their best work in every department.
What roles would you most like to play still? What shows would you like to direct?
I want to do some more big Shakespeares. I’m absolutely desperate to do Richard II and the Scottish play. As for directing, I’m doing a new play by Bryony Lavery in Oxford in January. It’s called Last Easter and it’s about a group of women friends, one of whom has cancer.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
Maybe Muhammad Ali or John Lennon.
Favourite holiday destinations
I love Holcombe beach in Norfolk. And New Orleans, though I haven’t been back since the hurricane.
The Master and Margarita and Jude the Obscure are two I like a lot.
Favourite after-show haunts
Wherever they’ll let me in! We don’t finish Titus until 11 by which time most places are shut. I can’t bear that London shuts down at 11. We’re supposed to be a world city.
Why did you want to direct See How They Run?
The producer Matt Byam Shaw approached me. I was doing Guys and Dolls and had really fallen in the love with the idea of being part of an evening that had no other agenda than to make people feel better. Matt’s theory was that there was a snobbish attitude to farce and it was high time to change that. When we first started talking about it last summer, the bombs had just happened in London; when the play was first seen in London, the bombs were falling during the war. So, we figured, we’d get a crack squad of nimble actors together to do something fun. It’s not edifying, you don’t have to learn anything. You come in exhausted from a long day at work and we try to choke you with laughter. I’ve been in so many ‘serious’ plays as an actor, it’s quite liberating to direct something that’s just absolute pure fun. See How They Run is the first play that my six-year-old son saw and he’s now been three times. Kids love it because there’s so much action – running, chasing, falling down. My dream is that it might be the first experience of theatre for a lot of kids. I insisted that we have a deal so that a whole family can come and enjoy it without paying the kind of prices that make musicals so prohibitive.
What’s the secret to directing farce?
It’s all about focus, it’s as simple as that. It’s like precision engineering. You’ve got nine people moving very quickly through as many doors as possible, there are hundreds of entrances and exits, and the audience need to know exactly where to look at every moment.
While directing See How They Run, you’re also appearing in Titus Andronicus.
Yes, and you couldn’t get more different! Titus Andronicus and See How They Run don’t talk to each other in any form. I wanted to do Titus because I love Shakespeare – it’s what I’ve done most of as an actor, before I became the Pinter guy. And I like the whole endeavour of the Globe. It’s much harder than acting at the National or the RSC. It really separates the men from the boys and I liked the challenge of that.
Is it true that people have been fainting while watching Titus?
Yes, it is. Twenty people fainted the other Saturday night. Because it’s summer and there are 700 people standing, the Globe does usually get a couple of people fainting anyway – but not as many as with this. It really is unlimited gore and horror. There’s one specific moment when the character of my daughter has her tongue torn away which is pretty graphic. The audience just start dropping, like pebbles in a lake. You can see when someone is about to go, their eyes glaze over. We had a meeting about it and talked about whether we should stop the show to see whether people were okay – but we’d be stopping all the time. So we’ve doubled the team of Red Cross and stewards on hand.
How do you switch from one to the other?
Titus is so all-engrossing. It absolutely overwhelms me and, if I’m honest, I dread doing it every time. It’s just such a massive endeavour, like climbing a mountain – two-and-a-half hours of grief, turbulence and violence – and, once you start, there’s no stopping. The farce is a real blast of fresh air by comparison. While I’m rehearsing See How They Run from nine to five and then performing in Titus at night, the hardest thing is just finding the energy to keep going.
What’s your favourite moment from both plays?
Titus was Shakespeare’s first play, some experts say he wrote it when he was only 19. His understanding of an older man, someone who’s been at war for 40 years and is brutalised by it, is incredible. Like Job, Titus has more and more terrible things that just keep happening to him. When the first tragic incident occurs, he reacts with poetry, the next with sobbing, then with violence and then all he can do is laugh. The line when he finds out that his two sons have been beheaded is just written as “ha ha ha”. It’s an extraordinarily modern psychological moment. In See How They Run, there’s a fabulous moment when Miss Skillon, the nosy parker of the piece, gets her comeuppance. She’s been put in a cupboard, which has been getting fuller and fuller during proceedings, and at one point you open it up and she’s stuck up on a hanger.
What are your future plans?
Have a lie down! Beyond that, I’d really like to go and write some more songs.
- Douglas Hodge was speaking to Terri Paddock