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20 Questions With...Mark McGann

Actor Mark McGann, embarking this week on a national tour of comedy thriller Corpse!, talks about his John Lennon legacy, working with his brothers, the trials of rowing a boat in the Artic & the unexpected joy of dress fittings.

By • West End


Actor and musician Mark McGann has had an unusually varied career. Part of the McGann clan, his brothers Paul, Joe and Stephen are all also actors, with whom he's worked on a variety of projects, including the acclaimed TV series The Hanging Gale and an album they recorded together in 1998.

Mark McGann started his professional life in his hometown of Liverpool, where his most notable role was as Beatle John Lennon. The musical, Lennon, transferred to the West End - where McGann was nominated for a Best Actor in a Musical Olivier - and was later made into a film (titled John and Yoko). McGann received a second Olivier nomination for Up on the Roof.

McGann's many other theatre credits - at the National, Royal Court, in the West End and on national tour - include the title roles in both Macbeth and Don Giovanni, as well as On the Ledge, Killers, Comedians, Blood Brothers, The Hunting of the Snark, Yakety Yak and An Inspector Calls.

Amongst McGann's other recent television credits are The Grand, Where the Heart Is and, most recently, Shackleton with Kenneth Branagh.

McGann now returns to the stage, appearing alongside Colin Baker and Louise Jameson in the new touring production of comedy thriller Corpse!.


Date & Place of Birth
Born 12 July 1961 in Liverpool.

Trained at...
I didn't - I went up at the Liverpool Everyman theatre straight away and bypassed drama school. I did a couple of years there, which is the equivalent of training at a drama school, I suppose.

Now lives...
On a private estate in Salisbury.

First big break
Probably playing John Lennon in Liverpool. We had been writing the show for a year before he died, and though it was rather macabre, that gave us the ending. I went on to play the role in the West End and in the film.

Career highlights to date
Lennon gave me the most exposure, but in terms of sense of achievement, The Hanging Gale as I co-produced it with my brothers.

Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Shackleton, because of the extraordinary nature of the grief doing it as an actor. We worked in the middle of Arctic, in Greenland and Iceland. It's spectacularly beautiful but very demanding as an actor when you're rowing a boat in the freezing cold. The Grand was a great piece, it worked terribly well. Getting The Hanging Gale made was great, too. I suppose I have lots of favourites. I also really enjoyed making the album with two of my brothers.

Favourite co-stars
Michael Gambon, who I worked with on the film Samson and Delilah. He was great fun to be with and a source of much enthusiasm and encouragement.

Favourite directors
Charles Stourage. He directed Shackleton and Brideshead Revisited. He has a tremendous attention to detail and preparation.

Favourite playwrights
That changes from time to time. I go through phases of liking one and then another, but I can't rule out Shakespeare. I don't think his work is equalled in terms of a challenge for an actor. With most playwrights, you get one or two possible intentions on a line, but with Shakespeare its four or five a word.

What roles would you most like to play still?
I'm constantly open to ideas. I'm playing twins in Corpse! - one gay and one heterosexual - which is a challenge. Like all actors, I think I harbour the desire to play Hamlet. That would be nice...what am I saying - it would be terrifying!

In which medium - film, television or stage - do you prefer working?
They all offer different things. There's no greater thrill than being on a film set with great actors and crew. Film comes down to single seconds of a camera being on you. It's inspiring and exciting, perhaps more than theatre. But, the theatre offers an actor training that is second to none in terms of testing your skills with a live audience. For me, it comes round to being the time to do one or the other.

Do you want to return at some stage to musical theatre?
I'm not sure that I do or I would feel compelled to go back already. As a genre, it hasn't really moved on since the 1950s, since Oscar Hammerstein. Only Sondheim has managed to move musicals into something else. I like Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George, and I'd be quite interested in being involved in one of those, but even they are becoming aged now. If I came across something with more than teeth and smiles, I'd do it. That's what made Lennon so interesting. There were only nine of us, and we had to double up to play four or five instruments each.

In your opinion, what's the best thing currently on stage?
I haven't seen enough of what's on now to comment, but recently I saw John Kani in The Island, the fantastic piece at the Old Vic. It was amazing, like watching liquid velvet in terms of the acting.

What advice would you give to the government to secure & maintain the future of British theatre?
I would up the subsidies to the Arts Council, and then start heavily funding theatre throughout the country. If you go to France or Germany where the theatre is strongly subsidised, the people who work in it are better paid and looked after, and what's more, part of a very respectable institution. In this country, it's not quite same thing. It's a very easy trap to fall into to just look at the West End's success as typical of all theatre and lots of people make the mistake. You have to see the business sense of West End theatre separately to everything else; it should always be separate to subsidised work. If the government cares about the arts, they should subsidise better. The money would get the good people out of film and into theatre, which is how it used to be when I started, back in the previous Labour government.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
I suppose the guy who owns the plantation in Bequia, in the Southern Grenadines in the Caribbean.

Favourite book
At present it's the Philip Pullman trilogy. They are great books - and definitely not Harry Potter!

Favourite holiday destination
Cape Town. There is a great myth about South Africa that it's not a safe place but its one of the safest places I've been to. Cape Town has a beautiful climate, the vibrancy of Africa, the oldest mountain in the world (Table Mountain) and, of course, the people - it's such a lively place. It deserves much better support financially though. It's not like a Third World country, but it is still struggling under a new government. It's a liberal government and their manifesto is fantastic, but they slip up on their Aids policy. South Africa is filled with optimism; for instance, lots of people were expecting bloodshed post-apartheid but nothing happened. As a nation, it breeds optimism.

Favourite website
I only really use the Internet to send emails, but I suppose I'll have to say the Liverpool FC website to check up on the football.

If you hadn't become involved with theatre, what would you have done professionally?
I would have been a musician of some description. I'm qualified in counterpoint and harmony so I would have worked as a composer.

Why did you want to accept your part in Corpse!?
It seemed like an opportunity to rekindle a relationship with theatre that would be fun. I'd fallen into a comfort zone as an actor, which tends to happen after you've been successful. This play is different, though. I usually play weighty and dark types, and it's great to play a lighter character and, what's more, in a funny play.

What are the challenges of touring?
Where do you want me to start! Living in a different place every week is very unsettling. Touring is physically demanding. I'm never off stage in this piece, and there are eight performances a week! Fatigue is a big problem. It's a more oblique thing than people consider, and it's how it affects one mood more than the ability to move quickly on stage.

What's your favourite line from Corpse?
"O beware my jealousy, the green-eyed monster that thou does mock." The character is constantly quoting Shakespeare, and that quote is an attempt to seduce a lady. He's making it up, of course!

What's the funniest or most notable thing that happened during rehearsals of Corpse!?
The sun coming out! Finding out that the dress I have to wear fits me perfectly. I thought that the person who was wearing it before me was slimmer, and it's amazing how much these things matter when you have to wear a dress for a part.

What are your future plans?
To continue to live day to day. I've found when I plan further than that and have big long term plans, it's impossible to sustain happiness.

-Mark McGann was speaking to Sarah Beaumont


Corpse! continues at Northampton until 24 August before touring to further 15 venues until 2 December 2002.

TO WIN CORPSE! TICKETS FOR DATES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, CLICK HERE. COMPETITION ENDS 29 AUGUST 2002.


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