Berenice, which opened last night and continues to 24 November, is the latest in a string of major theatre credits for Moore; recently he was seen in the award-winning Clybourne Park and All My Sons alongside David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker, while other credits include the original production of The History Boys and the subsequent film adaptation.
PAST: Until the age of 18 I lived in a hamlet in the countryside. Definitely not an urban upbringing, that’s for sure. I moved to London for drama school and got into acting from there; I’d done lots of plays at school, but it was all Shakespeare. I went to a pretty good school, I enjoyed it, but coming to London you suddenly get a taster of a much more liberal artistic world.
I often hear actors saying they always wanted to be an actor and it wasn’t even a choice for them. But I was planning to study history, and was quite set on that. I did have a teacher who advised me to try drama school but it wasn’t something that I had ever considered as a possibility. I went to one audition for drama school and thought ‘this is a completely different world’. I continued and got in, and I thought I could trick people into thinking I want to be an actor, and succeeded and kind of fell into it. I don’t remember any conscious decision; it was only second year when I got swept away by it.
The first professional play I did was The Changeling at Salisbury, and then I got a job at the Almeida playing a small part and it went from there, gradually playing slightly bigger and more varied roles. And I guess over the last few years I’ve done less and less theatre, it’s become something I’ve done every couple of years or so. In the first four years before I filmed anything it was all theatre, and I just loved it. I loved going on tour, and I loved going around the country, playing to regional audiences and people with very different tastes. Recently I’ve only done West End productions, but the thing I really loved was spending a week in one place and having completely different reactions.
I had a great experience with Clybourne Park. I replaced someone last minute, and I came in ten days before the show had to go up; it was thrilling because it had an interesting effect on this very mixed audience who were there. People were having completely different responses to it, whether they were laughing, or were offended at things that other people found funny. Often people go to the theatre and play it fairly safe and it’s never going to create any huge eruption. But there were gasps, and the kind of spontaneous laughter where people were shocked by themselves. I really loved it.
PRESENT: In Berenice I play Titus, who has become the emperor of Rome after his father Vespasian dies. He’s been going out with Berenice for five years and it’s a safe and very private relationship. She’s the queen of Palestine and an ancient law in Rome says that no emperor can be with a foreign queen. There’s a hate that the Roman people have for kings and queens. Titus is aware that to continue as emperor, he cannot take her with him. It’s about the struggle within his heart between glory and power and leadership and something that is infinitesimally small and private.
I think with today’s sensibilities many people would say love should overcome all things, but there’s a certain reality to the way that Titus sees things. He makes a decision to go forth and tell her and he waits until he’s placed in a corner and has no other option but to tell her. In the end he is surprised by the excess of her reaction to it. He’s surprised by how much it affects him and he’s not willing to let her die.
Josie Rourke is directing, having recently taken over the Donmar Warehouse. She’s about my age, and it’s interesting talking to her about qualities of leadership. As a leader, Titus takes total responsibility for the decision he makes with her and doesn’t blame anybody else.
It’s been brilliant working opposite Anne-Marie Duff. I’ve known her for many years but we’ve never worked together. I saw her in Saint Joan at the National and she was incredible, she was the throbbing heart of the production. And she has this emotional capacity; the play is very formal and structured, and she cuts through the formality and views everything with such heart and such emotion.
FUTURE: I’ve got a few things coming out soon, including a new TV series called Hunted. It’s an HBO/BBC co-production about corporate espionage and it’s great. It’s quite violent in lots of ways but it’s a very clear look at the way security firms operate these days.
In terms of theatre, I leave that in the lap of the gods. The only way I can do a play is if I fall in love with it. Berenice is a classic example; you don’t need to read it twice to know it’s a masterpiece. I’ve been very lucky in the last few years doing All My Sons and then Clybourne Park and then this. All very different pieces, but great writing and helmed by really brilliant directors.
I’ve only got enough space in my heart for one thing at a time, so I’m totally immersed in this, and that’s one of the keys to enjoying acting, not to be hankering after the next thing. One thing that Dominic Cooke said to me when new were doing Clybourne Park is that it doesn’t get better than loving what you’re doing. When I first started out I really wanted to be the best and be the most successful and all of those things, but I always find that I’m happiest feeling in the right place at the right time. Ideally I would do a play every year that I love, a film that I love and a film that pays me a fortune. Not too much to ask, is it?
Photo: Anne-Marie Duff & Stephen Campbell Moore in Berenice (Johan Persson)