David Threlfall was first seen on the small screen as Trevor, an undertaker's assistant, in the 1977 TV play Kiss of Death by Mike Leigh. Three years later he was cast as Smike in Trevor Nunn and John Caird's epic Nicholas Nickleby at the RSC.
On television Threlfall has taken roles in Dinner of Herbs, The Knock, Sex Chips & Rock n' Roll, The Knock, Thieftakers, Murderers Among Us and The Brylcream Boys amongst others. He also played Edgar in the 1984 TV version of King Lear with Laurence Olivier.
Threlfall can be seen in the forthcoming Shameless on Channel 4. Due in January 2004, Paul Abbot's (Clocking Off, State of play) drama tells the story of a group of kids on a Manchester council estate and is directed by Johnny Campbell.
On the big screen Threlfall's work includes The Russia House, Patriot Games, Black Dog, Chunky Monkey and the forthcoming Master and Commander with Russell Crowe (on general release from 28 November 2003).
At the Royal Exchange theatre in Threlfall's native Manchester he has performed in plays like Count of Monte Cristo, Macbeth, Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus the King, Peer Gynt and Present Laughter. But Threlfall's regional experience is not limited to his home town and he has tread the boards in places like Bristol, York, Chichester, Leeds, Leicester, and Oxford in the likes of Hedda Gabler, The Traveller, The Wild Duck, Hamlet and recently The Entertainer at Derby Playhouse.
Threlfall's London credits include Tartuffe at the National, Blue Orange at the Duchess and A Bed of Roses and Not Quite Jerusalem at the Royal Court. He also has appeared in a host of productions at the RSC.
Date & place of birth
Born 12 October 1953 in Manchester.
I trained at the old Manchester Polytechnic's school of theatre.
First big break
Meeting Mike Leigh, through the youth theatre in Manchester. That came about partly because he came to see a show I was in at college, but I'd also auditioned for him before that, way back for a TV thing.
Career highlights to date
To be honest, these days it's to do with having a good time with people, and feeling you're learning a bit as well. Frankly its just working on something you enjoy. There is so much unemployment in our business that if you are working and enjoying it that's all you can ask and I'm doing both on this job. I had a good time making Shameless too and before that The Entertainer at Derby, so I've had a nice year.
Favourite production you've ever worked on
Well those certainly count, The Entertainer this year because we were given a lot of rope by director David Freeman to explore what can be a rather tricky play. I'd never done Osborne before and I thought the writing was wonderful. Shameless was terrific too, I loved going to work every day. It's all in the script - if you've got a good script its great. And I'm enjoying working with Trevor again.
Ahh, that's really hard, there's so many I've enjoyed working so it's difficult to single people out. I'm getting a lot of pleasure with the group I'm working with now on Skellig, none of whom I've worked with before. I like people who can enjoy the work with no bullshit, it could be anyone from an extra on Shameless to a main part, it just depends on the person, so it is hard to say.
Trevor obviously has to be up there, but as a man as much as a director. It was great working with Peter Weir on Master and Commander, he lets you bring a lot of your own improvisatory skills to the work. It's funny that we were talking about Mike Leigh earlier as what all my last year's work has had in common is getting a character and letting it loose which is the way Leigh works too. When you've got a lot of input that's great. It's the most actors can desire these days, to have some say in your work, rather than standing on your marks and saying your lines like in TV. A lot of people I like working with are pro character and anti image, because so much nowadays is about image rather than what the character does. In theatre generally you get more leeway but in the TV and film work I've done this year the directors have let me bring a little something to the party.
Greg Cruttwell is another favourite director of mine because of the nature of the film we made, Chunky Monkey. Jude Kelly is great too, we did Oddysseus Thump together.
Ibsen's up there, I've done a few of his. Of course the lad himself, Shakespeare is up there, but there's some good younger modern ones. I don't get out much at the moment but there was a time when I was in a position to read a lot of young playwrights, people like Owen McCafferty and Simon Stevens, I'm a big fan of theirs.
It really should include screenwriters too, Paul Abbot is terrific. I felt very hand in glove with the character I played in Shameless, Frank Gallagher, something about him seemed to fit very well. I'm looking forward to seeing it on Channel 4 in January and Master and Commander too, thought I've no idea how that will turn out.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Well, the obvious Shakespeare ones, more Ibsen, some Chekhov. I've talked in the past to Steven Berkoff about working with him - I'd like to fulfil that wish. Iago, and Richard III are the more obvious ones but you can't legislate for the ones which haven't been written yet, like this, which was a book then a workshop at the National.
You've worked extensively in Theatre, TV and Film, what specific skills do you need for each and which do you prefer?
You need to turn up! You've got to be heard in the theatre, you get a sense of what feels right and if it's in the theatre you have to make that carry in a way you don't in the other two. But that's a very difficult question, you have to make it right for you. Certain things have to change depending on the medium, obvious things really, but at the end of the day it's about being as good and as true as you can be in the moment, that's what its about. I just turn up on the day and do my best, I sound like a footballer now don't I?
As for preference, it's usually the one I'm not doing. That's not been as bad this last year as I've been around projects that have allowed me some latitude. I've had a really good year, another thing I've enjoyed doing is Baldi on Radio 4, that's enormously enjoyable. We recorded it in Northern Ireland and its top drawer, great fun. Some kind of input is really high on my list for job satisfaction.
What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
I don't go out to the theatre that much. I have a family so my priorities are different. I think the last thing I saw had a friend of mine Alan Williams in it, Crave at the Royal Court, so that's nearly two years ago. It was alright, its nice to go and see friends in the theatre. Actually no, the last thing I saw was Love's Labour's Lost that Trevor did at the National, I saw it because of Trevor mainly and because Robin Soans was in it, I enjoyed it because I didn't know the play and its nice to see things that aren't often produced.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Well, successive governments have taken the repertory system away, so there's very little opportunity to develop a sense of theatre craft at the early stages of actors' careers. They seem to be forced into image and making TV or Film money. It's simplistic but I'd say put more money into the regions, I don't think a Labour or Conservative government would take any heed in that, they are more interested in taxing fines on parking than generating more revenue for theatre. To me, it seems that money we are putting in pot isn't to be being spread around very much. There are an awful lot of regional theatres that are now just homes for touring shows when they were places for actors to learn and explore their craft and the community had a theatre-going habit, without a sense of it being "not for them".
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
That's so difficult, the Woody Allen answer to a similar question was, "Warren Beatty's fingertips", and that's getting in the way for me...
It would have been nice to have been the German who tried to blow up Hitler, and rather than failing, managed it, so averting the holocaust. Really I am happy being me, but I'd quite like to see my Mum and Dad again, maybe I'd go to the other side, see them and come back again.
I'm not very good at favourites, because it fluctuates for me. I do like historical biographies, particularly Claire Tomalin's stuff. Put it this way, my favourite present is a book token.
Favourite holiday destinations
Rayavadee which is an island near Thailand. My wife was working on a job in Thailand and we spend three days there. Family holidays don't really crop up, we take holidays where we are working, places like Morocco, Prague or Budapest but Rayavadee was a combination of both and was pretty amazing.
Why did you want to accept the part of Skellig?
Well, we'd done the workshop about three years ago at the National, and Trevor indicated he'd get it on at the National before he left if he could, but that didn't happen. Then he called me up this year, which is lucky, it's nice to get an offer rather than going to audition for something. And it's nice to be working with some one who trusts you.
I don't want to say much about Skellig, because the surprise is who he is. A brief synopsis is: a family move in to a new house which has a derelict garage with a mysterious being who has all sorts of resonance for the family. What its got around it is magic and Trevor is just the man for that.
What are the challenges of working on a show for children or a younger audience?
This appeals direct to children and adults because its about imagination and storytelling. It's not patronising to children and audiences will be involved in a complete way, not just a sitting down and watching, I'll say no more than that.
There seems to be a trend at the moment in adapting children's novels for the stage, why do you think that is?
I hope it's society having a look at itself, a desire to get back to something basic that appeals to the imagination and saying that - wouldn't it be nice to think that in years to come Skellig will be like the Alice in Wonderland's and Peter Pans's are now. There are elements of Peter Pan and Alice, it could appeal to the child in all of us, but that's too simplistic for Skellig. David Almond writes sparingly and tellingly, like Chekhov, you can't take a phrase for granted the way he writes. But I'd suggest you don't read the book if you are coming to see it, as a lot of the book is in the stage version.
Had you read Skellig? Are you a fan of any other children's books?
No, I read one Harry Potter because I was up for one of the parts in it, when I didn't get it I didn't bother. I read to my kids most nights.
What's your favourite line from Skellig?
I don't do that, I think it's dangerous. Once you do that you load it. A woman I was working with a while ago said "My favourite line is when you say-" and I said, "Stop right there!" Hopefully your favourite can change. I don't do favourites really, I'm very changeable, basically I get bored quickly.
What's the most notable thing that has happened during rehearsals of Skellig?
It's just a lot of fun, if you see the show you'll reflect on this question and see that its all in the way we're telling the story and working out how you get from the novel to stage.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm wary of actors who make plans, most of us can't plan like that. I'd just like to keep going, keep working. If I could I would work every day - apart from the weekend - and obviously on things that are really terrific so I'm not idealistic at all!
- David Threlfall was speaking to Hannah Kennedy
Skellig is running at the Young Vic from 21 November 2003 to 31 January 2004.