Stephen Moore has performed in 23 productions for the National, including Bedroom Farce (also West End, on Broadway and on television), Enemy of the People, Peer Gynt, A Small Family Business and The Wild Duck.
His work for the Royal Shakespeare Company includes All's Well That Ends Well (also on Broadway, where he was nominated for a Best Actor Tony) and A Doll’s House, for which he won an Olivier Award, as well as Twelfth night and Peter Pan. His most recent stage appearances include Festen in the West End and My Fair Lady on tour, as well as the touring production of The History Boys.
On television he has appeared in Doc Martin, Mersey Beat, The Queen’s Nose, Silent Witness, Armadillo, Harry Enfield, Prince of Hearts, The Missing Postman, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. His film credits include Brassed Off, Under Suspicion and Clockwise.
Moore is now starring in The History Boys, which at last receives its West End transfer. Moore plays unconventional teacher Hector, a part originated to multi award-winning success by Richard Griffiths, in Alan Bennett’s plays set in a boys’ sixth-form college in the 1980s. Prior to the West End, Moore performed the part on tour, when he stepped in at short notice after the withdrawal of Anton Rodgers from the part.
Date & place of birth
Born 11 December 1937, in Brixton, south London.
Lives now in
I live in Wapping (east London). It will be really nice to be in London and be able to come home after the show because I was away for months with this tour and I did My Fair Lady before that.
Central School of Speech and Drama.
What made you want to become an actor?
I found myself being cast in school plays and things. Then I joined an amateur dramatics society and did a lot of plays there. I wasn’t very good at school and drama was really the only thing that caught my imagination. It was something I could do, whereas maths wasn’t.
First big break
After drama school, I went straight to the Old Vic and played Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, which was brilliant. That’s a long time ago now!
I enjoyed being Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady. But there are so many things I’ve enjoyed - mostly I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done.
Trevor Nunn and Howard Davies. I particularly like them because they both love actors. They don’t march all over us and tell us what to do, they know what they want but they see what we want as well and they see what we’re getting at before mucking about with it. If they like what you’re doing, they let you get on with it and just help you make it even better. They’re not dictators, they’re actor-friendly.
Christopher Hampton and Shakespeare - anything by Shakespeare.
What was the last stage production that had a big impact on you? And the first?
I saw Henry IV with Michael Gambon at the National, which I really enjoyed - I’m quite a big admirer of his. The first play I ever saw… there used to be a thing called Hells a Popping, which was where the best comedians at the time got together and put on a show. It was very enjoyable and funny. That’s the earliest I can think of. I must have been about ten when I saw that.
What might you have done professionally if you hadn’t become involved with theatre?
My father was a lawyer - that’s what he would have liked me to have been. So I guess to please him I would have done that if I hadn’t convinced him I should be on stage.
What would you advise the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Just to be more generous in terms of funding. I think the theatre is one of our greatest exports, and a lot of people come to this country to see us acting. We’re probably the best in the Western world at theatre. We make money for the country through the industry, and we should be compensated for that by the government investing in the industry.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I would like to be the cricketer Freddie Flintoff, so that I could try and give Australia a hiding!
I love all of Charles Dickens’ books, particularly Oliver Twist.
Favourite holiday destinations
When I was on tour with the National, I went to California and it was tremendous. I wouldn’t like to live there but I would be very happy to spend a month or two there. The climate is wonderful, it’s easygoing and the Americans love pleasure really - they make it easy to enjoy yourself.
Favourite after-show haunts
Joe Allen’s and Orso.
Why did you want to accept your role in The History Boys?
It was impossible not to really. I hadn’t seen the play before, but I’d heard how wonderful it was and what a big hit it was. So when I was asked to do it at very short notice I couldn’t say no. Some people might say it was a stupid thing to do to put myself in that kind of danger because I didn’t even know if I’d know the lines before I went on, but I’m so glad I did. It’s as great as I had thought and hoped it would be.
What was it like taking over at such short notice after Anton Rodgers had to leave the production for personal reasons?
It was terrifying. I had about four days’ rehearsal before we went to Birmingham to start the tour. When we got there, I didn’t even know what side of the stage to walk on. People had to lead me around and I’d say “where do I go now?” I tried to incorporate my own vagueness into the character! Normally in rehearsal you can get used to where you go and really know your lines properly. I had to have bits of paper to read from on stage in front of an audience – but they were very warm and gave such a good response - and it seems to be going alright now!
How does it feel stepping into a role famously originated on stage & screen by Richard Griffiths to multi award-winning success?
A lot of people ask me that. I just can’t compare myself to Richard Griffiths because, even just in looks, we’re very different, so it would be ridiculous to make myself look or act like him. He’s wonderful and he does it his way. It’s like saying you’ve been given the part of Hamlet and worrying about all the famous people who’ve played it before you - you’re not going to play it like Laurence Olivier, you’ve got to play it like you. Nicholas Hytner (who has directed The History Boys) was very helpful. He said, “you’ve got all those qualities the part needs, just get on with it”. Although it sounds harsh, it was exactly what I needed him to say. And with all due respect to Richard, I’m doing it my way and it seems to be working well – at least it doesn’t seem to be keeping people away from seeing the show! It’s a wonderful play and the response is amazing.
Was your experience of school similar to that portrayed in the play? No. I kind of wish there had been a teacher at my school like Hector, I might have responded a bit more than I did. Except for English I was a dunce at school. I think someone with the imagination that Hector has, who sort of says life is education, that’s what would have inspired me. Of course, you’ve got to look at exam results. In The History Boys, that’s why the headmaster wants to employ a younger teacher who is focussed on exams and can do that for him. It shows the two sides of the coin really, of life and education. I don’t think I could possibly teach in real life. I wouldn’t mind doing some directing now. I think I could help people in that way, but an actual school teacher? Definitely not!
What do you enjoy most about the play?
It’s so witty and well written that it just really needs us to say the lines, to be honest. It’s because of the writing that the play has been such a success. I’m not saying it’s not a wonderful cast - all the boys are great and everyone in it is really well cast - but we’ve got a wonderful foundation to be sitting on with the script and that makes all the difference. It doesn’t matter how good an actor is, if it’s a rotten script, you’re done for. The pressure is to make sure you say the words that are there but make them your own.
How does it feel coming into the West End after the tour? Do you think the audience reaction will be different?
I’m hoping it won’t be different to how it was on tour. The History Boys has been played all over the world, it’s a global enterprise. There was another tour before the one we’ve just done and people keep coming and enjoying it. On our tour, we did four extra performances to get people who wanted to come in at the Lowry a seat – the venue holds about 2,000 people but it was all sold out. It’s wonderful to be in something that’s so successful. In the West End, I imagine it’s going to be a lot of tourists and people who didn’t catch it before. I have a feeling it will go pretty well. I think a lot of people in education come and see it - there are a lot of knowing laughs. The play reaches a lot of areas which you’d think wouldn’t be entertaining, like the meaning of education and homosexuality. It touches on so many threads and yet they are all ringing the right bells for an audience. And Bennett’s a master of one-liners.
What are your future plans?
I just hope as I’m getting older there are more parts for old people! As long as I get employed, I’m fine. I hope that somebody like Nicholas Hytner or Trevor Nunn or Howard Davies will find something they think I could do!
- Stephen Moore was speaking to Caroline Ansdell
The History Boys opens at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre on 3 January 2007, following previews from 21 December 2006.