John Gordon Sinclair is still remembered as gangly teenager Gregory in the 1981 film Gregory’s Girl, but his career started in 1979 with That Sinking Feeling, the first of four films for director Bill Forsyth, including Local Hero and Gregory’s Two Girls.
He has appeared in a variety of West End stage productions, including Stephen Poliakoff’s Sweet Panic, Ben Elton’s Gasping, the musical She Loves Me (for which he won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical), the Peter Hall Company productions of Filumena and Kafka’s Dick at the Piccadilly Theatre, and most recently as Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’ musical The Producers at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, for which he was nominated for Best Takeover in a Role in the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards.
Other films include Britannia Hospital, Erik the Viking and Self Catering, while on television his numerous sitcom appearances include Mad About Alice, Nelson’s Column and An Actor’s Life for Me and dramas such as The Spayer Connection, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Bouncing Back, Murder in Mind and June with Ian McKellen.
Sinclair has now returned to the West End for an all-star revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1972 comedy Absurd Person Singular. This new production – which reunites the actor with Jane Horrocks, with whom he appeared in Sweet Panic in 2003 as well as numerous Tesco adverts, in a cast that also includes David Bamber, David Horovitch, Jenny Seagrove and Lia Williams - is the first Ayckbourn in the West End since the start of the playwright’s self-imposed moratorium in 2002.
Date & place of birth
Born in 1962 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Lives now in
London, Islington near the Angel. I love it here because everything is on your doorstep, including Exmouth Market which is my favourite street in London. You can walk into town from here in ten minutes, and now that Eurostar arrives at St Pancras I can pop down Pentonville Road and catch a train to Paris if I want to. It feels as if the Angel is now the centre of Europe.
Why made you want to become an actor?
All I wanted to be as a kid was a police marksman, like my uncle. I thought it was such a glamorous job, but I couldn’t shoot anything to save my life. Being an actor was never on my horizon. In fact, I became an apprentice electrician when I left school. My family in Glasgow was totally non-showbusiness: dad was an electrician and mum a dental receptionist. There was a theatre project at secondary school that I attended on Friday afternoons, but I only went to it because the English department treated us like grown-ups. Even when I joined Glasgow Youth Theatre after I left school, I enjoyed the social aspect more than acting or going to the theatre. It wasn’t until the director Bill Forsyth cast me in Gregory’s Girl that I seriously started to think of it as a job.
First big break
I was 18 when I made Gregory’s Girl which was a big turning point, but the first big break was the film I was in before, called That Sinking Feeling, which was also directed by Bill Forsyth. I was just 16 at the time and Bill found me at Glasgow Youth Theatre, along with a lot of other characters who were also in the film. Had it not been for Bill, I wouldn’t have had a career at all. Coming from my background, it would never have entered my mind that one day I’d act on the West End stage. Movies were things you just went to see, not to be in.
If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I was an apprentice electrician when I left school so I might well have become an electrician like my dad. But I’d love to have been a cabinet-maker. I like doing it myself at home and making furniture. In fact, I’m in the middle of making a fireplace at the moment.
Career highlights to date
That Sinking Feeling and Gregory’s Girl of course were important at the time because they changed my life. But without a doubt the biggest highlight was playing Leo Bloom in The Producers at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for a year. I remember seeing the show on Broadway just after it opened there and wondering what you had to do to become a part of this amazing production. I never thought for a second that I would end up being in it. Working with the American team taught me all about how committed you have to be as an actor. That’s why The Producers was such a big success, because every single second was honed to perfection. As an actor, I discovered for the first time how you really have to do your best every moment you are on stage and every night too, which spoils you because when you are working with people who don’t give 100 percent it can be very frustrating. The Producers taught me a lot about acting, and it was a total joy to be in.
Claire Grogan who was in Gregory’s Girl with me is a favourite. But one reason I wanted to play Geoffrey in Absurd Person Singular was because Jane Horrocks is in the cast. We’ve worked together before on television and on stage. We did a film about 12 years ago for Channel Four called Self Catering and we were in the the Tesco commercials as well. The last time we worked together was in Stephen Poliakoff’s Sweet Panic in the West End, where we spent the entire four months moaning. So now we both have a chance to have another good old moan.
After all these years and a varied acting career, your name is still associated with Gregory’s Girl. Does that ever bug you?
Not really because people always seem to think so fondly of that film.
You were in a TV & radio sitcom called An Actor’s Life for Me. Do you lead the actor’s life?
Not at all. Sometimes I think I ought to become more actorish and get into the celebrity lifestyle, but I’m quite happy mixing with old friends from Glasgow and being normal at home with my wife Shauna and our 16-month-old baby. Coincidentally, she’s called Eva (the name of his character’s wife in Absurd Person Singular) too.
What was the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
It has to be Boeing-Boeing at the Comedy Theatre. When I read the play, it seemed dated and I really wondered how you could ever make it work as a farce for today, but director Matthew Warchus, the cast and the Sixties look and feel of the production really brought out the comedy and made it seem like new again. Truly fabulous.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
That was from my dad who always used to tell me never to look back and never to have any regrets. He was right. There is absolutely no point in looking over your shoulder all the time. You just have to learn from your mistakes and move on.
If could swap places with anyone (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
George Bush. Then I’d commit suicide and do us all a favour.
Anything by Charles Dickens – and books on how to make good furniture.
Favourite website This has to be iTunes, because it’s such a leap forward. To be able to download music and then take you entire record collection around with you wherever you go is fantastic.
What do you listen to most on your iPod?
Neon Bible, the second album by the Canadian band Arcade Fire, and I listen to the Associates’ White Car in Germany album every day. I love anything from Wagner to Sugababes, depending on my mood.
Why did you want to accept your part in this production of Absurd Person Singular?
Alan Ayckbourn writes such brilliant plays and this one is a classic. Alan said he would never allow his plays in the West End again, so it’s great that he has changed his mind and given this production his personal seal of approval. Absurd Person Singular was first presented in the early Seventies, a kind of golden period for Alan when his work hit a social nerve, especially in terms of relationship between men and women. It still does.
Tell us about your character, Geoffrey.
The play charts the rise and fall of three sets of married couples over three successive Christmases. Geoffrey is an architect married to Eva (played by Lia Williams) and he’s a serial womaniser. That’s why Eva is having such a terrible time and attempts suicide when Geoffrey tells her he’s decided that he wants to run off to live with one of his many conquests. Geoffrey is the kind of guy feminists in the Seventies would have called a 100 percent male chauvinist pig. Some of the things that men said and did then are probably still expressed, although it’s more underground now because it’s not politically correct. I have one long speech where I get lots of laughs, until I say how I’d like to take a swing at Eva. Suddenly you don’t find him quite as funny. Back then it might have been almost acceptable that this guy beats his wife. I get to wear big Seventies hair, flares and floral shirts with big collars, but we’re trying not to make too much of the retro thing.
What’s your favourite moment in the play?
It sounds dramatic, but Eva’s kitchen suicide scene where Geoffrey tells her he wants to leave and she tries to kill herself but keeps on being interrupted is surely one of Alan’s most famous comic creations. There are lots of amazing set pieces like that in the play, but it’s worth coming just to watch Lia as Eva trying to bump herself off and getting huge laughs while the guests turn up oblivious to her plight. It’s a hilariously comic moment, but totally tragic as well.
What are your future plans?
I’m trying to finish writing my first novel at the moment. The plan was to complete the first draft during the summer, but it’s not been possible with the baby. I have always been interested in writing. I co-wrote a television series about highwaymen with Neil Morrissey, but they ended up not making it because it was too expensive. My book is a crime story partly set in Northern Ireland and partly in a small town in Alabama called Tuscaloosa. It’s about the differences between truth and how a story is told to you via the media. Maybe now I’m in the West End I’ll get to the theatre early and try to write some more chapters in the dressing room.
Any New Year’s resolutions for 2008?
I always set myself a goal each year. One year it was to learn the piano, another it was to take up horse riding. This year I’m resolved to get the book finished.
- John Gordon Sinclair was speaking to Roger Foss
Absurd Person Singular is playing at the West End’s Garrick Theatre, where it runs until 22 March 2008.