Brief Encounter with… Joseph Millson, The Globe's Macbeth

Joseph Millson is coming to the end of his summer playing the title role in Shakespeare’s ”Macbeth” at The Globe. Here, he discusses working with Samantha Spiro, the challenges of aeroplanes, and his plans for the future.

Bloody loving it: Joseph Millson as Macbeth
Bloody loving it: Joseph Millson as Macbeth

Have you enjoyed your summer playing Macbeth?

I've bloody loved my summer playing Macbeth! I can't really find the words to describe how much. I feel like I’ve been giving Globe-sized performances in smaller venues my whole career and have finally come home. The place just fits me like a glove.

Has your interpretation evolved since opening?

My interpretation has evolved, I think I've relaxed. That doesn’t mean I've dropped energy, just grown confident enough to 'sit in the moment ' more with the audience each night. It's been so different every performance, but I’m letting Shakespeare do a lot more of the work now – like a good violinist eventually stops worrying about technique and lets the composer’s work come through.

Is it fun working with Samantha Spiro?

Hell yes! Sam Spiro is heaven to work with. And BRILLIANT. From day one of rehearsals she has made sure every day is about fun. With a play like this that’s really important because you need to be free to go to dark places in a spirit of mutual trust. Some nights when I’m a bit nervous I know that after I've done my first scene with her I'll relax.

What’s your favourite moment in the play?

Has to be the "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech. Eve Best [director] was brilliant not to over-rehearse that speech, because she knew as an actor herself that it’s going to be different every night. On Sunday night, for example, an aeroplane flew over just as I said "And then is heard no more". So I gave it the finger, which is something you could only do in the Globe.

Has the weather caused any difficulties?

The weather hasn't really been a problem. Actually, recently it's been a lovely relief after the summer heat wave. And luckily we only had one or two shows during the rainy spell.

Millson with Samantha Spiro as Lady Macbeth
With Samantha Spiro as Lady Macbeth
© Ellie Kurttz

Do you say ‘The Scottish Play’ backstage?

No. We can't be superstitious. It would be ridiculous!

Do you know the origin of the curse?

There are so many theories. My favourite is one that Donald Sinden uncovered in a documentary, that it was based on economics. So in other words if you heard talk of Macbeth backstage it meant the management needed to bring in a sure-fire money-spinner, and you’d be out of a job. The other theory is to do with the superstition surrounding the witches – audiences used to flee the theatre in fear. But I think superstition is always attached to fear, and in theatre that means a fear of failure.

What advice would you give regarding acting at The Globe?

I'd say be brave and speak up. And have a medicinal port before the show.

Any other Shakespearean roles on your wish list?

Lots – Coriolanus, Antony, Lear, Hamlet (again), Leontes, Richard III… There are of course some excellent minor roles – the best being Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor – but once you get used to playing the major roles you do want to do the others. You get a taste for marathon running, as it were. Ever since I did Faulconbridge [in King John] and then Hamlet, I found my legs. Lear’s one I’d love to do before I’m too old – I think it’s a mistake to get octogenarian old actors to do it, because you need so much energy. Greg Hicks recently played it in his early 50s, for example, and was great.

What's next?

I'm waiting to see which of the plates I currently have spinning end up staying on the stick. Next will probably be TV or film, but I hope to do theatre again soon. I want to spread a rumour that I’d like to do a production Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe with Eve Best. Oh, and Much Ado or As You Like It with my fiance Sarah-Jane Potts. If you could make those rumours official I'd be very grateful!

Macbeth continues at the Globe until 13 October 2013