20 Questions with... Secret Theatre's Leo Bill: 'I liked the idea of being an obese restaurant critic'
Leo Bill, 33, is part of the ensemble currently performing Secret Theatre at the Lyric Hammersmith
1. Where and when were you born?
Woodgreen, London. 31st August 1980.
2. What made you want to become an actor?
Both my parents began as actors (Sheila Kelly and Stephen Bill. They played Honky and Finger in Mike Leigh's Nuts In May). My dad went on to become a playwright, we moved to the Midlands and I guess it was just the people I grew up around. I was sent to a kids drama group called Playbox Theatre when I was 12 because I quit piano lessons cos I never practiced, and my mum didn't want me hanging about on the streets every evening so it went from there.
3. If you hadn't become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
Impossible to answer that. Always liked the idea of being an obese restaurant critic.
4. First big break?
I don't really look at my career like that. That's for others to decide.
5. Career highlights to date?
Posh, both at the the Royal Court and Duke of York's - made some incredible friends. Glass Menagerie, Young Vic - I met my girlfriend on it. Working with Katie Mitchell (Pains of Youth and A Woman Killed With Kindness at the NT) - she's very much shaped the way in which I think about work.
7. Any regrets?
Accepting jobs for the wrong reasons.
8. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
Peer Gynt at the Swan Theatre, RSC. I was 16. Alex Jennings was in it. I remember very little about it now but it has always stayed with me in some form.
9. And the last?
Orpheus Descending by Berliner Festspiele. May 2013. Hard to describe but absolutely mind blowing show. Everyone should see at least one play in Berlin before they die.
10. For the uninitiated, what's Secret Theatre all about?
I think we are trying to create a room in which we can challenge the ways we think and practice theatre making in this country. The industry currently is all about names and money making. An industry where success equals artistic credibility. Middle-class politeness has completely infiltrated rehearsal rooms. There are lots of problems with it. Katie Mitchell said that the difference between the work produced in Germany and England comes down to war. Germany were forced to re-examine their entire culture after the war. And it has led to a constant, continual re-examination that produces exciting, brave and challenging work. Because we 'won', because of the great 'empire', it's almost as if there hasn't felt like a need to re-examine anything here. So our work has become stagnant, predictable and purely entertainment based. Secret Theatre is about promoting the re-examination of theatremaking within our culture.
11. Are you enjoying the ensemble experience?
I love it. People feel empowered. It's a creative collective and all rehearsal rooms should feel like this.
12. What's the most unusual thing that's happened so far?
We haven't killed each other.
13. Is it challenging juggling several roles at once?
No. It's a lot of work. When shows open we start rehearsing others. It's tiring but the juggling of roles just comes along with it. You just deal with it.
14. Do you keep the shows secret even from friends/family?
Yes... Well... I try...
15. What do you say to critics who say the titles should be revealed?
When we started there was this idea that we might hope to expose the fact that the industry doesn't really like people doing things differently. I think the critics themselves have helped us prove that point already in their reactions.
16. How do you unwind?
17. Favourite post-show haunts?
The Dartmouth in Hammersmith has become a good regular. In Soho I am a slave to The Coach And Horses. A good post show night is one where you've managed to avoid the members clubs.
18. If you could go back in time and watch one stage performance, what would it be?
Nicole Williamson played Macbeth at the RSC. I'm guessing in the late 70s? My mum played first witch and I heard many drunken stories about that production.
19. Favourite film?
Solaris by Tarkovsky or Deer Hunter by Cimino
20. Future plans?
Want to read more about Secret Theatre? Read Sean Holmes' tub-thumping speech at the season's launch here