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David Tennant: 'I wouldn't want my children anywhere near Don Juan'

We talk to the Broadchurch actor about Don Juan in Soho, being back at Wyndham's and how no one can be prepared to be the next Doctor

David Tennant
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

From solving costal crime alongside Olivia Colman in Broadchurch to fighting alien Daleks to stop the Cult of Skaro from activating the Genesis Ark in Doctor Who, there isn't much David Tennant hasn't done. This week, he returns to the West End in a revival of Patrick Marber's Don Juan in Soho, an adaptation of Molière's Dom Juan. Tennant will take on the title character - originally played by Rhys Ifans in 2006 - a lothario who schmoozes his way through Soho with the help of his sidekick Stan. We chatted with Tennant during rehearsals to find out more about his character, and see how Don Juan has been updated yet again to be brought into 2017.

Did you see the play when it first ran at the Donmar?

I did. That was 11 years ago and I never imagined it would be a play I'd end up in. It didn't really seem like my part at all so I was quite surprised last year when Patrick suggested it. When I read it again it really came to life and this character particularly had a vivid life which I thought I couldn't resist having a go at it.

What's it like playing this over-the-top character? Is it quite fun?

It's interesting indulging the entirely guilt-free side of your psychology. He's a sociopath, really, and something you'd never want to practise in real life, but there's something rather thrilling about indulging that psychology for a while. To see what it's like to have an entirely guilt-free existence. And to be able to do that in the safety of a fictional universe is rather intoxicating. I wouldn't want to be him, and certainly wouldn't want my daughters anywhere near him… or my sons... But to get to play around in those Jermyn Street-crafted loafers for a while, I have to confess, is rather fun.

It sounds a bit wild...

At one point in the play, my character says to himself: "This is homo sapiens in their most natural state, existing only to hunt." There's something rather animalistic about it. I don‘t know if I necessarily agree with that but it's quite a persuasive argument. If you strip us all back to our bare essentials, we are creatures pursuing pleasure and to take that to the extreme is an intriguing place to be.

Do you feel like everything's going well at the moment?

It's always difficult to have any real objectivity because you're so wrapped up in the piece. But it feels like it's working. I certainly enjoy watching the bits I'm not in. It continues to adapt to modern day.

Have there been many changes to the text since 2006?

One of the great things about having the author in the room is that script changes can happen quite fluidly and quite quickly. There are some little things that have been updated, for example, the BlackBerry has become an iPhone. Patrick's done a great deal of work on the text to bring it into the sort of psychology of today. There are a couple of references which are incredibly pertinent to now. Patrick has threatened that he will keep it up to date with the way the world moves as the run of the play proceeds.

Any references to Brexit and Trump, then?

You'll have to come and see the play, but you're probably not barking up the entirely wrong tree.

Adrian Scarborough and David Tennant
© Helen Maybanks

What's it been like working with this cast?

Most of my scenes are with Adrian Scarborough and I can't think of anyone I'd rather be on stage with. We've worked together before, we've known each other for 20 odd years, so that's a real treat. He's just a bit of a magician. Playing a scene with someone like that means you just feel you can do anything and go anywhere and he'll be there before you. There are lots of actors in the cast I've never worked with before who are just extraordinary. They're all bringing extraordinary potential. We've lucked out with a really strong cast. I'm thrilled for the world to see them all.

You're back at the Wyndham's, which is where you did Much Ado About Nothing with Catherine Tate...

Wyndham's is sort of the ultimate West End theatre, isn't it? It's about as perfect as it gets. I associate Wyndham's with all the extraordinary things I've seen there in the past. It feels a really exciting, historical place to be performing.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the next actor to take on the Doctor (whoever it may be)?

You can't really know the madness of Doctor Who until you're in the eye of that particular storm. That show attracts such levels of enthusiasm. It's an honour to be in that position but it's not really like anything else. I don't know how you'd prepare someone for that. But it's a wonderful ride to go on, so I'm very jealous of whoever that might be.

And what about for Peter Capaldi as he leaves the show?

Peter's a much wiser head than me so he'll be fine.

Broadchurch is nearing its conclusion, and Don Juan is an 11-week run. What's next for you?

The rest of my year is a bit of a blank slate. Acting's a weird job because you can only ever choose between things other people want you to do. Coming up with some ideal fantasy version of what I want to do has never been a particularly wise way of proceeding. You've just got to hope something new and challenging and different will crop up and feel like a good fit. So I'll just cross my fingers.

Don Juan in Soho runs at Wyndham's Theatre from 28 March to 10 June, and is in previews now.