20 Questions With…Mark Bazeley

Actor Mark Bazeley – who’s just been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award for Homebody/Kabul & Macbeth with Sean Bean – believes in grants for drama students & falling for co-stars but not in curses.

After early roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, actor Mark Bazeley found wider recognition in 1997 with English Touring Theatre’s production of Chekhov’s The Seagull.

His performance as the doomed Konstantin won him the Ian Charleson Award, a distinction – given to classical actors under the age of 30 – which he shares with the likes of Tom Hollander, Toby Stephens, Dominic West and Rupert Penry-Jones.

Now back in awards contention, Bazeley has just been shortlisted in the Best Supporting Actor category of’s own 2003 Theatregoer’s Choice Awards for two London performances this year – as an opium-addicted British diplomat Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul at the Young Vic and, currently at the Albery, as Macduff to Sean Bean’s Macbeth.

Bazeley’s other recent West End credits have included Antarctica and The Real Thing, while he’s been seen on film and television in Trust, Where the Heart Is, Cazalet Chronicles, Hearts and Bones, Border Café, Midsomer Murders, Crust, Noah’s Ark, and Feast of July.

Date & place of birth

Born 30 September 1970 in Wantage, Oxfordshire.

Trained at…
The Drama Centre in Chalk Farm, north London.

Lives now in…

Belsize Park, north London.

First big break

I won the Ian Charleson Award (given to actors under the age of 30) for playing Konstantin in English Touring Theatre’s production of The Seagull. I went up a bit after that in terms of the offers I was getting.

Career highlights to date

I did a recent workshop with a Russian theatre practitioner and the British director Katie Mitchell. We spent two weeks working on a script, and it was really interesting going back to the basics and thinking about things one tends to forget. Working with Declan Donnellan and Tony Kushner on Homebody/Kabul was another highlight. Declan is quite rigid with his doctrine, which he’s now having published. He doesn’t block like most directors. It’s very liberating as an actor but also dangerous because, when you go on, you don’t know what’s going to happen. All you know is what you want, but you don’t know how to get it. It’s very subversive and very challenging.

Favourite productions you’ve ever worked on

Whatever production you’re in at the time you feel really allied to it in terms of family and pride because you all work so hard to get them where they are.

Favourite co-stars

I don’t want to name individuals as it’s always the people I’m with at the moment. You tend to bond very closely because of the support you give each other.

Favourite directors
Katie Mitchell – although we’ve done a few workshops, I’ve never actually worked for her. Declan Donnellan, of course. And Christopher Fettes, who was my teacher at drama school. It’s not so much that they’re any better than some other directors I’ve worked with, but they each have a way of working that I find inspiring. They bring out things in me I didn’t know were there.

Favourite playwrights
Every time you do Shakespeare, you get very excited all over again; you want to read more and do more. I also like Pinter and Racine. Pinter because what he did with language – the verse quality, the sense of character, everything that’s happening between the lines – was truly groundbreaking. Racine because of its passion.

What roles would you most like to play still?

Quango Twistleton (an opium-addicted diplomat) in Homebody/Kabul was the first time I played someone who was, at least in parts, funny. Hearing people laugh when I delivered my lines was a wonderful thing. I would like to do more of that, get my teeth into a good comic role.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on stage recently?

Remembrance of Things Past at the National. I had no idea what to expect and found it very inventive in its use of music and its suspension of time.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?

I think drama students should have mandatory grants, the same as you’d get if you were studying economics at Portsmouth. As it stands, you have to already have a degree in order to qualify for a grant to train. But that’s not right. You don’t have to be an intellectual to be a good actor. There’s no substitute for getting up there and doing it, which is the opportunity you get at drama school. My drama school saved me from going down a very different route in life. For three years, we were like acting monks, we worked so religiously at our craft – from 9.00am to 10.00pm every day. It’s something I’m very proud of.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?

I would love to be musical and I’m not, so maybe I could be one of the great English composers, like Elgar. I was going to say Mozart, but I think it’d have to be an English one because there’s something quirky about the English imagination. Or perhaps I’d be Churchill, to know what he was thinking when he was making those speeches.

Favourite holiday destinations

I have three: Cornwall, Morocco and Rio de Janeiro.

Favourite books

They keep changing as I get older. There seems to be an optimum time to read certain books. I remember reading Milan Kundera’s Life Is Elsewhere when I was about 17 and it’s always stayed with me. I was so disappointed when it ended; I experienced a real sense of loss. I don’t know what the optimum book is for my 30s, though I have just finished reading Harry Thompson’s biography of Peter Cook, which I enjoyed.

Favourite after-show haunts

Anywhere that serves beer that isn’t a theme bar. We did go to a karaoke bar in Milton Keynes when Macbeth was there. I sang Free’s “Alright Now”.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what would you have done professionally?

I did my A-levels to become a pilot in the RAF but decided I wouldn’t look good in the uniform. Seriously, it just wasn’t for me. I’d like to think I would have been a farmer or a fisherman, a proper man’s job, doing something with nature. But I don’t know if that’s a real or romantic notion. I’m probably not tough enough for either. It might have been nice to be a teacher, teaching the classics maybe.

Why did you want to accept your part in this production of Macbeth?

I’d heard really good things about Edward Hall, which have proved to be true. He’s a terrific director. In a few years, he’s going to be one of the top directors in this country – if not a politician. Also, I didn’t really think I was castable as Macduff so, when I was asked to do that part, I thought it would be interesting.

What do you think about the ‘curse of Macbeth‘?
Touch wood, nothing really’s happened yet. The only weird thing was in Richmond. The last time I was at that theatre was in The Seagull when I ripped my knee up and was on crutches for weeks. The first night there with Macbeth, I was on stage and my knee started to ache again. The ache’s gone away now. I don’t believe in curses anyway.

What’s your favourite Shakespeare play?

I love Measure for Measure. I did it once and remember thinking how it could be done in a million different ways. It’s so varied. I don’t know. I can’t quite pin it down; maybe that’s what I like. It has an elusive quality that I find fascinating.

Why do you think Shakespeare’s plays are still such an integral part of British theatre?

His characters are blueprints for humanity. Whoever he was, Shakespeare had an ability to make people see themselves for themselves. It’s about all of our frailties up there on stage. And that’s what will save us from killing one another, the fact that we recognise ourselves in each other. That’s what all theatre at its best is: the essence of life in a bottle.

What’s your favourite line from Macbeth?

“Light thickens.” That’s what Macbeth says when describing the dusk as it gathers, and it gives a slightly creepy edge to it.

What are your plans for the future?
After Macbeth, I’d like to take a diving holiday in Cornwall. I have no plans workwise yet. We’ll have to see what happens.

Mark Bazeley was speaking to Terri Paddock

Macbeth continues at the Albery Theatre until 1 February 2003.