20 Questions with … Rising RSC star Alex Waldmann

Alex Waldmann is currently a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company ensemble, playing Orlando in As You Like It and Horatio in Hamlet

Alex Waldmann as Orlando in As You Like It

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Cambridge in 1979. I moved to Oxford to do my A-Levels, and I’ve been in London for the past 15 years – I did a history degree before graduating from LAMDA in 2004.

What made you want to become an actor?
I made my acting debut when I was eight years old playing The Gingerbread Boy in the US. I got a bladder infection and peed myself on stage. If that embarrassment wasn’t enough to put me off, maybe it was the thing for me! I came back to acting at University, auditioned for LAMDA on the off-chance and when they offered me a scholarship, it made up my mind for me.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I always thought I was going to be a drummer. I was doing quite well as a musician in London before I decided to go to drama school. Both my brothers are incredibly talented jazz musicians.

First big break?
Declan Donnellan cast me as Troilus in 2008 for his Cheek by Jowl production that played the Barbican and toured Europe. It was my first leading role and pretty much came out of nowhere. I owe him an eternal debt for seeing something in me, entrusting me, and teaching me so much. He is a real mentor.

Career highlights to date?
Working with the incredible Michael Grandage on Twelfth Night and Hamlet as part of the Donmar West End season (getting to act alongside Derek Jacobi and Jude Law); Rope with the great Roger Michell at the Almeida; The Holy Rosenbergs at the National; working with Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton on the Psychoville Halloween Special and last year’s King John at the RSC.

Favourite directors?
I’m so fortunate to have already worked with some of my favourite directors (I’d work with any of them again in a heartbeat if they’d have me). And I’m married to (and co-run our production company SEArED with) another one, Amelia Sears, she’s brilliant. I hugely admire the work of Stephen Daldry, Katie Mitchell, Jamie Lloyd, Sacha Wares and Lynsey Turner and would love to work with them one day. I have a really special working relationship with genius director Maria Aberg (now on our second Shakespeare together) and long may that continue.

What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
I remember seeing Stephen Dillane in a production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing in the West End before drama school. I was amazed that someone could draw in an audience so much – give a show stopping, rip-roaring performance one moment, then break your heart the next.

And the last?
I haven’t had the chance to see much over the past couple of years, but I do think it’s a shame that we’re not blown away every time we go to the theatre and you so often walk out feeling indifferent. I thought Lucy Prebble‘s The Effect at the National was a really powerful, thoughtful and sophisticated bit of writing. Jerusalem and After the Dance have stayed with me from the past few years.

Was it always an ambition to work for the RSC?
If I’m absolutely honest, I naively didn’t think I’d do much theatre at all, let alone Shakespeare, upon leaving drama school – that’s just the path my career has taken. I’m so thrilled to have made it here and it’s an honour to be playing lead roles for the RSC.

How has the reality compared?
Better than I could ever have imagined. You’re really made to feel looked after and part of a family. The audiences are amazing and I have huge respect for their passion, knowledge and sense of ownership for Shakespeare’s work (even when they don’t like what you’ve done with one of his plays!). And what a time to come – to be here for the final year of Michael Boyd‘s reign, and now the start of Gregory Doran‘s exciting new tenure. I hope I do a good enough job this year to be asked back again – I’d love to work with Greg at some point.

What’s your favourite RSC role you’ve played so far?
King John last year. It was the first show I’ve ever done where we’d come off from the bow and I’d immediately be looking forward to the next performance. I was so proud of it as a bit of work. It provoked such strong reactions from audiences – both love and hate, but rarely indifference.

How does it feel to be tackling Orlando?
I’m rather nervous about it. As You Like It is such a well-known, well-loved play. We have to appeal to those that have seen it before, and tell the story for those seeing it for the first time. Those that know it will have their ideal Orlando in their mind – and of course you want to convince them that yours is worthy. Part of the rehearsal process is about finding yourself in the role and making the language make sense to you – so it is pretty much just a version of me they’ll be seeing. Plus my Orlando would literally be nothing without Pippa Nixon‘s Rosalind. She’s the most extraordinary actress and inspires me every time we’re on stage together – basically I just need to listen and respond to her and she’ll make me look ok!

What can you tell us about Maria Aberg’s production?
The surprise factor after King John might be how just how true we’ve been to the original text. There is enough anarchy and gender-swapping in the play itself, to avoid any need for radical changes. We want to take the audience on a real journey from an oppressive court, to a wild Arden where people find the space to accept love and to accept themselves for who they really are. We want to bring out the play’s themes of love, reunion, reconciliation, faith, hope and magic in our own way. There’s a definite note of melancholy and loss, a brutal bare-knuckle fight, and the mother of all summer celebrations at the end!

How integral is Laura Marling’s music?
Utterly fundamental to the whole concept. Maria often makes finding the right music a key entry point at the start of a process when working out how to unlock and approach a play. Laura’s music perfectly marries an ancient, English folk tradition with the contemporary, in the same way we hope our production will combine something recognisably now with the ancient, pagan, wild England that still lives amongst the trees of Arden. She, like Shakespeare, is the most remarkable storyteller in her songs and lyrics. It’s the perfect match. I can’t wait for people to hear the music.

Does working as an ensemble improve your performances?
Completely. Relationships built in one play will carry over into the next. You develop a kind of short-hand and familiarity working together over a few months, which is so helpful when we’ll come to rehearse the third play later in the season. We’re fortunate enough to have another incredibly talented, dedicated and hard-working ensemble this year that will give their all every night.

Where’s your favourite hang out in Stratford?
Box Brownie is a fantastic cafe, No 9 Church Street is, for me, the best food in Stratford, and of course there’s the Dirty Duck, for a quick post-show drink.

How do you unwind?
I don’t really anymore now I’m a Dad! Spending time with my daughter Ella (two in June) is amazing, but not relaxing. I didn’t think I’d meet anyone more incapable of keeping still than me – but I have, it’s my daughter.

If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
Been all round the houses on this one, and I’m sure I’m going to regret any answer I give, but maybe Ryan Gosling (although would he want to swap places with me)?! Would love to know what it’s like to be that talented, that good-looking and that cool for a day. I thought his performance in Blue Valentine was out of this world.

Who are your acting idols?
When I watch people like Stephen Dillane, Mark Rylance, Ben Whishaw, Anastasia Hillie and Olivia Colman, I’m at once inspired and utterly defeated. You watch on in admiration and just have to accept that they are truly special, and you’ll never quite be able to do what they do.

Dream role?
I’d love to play Prince Hal in the two Henry IVs. I also like to think I’ve still got a decent Romeo in me, although time is running out for that!

As You Like It is currently in previews in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and opens on 24 April 2013. It continues in rep until 28 September.