20 Questions with… Tim Pigott-Smith

Tim Pigott-Smith stars in Larry Belling’s play ”Stroke of Luck”, which opens at the Park Theatre tonight, and runs until 2 March

Tim Pigott-Smith
Tim Pigott-Smith

1. Where and when were you born?
Rugby, May 1946.

2. What made you want to become an actor?
Impossible to define. My mother was a talented amateur, and I think at another time, from a different background, she would have become a professional. She never pushed me towards it, but she enjoyed my love of it. When I was 16, my dad became the editor of the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald. So we moved to live in Stratford the year after the formation of the Royal Shakespeare Company. My fate was sealed.

3. If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I think I would have followed my father into the world of newspapers.

4. First big break?
Second job – Prospect Theatre – tour of Hamlet with Ian McKellen as the First Player and Player King. I understudied Claudius, and right at the end of the tour, when they were setting up the West End, I had to go on. I pulled it off. At that moment, they were re-casting Laertes for the West End, so I got to play Laertes, and my other parts! Within two years of leaving drama school, I was playing a leading role in the West End.

5. Career highlights to date?
On TV – Angelo, Hotspur, Jewel in the Crown, The Chief, Life Story, Bloody Sunday, Wodehouse in Exile, The Lost Boys. On film – Clash of the Titans, Escape to Victory, V for Vendetta. On stage – Dr Watson for the RSC – Aldwych and Broadway, the Rev Moule in Entertaining Strangers and Leontes for Peter Hall at the National, The Iceman Cometh with Kevin Spacey (Almeida, Old Vic and Broadway), Pygmalion for Peter Hall – (Bath, tour and Old Vic), King Lear, Delicate Balance, Prospero, Enron.

6. Any regrets?
No point.

7. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
Emlyn Williams as Shylock – Stratford 1956. First trip – aged ten – to the Memorial Theatre as it was then. Classy, glamorous, affecting.

8. And the last?
Lesley Manville and Jack Lowden in Ghosts. Best production I have seen of the play. Intense. Very upsetting.

9. Who are your acting idols?
Olivier, Guinness, Scofield, McKellen, Colin Blakely, Dames Maggie and Judi.

10. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Don’t try.

11. Why did you want to get involved in Stroke of Luck?
The author sent me the play! I really liked it!

12. How have you prepared for the role of Lester Riley?
Over the past five months, I have lived with the text, and done some research into the effect of a left-side paralysis – Lester has had a stroke, although in the play, the effects have largely worn off, and are not too drastic, and you also see him able-bodied – if that’s the right expression!

Kirsty Malpass and Tim Pigott-Smith in rehearsal for Stroke of Luck
Kirsty Malpass and Tim Pigott-Smith in rehearsal for Stroke of Luck
© Howard Grey

13. Favourite line in the show?
I can’t tell you, because it is the ‘curtain-line’ of the first scene! It’s very naughty and makes me laugh.

14. Any rehearsal room mishaps?
One of the cast has to say the Japanese name Mrs Hashimoto. What came out one day was ‘Mrs Mashy-hoto’. It was hard for us all to carry on.

15. What do you hope people take away from the show?
Larry Belling wrote the play partly because he was fed up with leaving the theatre drained, brow-beaten and miserable. For example – August Osage County was pretty fine, but wow it’s depressing! So most of all I hope that our audiences – in response to damage that is repaired in the play – will experience something life-affirming and uplifting. In specific terms the play demonstrates that a man who has had a stroke may be physically damaged, but still be, as Lester says – ‘as sharp as a tack’.

16. What's your favourite post-show hang out?
The atmosphere in the café and bar of the Park Theatre itself is fantastic. There is the Season Kitchen Restaurant just round the corner for a nice meal. I have a feeling that as a company, we shall find our way occasionally to the Ten Pin Bowling Alley nearby!! When in town, I enjoy my club – the very simple, perfect Two Brydges Place.

17. How do you unwind?
I like a glass of wine, and the company of my wife (who is also in the play) and friends.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
England stand-off – Owen Farrell. Playing France. At Twickenham.

19. What's your favourite theatre joke?
A pshychiatrist decides to create an experiment that will prove dogs are like their owners. He chooses a mathematician, a builder and an actor. These three turn up at the laboratory, where the dogs are put in a large cage with some water, some food and a box of toy bricks.
The mathematician’s dog gets the bricks out of the box, puts them in a line and counts them with his nose.
The builder’s dog takes the bricks, and with paws and nose, manages to construct a small tower.
The actor’s dog… drinks all the water, eats all the food, knocks the tower over, shags the other dogs and asks for the afternoon off.

20. What's next?
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for Theatre Royal Bath, with Clare Higgins as Martha. Adrian Noble directing. Really exciting!