20 Questions with… Wind in the Willows star Will Kemp

Actor/dancer Will Kemp is currently reprising his role as Ratty in the Royal Opera House’s acclaimed production of ”The Wind in the Willows”, which has transferred to the West End’s Duchess Theatre

Will Kemp
Will Kemp
© Fabien Martorell

1. Where and when were you born?
Hertfordshire, 29/06/1977

2. What made you want to become an actor?
I loved the idea of being immersed in another world or situation and in circumstances outside my own.

3. If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
As a child I was always taking my father's video camera and making movies, persuading my brother and sister to dress up and be in them with me. I’ve always felt drawn to creating and performing. My acting career very much grew out of my dancing career and to be honest they really are the only things I can see myself doing professionally! I recently helped a French director (Fabien Marmoreal) to produce several short films, one starring Christopher Lloyd (The Coin) which is currently doing very well in Film Festivals. I do enjoy that part of the creative process so we will see where that goes…

4. First big breaks?
As a dancer, it was playing the lead in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake in London, Los Angeles and on Broadway. As an actor, it was the film Van Helsing and, rather surprisingly, a worldwide commercial for GAP.

5. Career highlights to date?
Equus at the Gielgud Theatre with Daniel Radcliffe and the late Richard Griffiths. It was fascinating. I felt part of something very special. I played Nugget and I loved spending that time with Dan, we built up a very strong trust. I used to stand in the wings every night and watch Richard’s closing monologue. It was very emotional. I also had a great time playing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet for Juliet Rylance’s company, Theatre of Memory. It’s a cliché but Shakespeare’s language felt so amazing to embody!

6. Any regrets?
No. Life’s too short!

7. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
My parents took me to see Michael Crawford in Barnum at the palladium when I was five – it was the first time I was exposed to a production on such a grand scale and it was breathtaking. Leaving a very strong impression of how powerful live entertainment could be. My parents also took me to Lindsey Kemp’s Midsummer Night’s Dream were I had a very different experience: There were naked people on stage and at one point a man dressed as a tea pot vigorously rubbed his spout until tea flew out..!

8. And the last?
One of the things I miss living in Los Angeles is going to see really great theatre. Whenever I am back in London I usually try and see as much as I can. Jude Law‘s death scene in Hamlet still sticks in my mind as does Rhys Ifans in Don Juan in Soho. So I’m really looking forward to catching Henry V and Protest Song this trip.

9. Who are your acting/dancing idols?
Growing up, Michael Jackson was a huge influence. I remember seeing him in concert and being blown away by the power and command he had. I also love the dancers Fred Astaire and Donald O’Conner – they just don’t make them like that any more! I am constantly inspired by actors' performances. Recently I was reminded of how inventive and wonderfully unpredictable Sam Rockwell can be (The Way,Way Back), and Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine is incredible.

Will Kemp as Ratty in The Wind in the Willows
Will Kemp as Ratty in The Wind in the Willows

10. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge, because you never know when you might be celebrating!

11. How does it feel to bring The Wind in the Willows to the West End?
Having been in the original production 11 years ago, I have a very special affinity with the piece. It was my first collaboration with Will Tuckett and I am thrilled to be bringing it to the West End. The show has evolved in each incarnation and I feel that anyone that has seen it before will love it even more this time. They will notice how it has grown and been adapted to it’s new space in the Duchess Theatre. For people new to the show, you're in for a real treat.

12. Are you enjoying working with Tony Robinson?
Very much so! Tony is a fantastic storyteller and an amazing communicator of information. He is a perfect Narrator for this story. Tony has had a great deal of input in this version of the show and I think it's all the better for it. He’s also a really lovely guy to work with. I do, however, have to pinch myself from time to time, as I was a huge fan of him as Baldrick in Blackadder!

13. Favourite moment in the show?
My Ratty is very much a dashing, roguish river rodent! Never to shy away from heroics, Ratty rescues Mole from the Weasels in the Wild Wood by firing his rather loud pistol. It’s a great moment of children yelping and a few adults clutching at their chests, always followed by great relief and laughter!

14. What is your warm up routine?
As I’m no longer in my 20s my body needs a bit more care these days. So a good warm up, company class and a rest between shows is very much the key nowadays. If it’s a play I’m doing then I will do vocal warm ups and run all my dialogue out loud before show.

15. How do you unwind after a show?
I’m always the last person out of the dressing room! It takes me a little while to unwind mentally and to stretch physically out as well as often meet guests that have seen the show. At home it’s a steaming hot Epsom salt bath before bed.

16. What's your favourite London hang out?
I’ve been a member of Soho House for ages but one of the joys of being in the West End show is that you have fantastic bars and restaurants to explore right on your doorstep. I do, however, really miss the London pubs so I’m currently making every Sunday a religious Roast and Pint Day! If I’m staying in Honor Oak Park then, The Great Exhibition or The Victoria Inn. My old haunts are The Lighthouse or Prince Albert in Battersea.

17. If you could go back in time and see any stage performance, what would it be?
Robert Hellmann’s Hamlet at The Old Vic.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
I know this is a bit of a cheat but… Superman. As a child I used to dream of flying and being invincible.

19. Favourite theatre saying?
The show must go on.

20. What's next?
I have the film Scorpion King: The Lost Throne coming out next year and I recently finished a TV pilot opposite Alicia Silverstone which I very much hope gets picked up to series. We are also working on getting a film version of Wind in the Willows off the ground.

The Wind in the Willows continues at the Duchess Theatre until 1 February 2014