Jasper Britton: 'My advice to aspiring actors? Don't sing like me'

As he prepares to open in Leicester Curve’s production of ”Scrooge the Musical”, Jasper Britton explains what draws him to acting and why he gave up being embarrassed years ago

Jasper Britton in rehearsals for Scrooge
Jasper Britton in rehearsals for Scrooge
© Manuel Harlan

1. How would you describe Scrooge in five words?
1. Magical (literally, because we have the President of The Magic Circle, Scott Penrose, conjuring up some truly unbelievable magic in the show) 2. Scary (it’s a ghost story) 3. Legendary (it’s written by the mighty Leslie Bricusse) 4. Musical. Our genius orchestrator the magnificent Sarah Travis told me yesterday my singing made her cry…but not because it was bad! 5. Christmassy (in a lovely old fashioned way, when it wasn’t about global corporations emptying the contents of your bank account into their vast yawning maws) 6. Whaddaya mean I’m only allowed five? It’s Christmas!

2. How would you describe Scrooge, the character?
Scrooge is in every single one of us because he’s lived through emotional pain, loss, disappointment and he’s made terrible mistakes. He’s made the accumulation of wealth his only priority in life (bad). All along he never saw that what he really wanted and needed was right next to him all the time. Like all of us, he has the choice to change, because it’s never too late.

3. What do you enjoy most about starring in this production?
The truth is that I’m not "starring", I’m not the star. The story is the star, and every member of the brilliant company makes up the vital and talented beautiful galaxy telling the story. I’m a moon called c-4388/s and proud to be known as such. But it is in my contract that whenever anyone is available they peel grapes for me and I call them Tallulah.

4. Did you jump at the chance to play such a classic villain?
Jump? I fell over! I managed to con(vince) Nikolai Foster during the run of What The Butler Saw that I was indispensable to him as an actor (I’ve been doing an MA in voodoo/black magic with the Open University) so it was easy enough for me to trick him into giving me an audition in the summer.

5. Had you heard of the musical before?
Actually, no, not really.

6. Is it different to what you might expect of A Christmas Carol adaptation?
Our production is thankfully not set on the International Space Station, or the Arctic, or Mars. None of that humbug.

7. What is your earliest memory in entertainment?
That’s a fairly evil question. I mean we are going back hundreds of years, here. Watch With Mother, probably. Once I was "sitting comfortably" my actual mother could nip out and pour a gin. She’d bring it in and usually forget the tonic. She’d go back for the tonic, return with it and find the glass of gin empty and a smiling me in front of the telly. (True story.)

8. What do you consider to be your big break?
Well, probably my wrists, skateboarding in the '70s. Big break? I’m still waiting for it. After 30 years in showbusiness it’s about bloody time I became an overnight success.

9. If you hadn't become a performer what would you have done?
Really, this question should be "having become a performer, what will you eventually do?" I love acting, I hate being an actor.

10. What has been your career highlight?
There was a famous Russian actor who was once asked "which of all your roles is your favourite?" He replied "I cannot tell you because all the others would be jealous".

11. Most embarrassing moment?
I gave up embarrassment many years ago. If you’re going to be on stage you must abandon all fears of making a fool of yourself. I swapped being embarrassed for being audacious.

12. What draws you to acting?

13. Who are your idols?
Here we go. Ralph Richardson. Peter Finch (my godfather) oh, Robert Duvall, Krystyna Janda, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, (brilliant Andrzej Wajda actors), my dear colleagues Mark Rylance, Vanessa Redgrave, Simon McBurney. I’ll watch anything with Brendon Gleeson, Johnny Depp, Cary Grant, Julianne Moore. I admire Golda Rosheuvel, Lisa Hammond, Lucy Briggs-Owen. I know you didn’t ask but: directors Bill Bryden, Justin Audibert, Terry Johnson, Nikolai Foster, Trevor Nunn, Dominic Cooke, Jonathan Miller, Brian Cox, Simon McBurney, Terry Hands…

14. If you could go back in time and change one thing in your career what would it be?
Telling the truth that I was a bit too old to receive the Ian Charleson Award.

15. What have you seen on stage recently?
I only go to the theatre if I am paid to do so, through the stage door.

16. Your father was an actor – do you think it runs in the blood?
Not the blood. In the intellect. Talent is the least requirement in this ridiculous profession. Look around you, admire the driving ambition, if you must. But most of all the technique. If you can find it. Cough.

17. Had you always thought you would be a performer?
No. My parents used to argue about money so much when I was a child that I apparently attempted to calm the situation by reassuring them that I would be a bank manager. Aged four.

18. What do you do to unwind in your spare time?
Stare into space, vacantly. Lie on the sofa with my cats. Sail my magnificent antique pond yachts. Watch movies. Have a wee dram. Sleep. Watch Formula 1 with my sister Fern.

19. What would your dream role be?
I’ve played most of them already. I played Willy Loman in 1980 when I was 17 at school. I’d be up for that again, one day. I’d like to follow my old man into Henry Higgins’ shoes. It would bring back so many memories, of a time in my life that was turbulent, to say the least, and some of which I spent in Leicester, actually. There’s a whole gang of Shakespeare’s men (or women) that I’d be glad to tackle. It’s not up to me, really. I don’t dream about roles. I dream about being happy in my work and making enough dosh not to worry. Elusive. As for telly and film, well, casting directors often tell me "you’re never available, darling". Well, I was for the six months I was despatch-riding earlier this year.

20. What advice would you give to aspiring singers and actors?
Don’t sing like me.

Scrooge the Musical opens at Leicester Curve on 23 November and runs until 7 Jan, with previews from 18 November.

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