Samuel West: 'My earliest acting memory? Thinking Shakespeare had predicted the moon landings'
As he returns to his old stomping ground at Sheffield Crucible as Brutus in ''Julius Caesar'', Samuel West looks at his journey into acting and why the Crucible is the most exciting stage around
I'm not sure I ever decided I wanted to get into the ‘Family Business', as we like to call it. I was never really encouraged. There was just a point where it became difficult to avoid. I certainly had my cynicisms about the profession as a place where you can make a decent living. I think I grew up being able to quote acting unemployment statistics. But watching my parents - two actors who I really admired and who worked hard and were wise as well as talented – it just became difficult to avoid.
I certainly wasn't a success as an actor at school. I was very shy and like many actors I used acting as a way of overcoming shyness. I didn't go to drama school. I tried to get into the Bristol Old Vic, but I didn't get in. Their one year course which I admired enormously, only had four places. But then I got offered the BBC's Narnia series - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - and I thought I probably ought to do this because it's fun, and a nice script and I'm being paid.
It's so important for an actor to make a complete t*t of themselves infront of people who don't really care. And I wish I had gone to drama school because of that. It's not helpful if you're scared of making a fool of yourself, and that does tend to come out of people at drama school. I also wish I had been forced to do things that required me to stretch myself and fail. Plus gain the ability to dance a bit more, sing a bit better than I do and to fight a little better than I do.
Sheffield's Crucible is the most exciting stage I have ever been on. I bow to nobody in my defence of it as an epic space. It is a really fine public building of the 1970s and our director Robert Hastie and our designer Ben Stones are turning it into a public debating chamber. It's an incredibly democratic theatre. You can't get a better seat if you've got money at the Crucible. It's lovely to be back here.
Our Julius Caesar is a political thriller. It's a modern dress production, cast with equal numbers of men and women and with a range of ethnicity and disability. The play is an argument about what one does in the face of leadership that may become tyrannical. It's about when people are using leadership for their own personal wealth, fame and aggrandisement. It is a very timely play.
My earliest acting memory is a directing memory as well. It was in 1972, when I was six, and we were watching a production of Love's Labour's Lost – still one of my favourite plays – in a modern dress production. At one point the director Toby Robertson put on the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme music and some of the characters came on as cosmonauts with space helmets. At the time I had been very aware of the moon landings – I was really into space – and I remember thinking it was so clever of Shakespeare to have anticipated the moon landings.
Julius Caesar runs at Sheffield Crucible from 23 May to 10 June.