Adrian Edmondson in Twelfth Night at the RSC: 'I'll never talk to a television executive again'
The actor and comedian reflects on his career and putting on the yellow stockings in his RSC debut
Adrian Edmondson cut his teeth on the comedy circuit back in the 1970s and 1980s, most notably starring in The Young Ones and Bottom alongside long-term comedy partner Rik Mayall. He also had appearances on shows including Blackadder and The Comic Strip. Since then, he has continued to work both on stage and on screen, with more recent credits including the BBC's War and Peace and Bits of Me Are Falling Apart at the Soho Theatre.
He now makes his RSC debut as Malvolio in Twelfth Night, directed by in Christopher Luscombe. Ahead of the show's opening, we chatted to the actor about his life and career, as well as his opinions on the role and theatre at large.
At university, I met a bloke called Rik Mayall and we both wanted to be actors. I started out at school doing Shakespeare and at that time thought, "this is clearly the life for me, I'll go and work at the RSC". And it didn't happen. So Rik and I started with lunchtime theatre runs, down in a pub in Manchester, as a way to get variety contracts but that also didn't work out, so we ended up with a comedy career instead.
I always called myself an accidental comedian. I write funny things, I'm a comedy writer, but as a performer, I'm an actor, I act roles, I don't go on and 'be me'. I always put on a heavy character. It does help that you have some kind of comedy chops to help the situation - everything I've done is always character work, I've never done straight comedy.
Rik and I stopped working together in 2003 at my instigation. I loved everything we'd done but I thought there was more to life. We'd done what we did and I had a f*****ng good time doing it. Twenty five years seems like a good stretch to do something. It's like those actors in The Mousetrap - you could be on a show for 25 years but if you get the chance to get out, it doesn't mean you didn't enjoy what you did, it just means you want some cheese now. You've had sausage and mash and now you want something else.
I'll never talk to a television executive again. They're so tedious and boring. It's expensive to start a sitcom off, it's trial and error and to give it a real go you need to give it at least two series. The first season of Dad's Army was awful. Blackadder was awful when it first came out. You have to have some faith or these things just won't happen. It's far too success-led these days. Theatre is the last dangerous space. You can go out on a limb in theatre in a way you can't on telly. People are too scared on television. I've always loved theatre audiences, they're a lot more honest.
I'm probably closer to Malvolio than I am to Vyvyan. I don't see Malvolio as an iconic role. He's just a person who says some things. He's a character and I've made my sense of him, creating a backstory from the text. He's not particularly funny either. People laugh at him rather than because of him, and he's horrible. He's a nasty man, the butt of the joke rather than the joke maker. But there has to be a reason why, and something must have happened to him.
Twelfth Night is a variety show, and there're three elements involved. There's the love element, the comedy with Toby and Aguecheek and everyone else, and then there's a tragedy element, in between all of the songs.
It's a sexually ambivalent piece. Chris has set the show in the 1890s, in the time of Oscar Wilde, where it suits the aesthetic movement of the time. With all the swapping genders at the end you have to ask, 'did some of the characters really want to be with a man or a woman'? It all kind of works. Sometimes you see Shakespeare placed in an era and it feels forced, but this works perfectly.
Twelfth Night runs at the Royal Shakespeare theatre from 9 November to 24 February 2018. There will be a one-off Valentine's Day screening of the production across UK cinemas on 14 February.