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20 Questions with ... Quartermaine's Terms' Malcolm Sinclair

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Malcolm Sinclair appears alongside Rowan Atkinson in Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms, which arrives in the West End later this month following previews at the Theatre Royal Brighton (8-12 January) and the Theatre Royal Bath (14-19 January).

Directed by Richard Eyre, the revival also stars Conleth Hill, Will Keen and Felicity Montagu. It opens at Wyndham's Theatre on 31 January 2013 (previews from 23 January) for a limited run to 13 April.

Sinclair's other recent credits include The Doctor's Dilemma and The Habit of Art at the National Theatre. He was re-elected president of actors' union Equity in July last year.

Where and when were you born?
Westminster, London, quite a while ago...

What made you want to become an actor?
I was good at it at school, one of the few things I was good at, I think. I was also a very shy little boy, as I remember, and I think I acted being comfortable, so maybe it all began then. I was also intensely aware of class, and recognising (and judging, I'm sure) where people stood in the world, the moment they opened their mouths. A terrible English failing, but it does train the ear.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
Not very sure, maybe teaching. I never considered anything else actually.

First big break?
My career hasn’t really had big breaks, I don’t think, it’s all been very gradual. It was seven years before I worked in London. I’d done lots of rep, which was marvellous. I suppose a break was the first London job, Schnitzler’s Anatole, at the Gate, which I got at Alan Rickman’s recommendation. We’d done As You Like It at Sheffield as baby actors. Lots of people saw it, it was a success, and I joined the RSC not long after.

Career highlights to date?
I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve done. I loved Dealer’s Choice, as it was the sort of part that I don’t often get. Every show I’ve done with Alan Ayckbourn. I was reminded how much I’d loved Privates on Parade when I saw it recently. Oh, and Racing Demon up at Sheffield a couple of years ago, wonderful play and part. It was also nice acting with Daniel Craig in his first Bond outing.

Favourite co-stars?
Slightly tricky question! Don’t think I can answer that...

What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
I remember A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park. I think it was the first show when it reopened in the 60s; it had David William and Patrick Wymark in it, and it was appropriately magical, and screamingly funny which was a huge surprise.

And the last?
I loved the play at the Almeida about Edward Thomas (The Dark Earth and the Light Sky), wonderful stuff. And This House at the Cottesloe was fantastic.

Could you give a quick overview of Quartermaine's Terms?
It’s a touching and funny character study of the denizens of a modest English Language School staff room in Cambridge at the end of the 60s, leading lives of quiet desperation. Seven wonderful parts.

And your character?
I’m Eddie, who runs, or thinks he runs the school.

What’s your favourite line in the play?
Can’t tell you that because I’d never be able to say it again naturally.

Was the chance to work with Rowan Atkinson (pictured) an added incentive?
Of course.

And how has it been to watch him at work?
A pleasure. He’s gentle, but painstaking, and a generous colleague - total delight.

What’s your favourite film?
Would have to be a Western, either The Wild Bunch or The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Favourite holiday destination?
Haven’t really got one.

If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
By the actress Gaye Brown (she’s forgotten this) years ago, when I was very upset because a director was being nasty to me, she saw me sitting feeling sorry for myself, and said, "Don’t be upset, be angry." We didn’t know each other, but we were rehearsing in the same place. It’s good advice, and gave me back a bit of self respect, a very necessary thing for an actor.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I sing a bit, but no, not that I’m aware of.

You're president of Equity - why would you implore young actors to join?
Because we’re all in this together, and we need to look after each other. You benefit from Equity contracts, so pay your dues, then we can organise to make them better. If you are not a member, you are weakening and damaging your own profession. Not belonging is not, I’m afraid, a neutral act.

Which roles are top of your wish list?
I want to play Racing Demon’s Lionel again - we only had a wonderful couple of weeks at Sheffield, not enough. Prospero, though everyone seems to be doing it. I love Gloucester in Lear actually rather more than the title role, which is weird, I suppose. And Housman in Stoppard’s The Invention of Love.


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