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Brief Encounter With ... Luise Miller's Ben Daniels

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Ben Daniels returns to the London for the Donmar Warehouse's revival of Friedrich Schiller’s 1784 play Luise Miller, which stars Felicity Jones in the title role and opens tonight (13 June, previews from 8 June) running to 30 July 2011.

Despite focusing recently on television roles in Law and Order: UK and the mini-series The Passion, Daniels is a prolific stage actor. His previous stage credits include Tales of Hollywood, The Wild Duck and God of Hell at the Donmar and All My Sons at the National (for which he won an Olivier). He also appeared in Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway in 2008, for which he received a Tony Award nomination.

Also known as Intrigue and Love, Luise Miller concerns Ferdinand, a nobleman and powerful statesman, and his love Luise, the daughter of a humble musician. Ferdinand is willing to forsake his fortune for Luise, but the world surrounding them is dominated by power and politics, greed and betrayal, and the happiness of the young couple may be out of their control.

Daniels is joined in the cast by ER’s Alex Kingston as Lady Milford and Felicity Jones, last seen on stage in Grandage’s 2008 Donmar revival of The Chalk Garden, in the title role. The Luise Miller cast also includes David Dawson, Finty Williams, Paul Higgins, John Light, Max Bennett, Lloyd Everitt and Alexander  Pritchett.

Outgoing artistic director Michael Grandage directs this new version by Mike Poulton with design by Peter McKintosh, lighting by Paule Constable and composition and sound design by Adam Cork.

You made quite a few television appearances in recent years. Do you have to fight to say, “I want to do a theatre role now”?

Yes. Theatre is my passion, and so I will try to get to the stage as often as I can. My last stage role was in Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway, and after that I got heavily involved in TV doing Law and Order. It leaves you with no time to do anything else, and I was hankering after doing some more theatre, and so I decided to not do as much TV anymore.

A show like Law and Order you can sort of be in forever, and I never saw myself as someone who would do only one thing constantly, as fun as it’s been working on the show. I get sort of sucked into my TV jobs, which is fine, but I did have to get up and say “I really want to do some theatre.”

The film Jack the Giant Killer came up and I thought that I’d never done that whole CGI thing. I’ve never had that experience before and I knew it would be interesting. It’s an extraordinarily complex process, it’s bizarre but we’re having good fun doing it. I get to work with Bill Nighy, who is playing the lead giant. I’m the warrior giant. It could not contrast more with my previous work. But yes, you have to give yourself time to do what you want, and I’m fortunate enough that I can do that at the moment.

Reading your last interview with Whatsonstage.com, which was almost exactly ten years ago, you mention working and living in New York and not having the desire to live and work in LA. Is that still the case?

I don’t think I’m made for LA. There’s something in my makeup that doesn’t really enjoy the whole self-promotion and self-belief that you need to work in that town.

After doing Liaisons, it was an option that was on the table, but I never really wanted to do that. I’d been offered Law and Order here, and so I wanted to come home to work. New York I absolutely loved, and I did spend a little time in LA in my late 20’s, but I could never really get my head around it. I think it’s really tough for people to make original movies there.

I’m happy not to have been sucked into the whole LA thing because I know it has a habit of sucking you in and spitting you out. It’s hardcore and cut-throat and too often getting a job there doesn’t have anything to do with acting. I wouldn’t want to live there and hang around at parties and promote myself, but of course I would work there and I think what is interesting is that some of the most original material is being written for television.

In much the way that our most experimental writing is in the theatre, in the States television is becoming more and more exciting. I would be a fool to say I would never go to do a TV series in Los Angeles, because I think American TV are wonderful and brilliantly written and very creative.

So do you find yourself drawn more to London theatre than New York theatre?

Not necessarily. I love New York, it’s my favourite place in the world and I go back there time and time again. But I think the theatre here in London is more interesting, definitely. And you have the whole world of Off-West End, which I think is much more powerful here than the Off-Broadway stuff is. I think you can go and see a wealth of great shows any time you want.

Were you a big fan of Schiller before you were cast in Luise Miller? Has this experience drawn you to anymore of his work?

I can’t say I was all that familiar with the play beforehand. I’d enjoyed watching Schiller plays but I’d never thought of doing one. I haven’t had time recently to read any more of his work, but this play is so immediate and alive and full of huge dramatic themes that can run through any age.

This play feels relevant even through its age; power will always be sought. It’s real on the edge of your seat stuff. The more it progresses the deeper it gets into tragedy and the more it hooks you and involves you.

Is there anything we should look forward to seeing you in afterwards?

I can’t talk about it, but I am doing another play in October which will run from November to the end of January. So you can write that much. I’m also doing two British independent films in between the plays.


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