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Nigel Harman On ... How Not to Be Public Property

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Actor Nigel Harman plays a celebrity spin doctor in the world premiere of Sam Peter Jackson’s comedy Public Property. Having appeared earlier this year on Shaftesbury Avenue opposite James McAvoy and Lyndsey Marshal in a big-budget production of Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain, Harman’s new piece is another three-hander but in the much more intimate 100-seat Trafalgar Studios 2.

Best known to TV fans from EastEnders and Hotel Babylon, Harman has bulked up his theatre credits in recent years. In addition to Three Days of Rain, he’s starred in Guys and Dolls in the West End, The Caretaker, The Exonerated and The Common Pursuit. Earlier in his career, his diverse stage credits included The Lady in the Van, Privates on Parade, Three Sisters and West End musicals Mamma Mia!, Damn Yankees and Tommy.

Public Property is about a very famous newsreader who gets caught in a car park doing something that he shouldn’t. His publicist has to dig him out of this hole one night and, as events conspire, we find out that everything may not be what it seems.

I play Larry, the morally bankrupt publicist, who believes in the media machine and the power of celebrity and he wants to milk the publicity for all it’s worth. If I met Larry in the pub, I’m not sure I’d like him, but he’s a great character to play. He can be very brutal but also very witty and charming, and he’s a lot of fun. He’s a puppeteer really, moving people around to get what he wants. I’ve never met a publicist to his extreme in real life before, but I’m sure there are one or two like him out there!

I have had my own experiences in life with the media machine, of course, but I’m lucky because I keep to myself. People think of me as a celebrity, but I see myself as an actor. I don’t do stuff to sell myself - I don’t go to red carpet events or launches or premieres. I prefer to stay low-key and keep away from all that stuff. It’s just not for me.

I know people who do live for all that, who make a living out of being famous. There’s supply and demand; when there’s a demand, there will always be those willing to supply. The machine feeds the machine. I used to really rail against those types, but I have to give them credit because it takes great courage to completely live your life in the public eye. Ultimately, though, it must be quite soul destroying.

It’s not quite as cutthroat as it may seem. There are rules. The press don’t generally get involved unless you put yourself in the firing line. If you do, then you’re fair game. Look at the gossip magazines: it’s the same thirty people all the time, because they’re the ones who let the journalists and paparazzi into their private lives. It’s a bubble - I don’t even read those papers or magazines.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with journalists. When I first started, some of them took liberties, but I have to thank the media for leaving me alone for the most part. You just have to set your boundaries - make sure they know what you will and won’t do – and then stick to them. I keep my side of the bargain, and the press have with me as well. It’s an unwritten thing.

Public Property - which co-stars Robert Daws and Steven Webb - runs at Trafalgar Studios 2 from 16 November to 5 December 2009 (previews from 10 November).


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