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Past/Present/Future for … James Dreyfus

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James Dreyfus is an Olivier award-winning actor who rose to fame following his roles in BBC comedy series The Thin Blue Line and Gimme Gimme Gimme. His stage credits include The Lady in the Dark (for which he won the Best Supporting Performance in a Musical Olivier in 1998), The Producers, Donkeys' Years, Cabaret and The Common Pursuit. He's currently starring alongside Helen Baxendale, Emma Cunniffe, Aden Gillett and Vicki Pepperdine in the premiere of April De Angelis’ Amongst Friends, which opens this week at the Hampstead Theatre (26 May 2009, previews from 21 May).

PAST: Doing Oliver! at school made me decide I wanted to be an actor. I didn't really get interested in doing anything else and it just went from there. I trained at RADA and didn't really know which particular road I wanted to go down. When I left I did years of rep and touring so I got to play lots of different types of roles. When I started doing television comedy that's what I soon became best known for.

I suppose I get typecast to a certain extent on television, but that's very much how the industry works, and being involved in shows like The Thin Blue Line and Gimme Gimme Gimme certainly opened a lot of doors for me in the theatre world. I've got to play some great parts and work with people I very much admired. I've also played a much greater range of roles in theatre – something which I hope will transfer to my television work as I get older.

I've had many high points – doing Julius Caesar with Anthony Clark (who I'm working with at the moment), Lady in the Dark at the National, Cabaret in the West End – and many others. I've had a real blast with the stage roles I've been afforded, and that's continuing now with Amongst Friends.

PRESENT: Without giving too much away, Amongst Friends is about two couples being reunited after a gap of six years, having once been neighbours. One of the couples is richer and they now live in a gated community, and they invite their poorer former neighbours round. The poorer couple are a bit pissed off at them for not seeing them in six years, and the party takes a turn for the worse when an uninvited guest turns up. My character is one half of the poorer couple. He's very cynical and sarcastic and has aggression problems and things like that – a lot of fun to play.

As a company we’ve been getting on like a house on fire so it's been great. For the first two weeks of rehearsals we were mainly working through the script. I don't know April's previous work so I'm quite sure of this but I think it's a bit of a departure for her. It's a very black and bleak satire. That said, though I don't think people should come expecting a long comedic evening.

I don't live in a gated community myself but to be honest I don't have a particular feeling about them one way or another. I think if people choose to live in gated communities they're quite welcome to do so. The play is more about why people choose to lock themselves away from the rest of the world. I find it quite a lonely piece, and it's also very politically astute in that it's about greed and people who are self-serving – very fitting in the current climate.

FUTURE: I've got a couple of projects lined up but I'm reluctant to talk about them because then maybe they won't happen and I'll look like a fool! But generally speaking one of them could be stage and one of them could be TV, and I'm just trying to figure out which one I'd prefer to do. It's difficult to plan too far ahead, it just depends what comes up and what I feel I want to be doing at that moment. And obviously paying the rent is always a priority.

In terms of dream future roles, I'd love to play Cassius in Julius Caesar again – it's one of my all-time favourite parts. The great thing about Cassius is there's no real age limit on him, so I'd love to give it another crack in a few years.

I'd also love to do another musical. I've had great fun doing musicals and as long as the parts are varied and I get to play different things then I'm quite happy. I'm also keen to do more writing in the near future. I've been very lazy about it over the past couple of years but I'm steadily battling away. Not so sure about directing yet, but I definitely wouldn't rule it out.

- James Dreyfus was speaking to Theo Bosanquet

Amongst Friends continues at the Hampstead until 13 June.


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