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Past/Present/Future for ... Nigel Lindsay

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Actor Nigel Lindsay, who has just opened in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass with Antony Sher at the Tricycle Theatre, will be a familiar face to audiences of both stage and screen. He was seen most recently in Sucker Punch at the Royal Court and on screen in Christopher Morris’s film Four Lions.

Lindsay starred alongside Jim Broadbent and David Tennant in the original 2003 production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman at the National Theatre, which was greeted with critical acclaim and went on to win several awards. Amongst his other stage credits are the 1995 National Theatre production of Dealer’s Choice, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and The Homecoming and Awake and Singing at the Almeida Theatre, for which Lindsay was nominated for the Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Supporting Actor in a play.

In 2005 Lindsay turned his talent to musical theatre, playing Nathan Detroit in Michael Grandage’s revival of Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre and will next year he will be returning to the West End stage to play the title role in the Broadway transfer of Shrek the Musical, reunited with his Guys and Dolls co-star Nigel Harman when it opens at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 7 June (previews from 1 May 2011).

PAST: A real highlight of my career was being in the original cast of The Pillowman. It was a fantastic experience all round. Sometimes the writing is brilliant or the actors are great or the director’s good, but this was universally a fantastic experience. That’s very rare. We were at the Cottesloe at the National, which is one of my favourite places to work, with Martin McDonagh’s script which is one of the most brilliant scripts I’ve ever read, and we had John Crowley directing, who is a sharp-eyed, incisive director. I got to do a double act with Jim Broadbent and torture David Tennant every night, it was just beautiful. The reaction, particularly of people in the business, was amazing. Bob Hoskins came backstage after a performance and he said to me that it was fantastic and then he started crying on my shoulder. It just provoked that reaction in people.

Another highlight was Guys and Dolls, which was my musical debut. I was up for the original cast with Ewan McGregor, but I was playing William Morris in Earthly Paradise at the Almeida at the time and I’d put on about a stone and had a massive bushy beard to look like him. They wanted me to come in and audition, but three times I couldn’t because I couldn’t get away from rehearsal. In the end I phoned them and said that I couldn’t come in. I was about 15 stone with a huge beard, and I’m not sure with the best will in the world that Michael Grandage was going to look at me and say, “that’s Nathan Detroit”. So I sort of talked myself out of it. Then they phoned me again after Earthly Paradise had finished and said they really wanted me to try it.

The great thing about Guys and Dolls is that the part of Nathan Detroit, although Sinatra played it in the movie, was originally written for a stand-up comedian called Sam Levine who couldn’t really sing, so his songs are not difficult. But then, of course, when you’ve done something like Guys and Dolls, even people in the musical industry tend to forget that that part is not a difficult singing part. I haven’t been in for many other musicals, I must admit. But it is weird that the first time I ever do a musical I’m standing on stage in the Piccadilly in front of 2,000 people.

PRESENT: Broken Glass is one of Arthur Miller’s late plays and I think it’s been overlooked. One of the reasons for that is because it’s terribly difficult to get right. It deals with some deep issues and it can be very hard to get to the bottom of them. It’s set in New York in 1938 and it’s about a woman who has read about the Kristallnacht demonstrations in Berlin and becomes paralysed from the waist down in what is known as hysterical paralysis. A local doctor is assigned to try and find out what’s wrong with her and the play is about what develops from there. Her husband, played by Antony Sher, is a very pinched, uptight man, and the doctor begins to suspect that it’s more to do with their marriage than these photographs she’s seeing, but actually everything’s linked. It’s about being frightened of being alive in so many different ways.

I’m a massive fan of Miller; I saw The Crucible when I was at school and it made me want to be an actor. Miller writes modern Greek tragedies and I just think he’s wonderful. I’m much more familiar with his earlier work, but I think Broken Glass is as powerful a piece as any of the others. I think that maybe as you get older and more courageous you begin to deal with things that are almost impossible to put down on paper and I think that’s what Miller is trying to do with this. It’s such a universal theme and the way he links the mass hysteria that was going on in Germany in 1938 with an individual family’s angst is very difficult to do and difficult to convey.

There were two reasons why I was drawn to this play. One was that Tony Sher was involved. We went to the same drama school, Webber Douglas, but he was there a long time before me. When I was doing my final play I was really struggling with it so I wrote to him asking for tips and he wrote me back a six-page letter, and I was so impressed with that. That was a lovely thing to do for a young actor – I’ve told him that about five times! I’ve been very privileged to work with some extremely good actors and actors that I’ve admired from afar. It doesn’t get any different, I still have a bit of a crush on them for the first week and then I get on with it. It’s great to work with people who are at the top of their game, it really tests you. So that’s the first reason I wanted to work here, and the second is that I was absolutely terrified of doing this play. I remember seeing an interview with Jack Lemmon once where he was asked how he chooses work and he said that if it terrifies him he says yes. I think that’s quite a good way of looking at things.

FUTURE: After Guys and Dolls, I got asked to go up for Shrek the Musical. Shrek is very different from Broken Glass, because I would look at watching the films as research. If Broken Glass was playing down the road I wouldn’t see it, it would do me in. If you see someone who’s fantastic, even if you’re thinking you could steal parts of their performance, you would still have an inferiority complex. But I need to look at the films of Shrek. This character is already established, and even if I wouldn’t personally do a certain action, I have to do the action from the film. I am the ogre from the first film.

I’m looking forward to working with Nigel Harman again. It’s hysterical; we’re obviously a double act. I’ve hardly seen Nigel since we finished Guys and Dolls but I know he’s a brilliant singer and dancer and I’m excited to work with him again. I’m also looking forward to working with Amanda Holden. I’ve never worked with her before but I’ve got two mates who have and everyone says she’s really nice. I think she gets a bit of a hard press sometimes, but she can definitely do it, there’s no question. Everyone I know who knows her says I’m going to have a great time working with her, so I’m really looking forward to meeting her.

I must admit I’m not looking forward to being green. Apparently it’s an hour-and-half in prosthetics every night, for eight shows a week. I think I’m going to have to get fit because it’s really going to take it out of me. But my kids are absolutely over the moon. Whenever I go into the school playground I get mobbed now. I did a film with Richard E Grant last year and he said the only time his daughter has ever been impressed by anything he’s done is when he did the Spice Girls movie. He said I would get the same thing with Shrek, and he’s right. My daughter’s suddenly realised that I’m an actor, it’s great.

Broken Glass opened on 6 October (previews from 30 September) at the Tricycle Theatre where it runs until 27 November 2010.


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