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Rufus Hound on ... Finding Utopia & standing up for Jimmy Carr

Comedian and actor Rufus Hound is a busy man. Not only is he currently making his professional theatre debut in Utopia at Soho Theatre but his new film The Wedding Video is about to be released. He also caused controversy on Twitter recently when he defended fellow comedian Jimmy Carr amid allegations of tax dodging.

Hound, star of television panel shows such as Never Mind the Buzzcocks and 8 Out of 10 Cats, stars in Utopia alongside Spooks actress Sophia Myles as well as Tobi Bakare, Laura Elphinstone, Pamela Miles and David Whitaker.

Directed by Steve Marmion and Max Roberts, it opens at Soho tonight (21 June 2012) and continues to 14 July.

Rufus Hound: Utopia is about six clowns searching for utopia, coming across blueprints and trying out different versions. They’re a bit like the pierrots in Oh, What a Lovely War!, stepping from one aspect of a scenario to the next. The clowns, like the pierrots, are blank canvasses; they’re vessels for experience, as represented by their white faces. I think you are who you are by dent of your experience and those blank canvas characters are able to communicate that if it weren’t for your individual experience, they could be you. I hope I’m making sense - in a nutshell it’s about these innocents who are surrounded by various plans for better worlds and they’re able to test each of these blueprints out to see if they work.

We have a stellar line-up of writers, including Dylan Moran, Simon Stephens and Janice Okoh, and they were asked a simple question: What is Utopia? They each responded with a ten-to-15 minute piece which they handed back to us and let us do with it as we wanted. Some of them really worked being chopped up, while others we perform in one short blast. Steve Marmion had a vision of doing a type of political theatre that’s a bit more conceptual – not just rolling your eyes at the Tories but looking at the wider questions: where are we going? What is the grand vision? Is striving for utopia a fundamental and important human principle?

Theatre debut

Last year I made a film with Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls, Made in Dagenham) called The Wedding Video and I spent all summer acting alongside some incredibly talented people like Robert Webb, Lucy Punch, Harriet Walter, Miriam Margolyes, Matt Berry, Kevin Eldon and Angus Barnett. And just being part of an ensemble rather than being a lone voice on stage howling at the moon was an utter treat, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed it. It came at a point where I was feeling less satisfied with stand up, and I was suddenly hugely turned on by this business of becoming somebody else.

Sophia Myles, Tobi Bakare, Laura Elphinstone & Rufus Hound in Utopia
It took me back to when I was at school – it was a fee-paying school but we didn’t really have the money for it so after one year I was told I’d have to leave. But my amazing drama teacher said, “I think the kid’s onto something” and he got me a performing arts scholarship, which was a major turning point for me.

I pretty much lived in the drama block and started raiding his library of plays - not everything appeals to me, I still don’t get Ibsen - but there’s some theatre that fills me with such enormous feelings of hope and satisfaction. Anyway, having done a bit of acting and really enjoyed it in this film I said to my agent I’d really love to do more, though I didn’t want to be Celebrity X that gets parachuted into something in the West End.

I met Steve Marmion who was talking about doing this play about new political theatre and he spoke about it with such passion I just thought ‘I can’t not do it’. And let me say the money is crippling, it’s less that my mortgage. I’m not somebody with vast reserves as everything I’ve earned I’ve spent. I pay income tax. I don’t have stocks and shares and vast things; I have a mortgage that I have to meet every month and I’ve got two small kids, a car and a wife who’s a full time mum. But I had enough money that I could do this for six weeks, and when I heard Steve talking about it, I couldn’t resist. As the lead singer of the Flaming Lips once said, “rock’n’roll is the quest for new experience”.

How Russell Brand invented Rufus Hound

Ten years ago I went out with an actress, and that rather put me off being an actor because I saw what she’d been through in order to call herself an actor and I felt that just sort of pitching up at the end and saying ‘I’ll be an actor too’ was disrespectful. She was in a play written by Trevor Lock who was a big friend of Russell Brand.

Trevor wrote two plays, took them both to Edinburgh, and I tech’d them and built some props for him. We were all sharing a flat up there and one day Russell said to me “you know man you’re funny, you should be doing stand up”. So later that same day, sat in Café Pasta, we debated what would be a good name for a comedian, and it came down to a choice between Rufus Hound and Jiminy Biscuit. I often wonder what kind of act Jiminy Biscuit would have been. I’m tempted to think there would be a bit more clown and a bit less angry young man.

Standing up for Jimmy Carr

The reason that I spoke up to defend Jimmy on Twitter was simply this: If you put Jimmy Carr on the front page of The Times you’re asking for vilification. I’ve worked for a few different charities who will testify that Jimmy’s done gigs for them for free and then he’s given them large sums of money at the end. So I just thought that the vilification of Jimmy Carr needed to be cast into some context - he’s not some horrific vampire who’s deliberately leaching millions from the NHS. I don’t know Jimmy well but I’ve worked with him maybe two or three times and I’ve always found him to be a very decent chap - surprisingly decent, given his onstage persona.

I’d also point out that Vodafone had a six billion pound tax bill erased on the same day that George Osborne announced there would be six billion pounds of cuts to the NHS. So don’t get all angry with Jimmy Carr, get angry with a system that allows clever accountants to allow rich people to bypass paying their income tax. If you take any one human being walking the face of this planet and you tell them: “Here’s how we’re going to work out your tax: you go into this room and there are two buttons - one says 5% and one says 50%. Now, nobody will know which of these buttons you press but that will set the level we tax you at.” How many people are pressing 50%? Honestly, how many? None, nobody is doing that because we all think that we work hard for our money, we all think that we deserve what we earn.

I'm not saying that morally it’s fine. I’m saying that here is a successful man who has earned money, who has taken the best advice and has acted within the law. Any outrage people feel should be about the fact that these loopholes exist and people are allowed to get away with it, not that Jimmy Carr is a horrific man doing something unspeakable, in my opinion.

Utopia runs at Soho Theatre until 14 July 2012

- Rufus Hound was speaking to Theo Bosanquet


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