Alexander Vlahos: 'I watch WWE wrestling in my spare time'
The Versailles actor is set to play Romeo in Lindsay Posner's production at the pop-up Shakespeare's Rose Theatre in York
Alexander Vlahos is part of an exciting new theatre season up in York – the opening of the Rose Theatre, a pop-up space set to house Shakespeare productions in an outdoor, tailor-made venue. Vlahos, whose screen credits include Philippe in Versailles and Mordred in Merlin will be playing two characters in the season – Catesby in Richard III and star-crossed lover Romeo in the new production of Romeo and Juliet.
1. How are you feeling about returning to Shakespeare?
Terrified and excited in equal measure. I had one of those dream experiences playing Malcolm in Ken's [Kenneth Branagh] Macbeth which left me craving more.
2. Is Romeo a dream role?
Funnily enough, I thought the casting bracket of Romeo had passed me by. I'm turning 30 this year, I'll be Romeo on my birthday – which to my mind seems absolutely hilarious. Tackling the youthful side to him, the teenage love and what that entails has been the biggest challenge. It's a daily reminder that tapping into that exuberance and wilful naivety is what determines Romeo's decisions and makes the play even more heartbreaking. They're kids, madly in love, but kids at the end of the day.
3. How have rehearsals been going?
It's been unique, to say the least. Given the once in a lifetime opportunity that the stage represents – a pop-up classic Shakespearean theatre – it's been interesting getting to grips with what the space will look and feel like. The company are amazing, especially my Juliet, Alexandra Dowling, who has been a gift of a partner in this. We've worked together, as star-crossed lovers, in BBC's Merlin. So the shorthand that comes with knowing each other made rehearsals a much more rewarding prospect.
4. What can audiences expect from this version of Romeo and Juliet?
Heartache filled to the brim with energy. Our director has set it in a period of time within Italy's political world which adds yet another layer, without imposing too much into the text.
5. It's in an open air theatre, have you talked about what would happen if it rains?
Luckily the actors on stage are covered by, and to quote Hamlet, "this brave o'erhanging firmament" – so I'm less concerned about us and more so the groundlings. It definitely adds an element of risk to it all.
6. What's Lindsay Posner like as a director?
Wickedly intelligent, funny and diligent. He's a great admirer of the Bard's words, and is relentless in making sure we as actors are using those words, the dexterity, the range in the language to inform our decisions and push the play on. I'm learning a lot from Lindsay, even though he's a Tottenham Hotspur fan.
7. Why did you choose to do this production?
I quite like that we're the first company to attempt this and I've never been to York, so that's a first and playing Romeo is a first. A lot of exciting firsts!
8. Will you be bringing any of Philippe to the role of Romeo?
Absolutely not. I'm hoping, oh GOD I'm hoping that Philippe is in France where I left him. That was a huge part of my life, and since then there's been a period of mourning I guess? Grieving? But now, this feels like a brand new chapter in my life, personally and in my career.
9. Do you prefer working on stage or screen?
Stage. Always stage. There's a falseness, I find, with screen work. More about tricks and the technical aspects can bog you down. A rehearsal room for any theatre production is like a sanctuary for me. A place for play. And making choices. Being wrong. Being right. Trying. Failing. You don't get that luxury on screen.
10. What is your earliest memory in theatre?
Pantomime? Probably. I think I saw Joe Pasquale in Jack and the Beanstalk at Porthcawl Pavillion. Harrowing. But memorable!
11. What do you consider to be your big break?
Landing the role of Private Keenan in BBC army drama Privates. It was my first ever lead, and the confidence I took from that lead straight into playing Mordred in Merlin.
12. In an alternate reality, what would you do if you weren't a performer?
I'd definitely be in the arts, for sure. A director, most likely. But not stage, behind the camera.
13. What would your dream role be?
Doctor Who. My agent has told me off for saying that in interviews, so let's move swiftly on...
14. What has been the most embarrassing moment of your career?
My third or fourth day on Versailles season one, I had to come into the war cabinet with a lot of anger and energy. I did it with such vigour that the door came off its hinges and nearly killed a support artist standing in front of it. The set cost €30million. I felt deeply ashamed and to this day, the cast and crew have never let me forget it!
15. Describe your worst audition...
Any commercial casting. I had a handful upon leaving drama school. One was for Diet Coke. I brought in my own props. Apparently, that wasn't kosher.
16. Who are your idols?
Kenneth Branagh – getting to work with him felt like a dream come true.
17. What have you seen on stage recently?
I just saw my onscreen brother and best friend George Blagden in Tartuffe at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. He was magnificent. Go see it!
18. If you could go back in time and change one thing what would it be?
How long have you got? Do you charge the same rate as my therapist? Haha, I jest. Slightly. I think one must find acceptance and be constantly looking forward to thrive in this industry and not get hung up on the 'what ifs'...
19. What advice would you give to aspiring actors?
Find the love and try to keep that at the forefront of your mind, even when the industry seems to want you to think otherwise. It's the only way you can remain healthy and positive. Love is love.
20. What do you do in your spare time?
Hang out with friends, try and maintain a decent social life! Oh, I've recently discovered a new found love for WWE wrestling. So I watch a lot of that. If you think about it, it's a modern athletic version of Greek theatre – instead of a script, they're using their bodies to tell a story. Wonderful.