This is Danny's first blog post. This week he discusses how he became an actor, his first impressions of the Fool, and being on the Globe stage for the first time.
Transcript of Podcast
Becoming an Actor
I don’t come from an acting background. I come from a working class town in Essex. There were three things that happened, when I was a child, which made me want to become an actor. When I was very young, about 6, I was taken to see Cinderella by my mother. I was completely bored by it, until the ugly sisters came on. I nearly leapt out of my seat with joy, because what they were doing was so completely new, so spontaneous and witty, and I thought: ‘I want to do that.’ The second thing happened when I was about 10 or 11. I was travelling to see my grandmother on my own, and there were lots of people on the bus from the local mental health institution. I sat at the back and watched them. I found them fascinating; they seemed so different, while everyone else on the bus ignored them and pretended they weren’t there. When I got home I remember mimicking them, not out of malice, but in an unconscious way .It was an early attempt at acting, as I was observing them and pretending to be them. Thirdly, I remember watching Pat and Margaret with Julie Walters and Victoria Wood, and I fell in love with Julie Walters. I wanted to do what she was doing. I love the way she physically transforms herself, and I’m drawn to actors who change shape in some way.
I didn’t really know about drama school until I was 18, so I went to Middlesex to read drama, and that’s where I gained a basic knowledge of theatre. At the end of my degree I felt that although I knew all this stuff, but I hadn’t performed that much, as it had been so academic. At the time of writing my dissertation, on colour blind casting, I was working as an usher at the Royal Court and I managed to get an interview with Stephen Daldry to discuss it [then Artistic Director of the Royal Court]. He spent an afternoon with me talking about the industry, and I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to go to drama school. I realised that I wanted to perform classical theatre, and I needed to get a solid training. I was aware that being from an ethnic background makes it harder to be taken seriously as a contender for the classical roles, all the parts I was put up for had been drug dealers in The Bill, things like that, and I thought I want to show that there’s more to me than that. So I went to LAMDA. When I finished I got a job working with Stephen Poliakoff on two films for the BBC . It was my first job out of drama school and a baptism of fire. I was surrounded by great people, the best of the industry, on one side of me was Maggie Smith, on the other side Michael Gambon, and standing over there was a man directing me whose work I’d grown up watching. I was surrounded by everything I could want, and I soaked up everything I was given, but nobody spoke about the hard part, when you have to go back to reality, as it’s very rare that someone continues to work on that level. And then the Fool is my next role.
This is my first professional Shakespeare job, so it is another baptism of fire! I’d always respected Shakespeare but it wasn’t until I went to LAMDA and performed it that I actually thought this bloke’s rather good. I played Macbeth at drama school, and I was completely riveted by his plight. I’d held Shakespeare to be this sacred thing that only a few people could appreciate, and after doing it I realised how immediate it is. I think this is partly because I’m dyslexic and I hate being asked to read a play, and I can only really get to grips with it if I read it out loud.
Somehow I found out that Dominic was planning to do King Lear and I wrote a sycophantic fan letter to him before Christmas saying how much I loved the play and asking whether I could read for him. So I came in and read Edgar, which I knew quite well, but a while later he called me back to read the part of the Fool, which he then offered to me. At first I was intrigued by that request, as like many people I had this preconceived notion of the Fool as being played by actors towards the end of their careers, when they’re in their fifties or sixties. I was a bit bewildered by that, I thought it’s a brilliant part but where is he going with this?
We had the read through of the play on the first day. That’s always a really difficult thing to do, as other actors can’t help but think ‘God, is that really how they’re going to do it?’ and everyone is very self-conscious. It’s interesting that in the read-through the actors playing the characters in the storm scenes (act three, scenes two to four) gravitated towards one another, and when we were reading the connection between us felt very strong, which made me very excited about what’s to come. I was sat one side of David [Calder, King Lear] and I found it really useful to be so physically close to him, almost like a parrot perched on his shoulder, as I see the fool as his conscience. When companies first meet the cast often seem to assume the hierarchy of the play, so you see spear-carriers meekly sitting at the back of the rehearsal room, while the actor cast as a queen confidently goes about her business. But I wanted to get to know David straight away. The rehearsal process is about taking risks, jumping right in and getting really dirty, and if you’re working with an iconic actor there’s often a tendency to hold back, but here I feel fine with jumping in with my own ideas.
It’s an odd part as it’s non-linear, it’s detached, he’s an outsider but he’s not sorry for himself. He’s someone who’s observing everyone around him, and commenting on what they’re doing, asking questions and answering his own questions. Dominic told me that in the earliest productions of King Lear the actor playing the Fool would have also played Cordelia. It’s interesting that Lear has banished one person for speaking the truth, and the only other person whom he allows to speak the truth is the Fool, and they were both played by the same actor. I was really drawn to how the Fool lives between a rock and a hard place, he’s got to obey his master, he’s got to tell the truth, as he’s an ‘all-licensed fool’ (Goneril, 1.4.191) as he says to Lear ‘…they’ll have me whipped for speaking true, thou’lt have me whipped for lying…(1.4.174-5). I have also been thinking about how he has lost his best friend and playmate, Cordelia, and how their relationship might have influenced her. She seems so much more educated than her sisters, and they have such different moral codes. Perhaps it is the Fool who has reached out to her and taught her that it can be better to retain information rather than divulging it all, in the same way that he tries to advise Lear, although Lear is too far gone to make use of it.
I use the Stanislavski method to prepare for a part, which involves a lot of inquiry as to why the character behaves as he does. This meant I had actually learnt quite a lot of the Fool’s lines, and I was quite surprised to see how many of the lines had been cut when the rehearsals began. But there seems to be a clear reason for the cuts, as Dominic wanted it to be very to the point and punchy, so that the action would be moving forward all the time. I wouldn’t dare to question the cuts. The only thing I was unsure of is that there’s a song that the fool sings, and I think about 4 or 5 lines from it have been cut, and it didn’t quite make sense that Lear and Edgar pick him up for his singing, but Dominic pointed out that said we’ve said what we wanted to say in the two short lines before, and so I can see how it would make sense.
I’ve seen King Lear three times, but I’m quite safe from undue influence because I have a really terrible memory. From what I can remember every time I’ve seen the Fool the actor’s taken the audience on a psychological journey, but I think the space of the Globe lends itself to really explore his physicality. What really excites me is that the Fool is a role of invention, and there’s nothing you can’t do with it in this particular production. I never thought that this would be a role that I would be taking on for many years, if at all.
I’ve been here many times as a groundling, so it is a shock to be on the stage. Last week we were doing a movement session, and it was all quite formal, and then the doors to the stage suddenly opened, it was the most beautiful thing to behold. As someone who’s never performed here before, I’m quite anxious about what’s to come, and all I could think was what this place must look like when it’s filled up. Up until then I’ve been musing about what the Fool’s going to be like, but from that moment I realised that I really need to think about the interaction with the audience, because the Fool is there as much for the audience as he is for Lear. This space allows you to talk to one person, or a crowd, or a specific group of people, and I really want to play around with it, but I think a lot of that isn’t really going to come to me until I’m actually out there with a belly full of butterflies on the preview night.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.