Shakespeare's Globe

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In this first interview, Paul Hunter talks about his familiarity with Shakespeare and the fool, previously playing the roles of Bottom and Dromio. He talks about his latest fool role, Dogberry, and how he sees his physical language as equally important to Shakespeare's written text.

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Transcript of Podcast

Hayley Bartley:

My name is Hayley Bartley and these are the Adopt An Actor Podcasts for 2011. I’m here with Paul Hunter who plays Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. So my first question is what was your experience of Shakespeare at school?

Paul Hunter:

I think probably the usual really, like a lot of people I did Shakespeare at O-Level for English. I’m trying to remember what I did, it’s a long time ago, I think I did, I’ve got a feeling I did Macbeth for O-Level. So I studied that and then at A-Level we did Hamlet, so I remember that. But I suppose it was around sort of O-Level time that I started getting more interested in theatre and because I was from Birmingham we weren’t far from Stratford which was good, so I started to go and see Shakespeare at the RSC around the age of sixteen, seventeen, I think.

HB:

So, how did you first get into acting then?

PH:

I mean again, I think this happens with quite a few people, there‘s no acting in my family or anything like that and it was this particular teacher, English teacher, who - I was very interested in English and literature and novels, various things, and then did a school play really and it was from there that I started to think, “Maybe this is something I could do.” Although there was no context for it so at the beginning it was a bit like, “What do you mean you’re going to be an actor? Nobody does that!” So yeah, it was a strange journey, but I’d say majorly inspired by a particular teacher.

HB:

Have you done a lot of Shakespeare?

PH:

This would be, I think it’s my fifth, I was Dromio in Comedy of Errors, Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, Richard III in Richard III, Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Oh no six, Thersites in Troilus[and Cressida] and now this. But I had quite a big gap, I hadn’t done Shakespeare until I came here actually to play Bottom, I hadn’t done it for ten years, so I was a bit terrified to come back. But it’s brilliant, of course you want to do more because it’s so extraordinary.

HB:

Yeah, and it’s good you know the Globe now.

PH:

Yeah, and to do it here is really special...

HB:

...I can imagine...

PH:

...And that’s why I come back. It’s not like anywhere else. If you’re going to Shakespeare, for me, you want to do it somewhere like here.

HB:

So, if we move onto the play, what where your impressions of Much Ado coming into rehearsals?

PH:

Not a play I knew very well which again is one of the reasons why I wanted to do it. I had seen it once I think, ages ago, so I couldn’t really remember it. I hadn’t seen things like the Branagh films, I didn’t know it terribly well. So when I then read it, it felt quite fresh, it wasn’t like all those memories of productions, which I quite liked. I just thought it was really, really wonderful. I thought it was really witty and there was a real charm to it which I liked. And again, I suppose I like, what he does so brilliantly is these different strands of society and the different characters that you meet in different ways and the two central characters I thought were really interesting Beatrice and Benedick. I got very interested in their relationship I suppose. So yeah, very exciting I think.

HB:

Positive. And what about your character, Dogberry? What were your impressions of him?

PH:

Well it’s funny, when I came to meet Jeremy [Herrin], the director, to talk about it, we found ourselves sort of talking about the character in relationship to Dad’s Army, the Seventies British sitcom about the home guard. And in some ways that felt like a really good reference, you know, because it’s a group, in that sitcom, it’s a group of men who in some ways have responsibility, but they are slightly ridiculous and ludicrous, trying to be this authority which they can’t really do. And the gap, I think, which is what I always think is quite interesting in comedy, the gap between how Dogberry sees himself and how the world sees him is quite enormous and I think that’s rather good for comedy. He sees himself, I’m sure, as a very good policemen and a very important man, whereas actually the world sees him as a rather ridiculous man and that’s always great, you know.

HB:

Did you do any - I suppose a little research then?

PH:

Yeah, I suppose so, I suppose the Dad’s Army thing would be. I quite like it when it’s no, when it’s very removed from the play or removed from the time, but connects more tangentially. I always prefer that in a sense, rather than going to something that’s connected to Shakespeare. I always find it interesting to find something that’s parallel, but very connected to the world of it. So I suppose the Dad’s Army was my research, yeah.

HB:

I don’t think Shakespeare’s fools were particularly reflective of the real fools of the time, so perhaps it’s not useful anyway to think on that level.

PH:

Yeah, I think that’s a good point. And I suppose having played things like Bottom, and now this, and Dromio, and I suppose I played a few of those roles which, from what I understand, were very much about the performers of that time, you know, and what they brought to it and improvising and that’s something I really love. So in some ways I think you have to, it’s not an excuse for being lazy, but I’m not sure how much research does help with parts like this. I mean you have to be in the situation, in the room with the other actors, and then ultimately with the audience I think to discover what…

HB:

...Yeah, definitely with your character and the other actors around him. It’s all part of it I think.

PH:

Oh, yeah, yeah absolutely. No definitely, it’s all about that relationship.

HB:

Yeah, it will be interesting to see, in future interviews, your relationship with the other character, it would be very interesting I think. So finally, I just want to ask about the first day of rehearsal. For people that don’t know, what did you do on that day?

PH:

I mean obviously every rehearsal is different with any other director, but on this we obviously all met each other because most of us didn’t know each other, hadn’t worked with each other. And then we simply read the play, you know, majorly I think for the clarity of the story really, just so that we could all sort of agree on what happens when and, you know, just to hear it I suppose, and for Jeremy, the director, to hear it which was great and very entertaining. And then we begin that journey, or Jeremy began that journey, of going through the play very methodically really, in terms of what everything, what we think everything means, yeah.

HB:

And did you do any cutting in the first day?

PH:

We discussed cutting as we went through bits and I think Jeremy was keen to cut ,but again it wasn’t done sort of rashly.There were certain things that were discussed and maybe that might go. So I think the idea of the cuts were introduced.

HB:

Yeah, because I guess, with cutting, he probably has an idea, but you have to play it out with everyone because it just might not work, or if it doesn’t feel right for the actor, I suppose.

PH:

Yeah, I mean, I suppose every director is different. You know when I did Troilus the play was cut quite majorly before we came into rehearsal which I thought was a good thing, you know, but then other directors go, “Okay, well, we’ll go in with it as it is and like I said I’ve got some ideas, but until we play with it and the actors play with it” - I don’t get the feeling that Jeremy is in any way precious about it, it’s not like, “You mustn’t ever cut”, so I think there probably will be as it goes on. You know I tend to work very physically as an actor because that’s my background and my training was very much that and I tend to approach the part very physically. Whereas some actors will come into it much more from the text or more psychologically, you know, and all of that is interesting as well. But I do think Dogberry and the watch, I don’t know what it is yet, but there’s got to be a very vibrant physical life to those characters. I think they’re very much in that world, and finding what that is, I think is for me, is as important as what they say.

HB:

Dogberry is a fool of physicality, I think that’s right.

PH:

Oh, definitely, I think there’s a definite thing to find their, a physical language if you like, or a physical text in a way. The way that you have a written text and then I think there’s a physical text that you have to find as well.

HB:

Which is quite exciting for you to play with because it’s not set down.

PH:

Definitely and I think that exploring that is always exciting, that’s what I particularly loved about playing Bottom, you know, there was an extraordinary physical language to find in that play as well. And actually in that space, it’s a very physical space you know, I don’t think it necessarily lends itself to long moments of stillness, you know, you’ve got to constantly have something that’s going on I think.

HB:

Yeah, and so that’s my last question. Very good.

PH:

Very good. Thank you.

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