Oliver Chris first fell in love with the theatre – or the National Theatre to be more precise – when he was a little boy and although a lot of Oliver’s acting career so far has been spent in front of TV and film cameras (The Office, Green Wing, The IT Crowd, Silent Witness to name but a few), he did eventually tread the boards of the Lyttelton Theatre when he appeared in Seasons Greetings in 2010/11.
Other notable stage productions that Oliver has appeared in include The Taming of the Shrew (Petruchio – Wilton’s Music Hall, 2007) and Sir Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Rose Theatre, Kingston, 2010), where Chris played Bottom to Dame Judi Dench’s Titania.
At the time of the interview, Oliver was starring as “Stanley Stubbers “ alongside James Corden in NT’s One Man, Two Guvnors, which has been touring the UK and which opens at the Adelphi Theatre on 8 November.
Despite his busy schedule, Oliver has kindly answered a few questions about himself and his career. Enjoy this brilliant interview – I’m sure it’ll put a smile on your face!
When did you first realise that you wanted to be an actor?
I was 8. My mum and dad had these entertainers come and do a housewarming party (it was the 80’s). Anyway, I saw people showing off for money. That was it. Hooked.
Did anyone in particular inspire you or have you got any role models?
Watching a great performance is always inspiring. As an actor you can tell the really good ones because you admire them without any shred of jealousy or thinking that you could do it better.
You trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Please share a memory or two.
My most resounding feeling about Drama School is that I should have got thrown out. All the coolest actors get thrown out of drama school. I totally had the opportunity. We reached a standoff in the final year when I was going for a lot of professional auditions and it was interfering with drama school plays. I asked to be excused, they said no. I should have walked out and not graduated but I’m from Tunbridge Wells and all I could think about was my mum’s disappointed face so I stayed on and made my and everyone else’s life a misery instead. Having said that, Central was a huge and essential part of my life and without it I wouldn’t be an actor today.
Oh yeah, I also refereed quite a famous football match between RADA and Guildhall that erupted into a massive fight. In hindsight, that was pretty cool.
You love acting on stage but you are best known for your many television and film roles. How does acting in front of a camera compare with working on stage?
First of all, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, although yes, I did shine with my one line in Bridget Jones 2; The Edge of Reason. The easy answer is that stage acting is more fun, TV acting pays better.
In 2007, you starred as Petruchio in a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at Wilton’s Music Hall. Quite a complex character – was that a dream role for you?
Yes. No. It’s a difficult play. It doesn’t conform to the current morality, it’s about a guy who’s a bit of a bastard and wants to marry for money. He doesn’t care who the girl is and comes across this total bitch that everyone hates because she is absolutely horrible. Then he breaks her. Nice right? The challenge is to try and make the play palatable and relevant to today and I don’t know if that’s possible. Besides, apart from the chequered morality, the play’s structure makes it difficult because half the conceit is missing (it’s got to be missing because there are a couple of contrasting versions and Shakespeare wasn’t an idiot). Having said all that, I think there’s loads in it; there’s so much beautiful poetry and potential for joy and comedy and the wooing scene is mind-blowing in its passion and power. I have this feeling that it might be a brilliant tale of two non-conformists finding happiness outside the constraints of boring social platitudes. Either that or it’s just a poorly structured misogynistic rant. I want to do it again.
You have always wanted to work for the National Theatre – it was your childhood dream. What was/is it about the NT that you love so much?
I love everything about the National Theatre and I say it unashamedly and without any compunction. If I could marry a building I would choose that brutalist, concrete dream-machine any day. It’s all my family’s fault. I went to my first play there when I was 6 and I’ve been back a thousand times since. I was an usher there for a bit while I was at drama school and to be part of the company now is just…(insert superlative here because I can’t do it without swearing). Everything about the place reeks of quality and integrity. It’s premier league. When I think about working there I think of how I felt watching The Ancient Mariner all those years ago and I hum with pride.
You played ‘Bottom’ in Sir Peter Hall’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummernight’s Dream’ at The Rose Theatre in Kingston in 2009. I saw the play and thought you did a fantastic job. The audience loved you (with and without the donkey’s head!). Please tell us about this experience!
Thank you. It was pretty cool. There were so many wonderful things about that experience. I loved the head. It became my best friend. It’s the Glyndbourne head and it is an exquisite piece of artistry. From the minute I put it on I connected with it and it made the performance. I also loved the play-within-the-play death scene; big, fat, bold, broad comedy. Brilliant. I also have to admire Peter Hall for letting me do it, it was brave of him and could have gone horribly wrong. There’s no doubt though that the overwhelming memory was the first time I rehearsed with Judi (Dench). I knelt at her feet, she cradled my head in her hands and spoke the ‘Moon Methinks with a watery eye’ speech. I literally couldn’t believe it. I had to look up to make sure it was real. I’ll never forget that.
You are appearing in NT’s One Man Two Guvnors, which is currently touring the UK and will then transfer to the West End in November. In a nutshell, what’s the play about?
I’m not telling you. It’s too complicated. All you need to know is that it’s set in Brighton in 1963 and it’s funny. It’s very funny.
Please tell us about your character Stanley Stubbers.
He’s a tall, posh, sexual deviant who’s madly in love with his cockney girlfriend and is hiding out in Brighton after accidentally-on-purpose murdering her brother. Awesome.
Why should everyone go and see One Man Two Guvnors?
It’s funny. And January’s going to be cold.
What other roles would you love to play and why?
I’ll do pretty much anything. Besides, in my experience all best things come at you out of the sun.
If you could go and see any West End play tonight, which one would it be and why?
Jerusalem. Can you get me a ticket?
Is there anyone you would you really like to work with (TV/film or stage)?
Hundreds of people. Right now, think of all the best theatre directors. Them.
What would you say to a young actor who is struggling to find work & getting really frustrated?
Get your claws out and climb. Fight, climb and work til your fingers bleed. Write letters, read plays, go to the theatre, hang out in trendy Soho bars, then fight climb and work some more. Then fight a bit.
What are your long-term ambitions?
To not have to work in a call centre. Again.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I drink martinis and think about going to the gym.
Please tell us about the ‘Wayne Rooney song’. You re-wrote the lyrics to the Beatles’ song ‘Let it Be’ and it was actually recorded for the 2006 Fifa World Cup. Really funny – it was a hit on YouTube. So how did that all come about?
Yeah. That was cool too. We were watching the football and singing songs. There was a piano. Someone started hammering out Let It Be and we all started singing Wayne Roo-ney and making up stupid lyrics. I woke up in the morning and called my friend and said, hey, you know that Rooney song? I think there’s something in it. We immediately went to the pub for some serious creative drinking. The next day we called everyone we knew and went to a recording studio, we plied them with beer and before we knew it we had a football song. Three days later England were knocked out of the cup.
And now I’ve got some quick-fire questions for you!
Romeo & Juliet or Richard III? Who’s playing Juliet?
Party or a good night’s sleep? Party.
X-Factor or Downton Abbey? Neither.
Spain or Italy? Both.
Red wine or white wine? Yeah. And Rose.
Chocolate or liquorice allsorts? Chocolate.
Chelsea or Man United? How dare you. QPR. SU-PERRR! HOOPS-AAAHH!
Your favourite Shakespeare quote?
There’s loads. An appropriate one for this interview is ‘The moon methinks looks with a watery eye, and when she weeps, weeps every little flower, lamenting some enforced chastity”. That’s pretty good.
And anything else you might like to add, maybe a message to your fans?
I would to thank my fan for his loyalty and I promise I will try and make him proud one day.
Thank you very much for this fabulous interview, Oliver and all the best for the West End transfer of One Man Two Guvnors!
Follow Oliver on Twitter: @oliverchris
Interview by Sandra Palme (Twitter: @LondonTheatre2)
8th November 2011