Steve Toussaint stars in Line of Duty which returns to BBC2 this February, and will also continue to star as Dr Rank in A Doll’s House as it transfers to New York between 21st February and 16th March.
Also transferring from the London production of Ibsen’s classic play are Hattie Morahan as Nora Helmer, and Dominic Rowan as Torvald Helmer.
Steve Toussaint recently took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about himself and his career.
You were born in Birmingham in 1965 and then at the age of four moved to London with your family. Can you tell us about one of your favourite childhood memories?
I remember every summer I would go up to Birmingham to spend time with my cousin, and the house was next to a school and during the summer holidays the school was empty and we used to play inside the school grounds.
What can you recall of your performances in school dramatic productions?
I recall a school nativity play when I was about 6 or 7, and I was playing the part of a Roman Centurion and my costume and armour were made out of cardboard. I remember my mother was late bringing the costume and I was quite angry with her, and that memory has stayed with me.
I can also remember being in a play when I was about 10 years old, and it was about a witch who made time stand still. I played the part of the Mayor of London.
You went to Sussex University and graduated in Politics. Okay, where was your career going at this point?
I basically went to university to avoid going to work while I figured out what I wanted to do. I could either study Law, which I was quite good at, or Politics. I thought Politics sounded more interesting so I studied that. Also, the law books were very expensive and I didn’t get a grant so Politics was a good option.
I remember being asked by someone what was I studying and when I said “Politics” they said, “What are you going to with that, wipe your ass?” So I thought, oh that’s nice. What I was told, was that the only jobs that were open to those studying politics, was being a teacher or a journalist.
How and when did your acting career begin and develop?
I did a play at university. A friend of mine said, “We are doing a play. It’s about a guy who is a bit of a conman, and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women, and you would be perfect for it.” I wasn’t offended… So, I did the play…
I left university and worked in a Merchant Bank for a while, although I really didn’t like it. I was wearing the braces and striped shirt, which was part of the stereotype, and I just didn’t like the job.
I left there and went to the US for 3 months just holidaying and not doing very much. When I came back to England I thought I would give the acting a go. At that time I didn’t know anybody who was an actor, and then Gary Oldman came onto the scene. He was born just around the corner from where I grew up, in New Cross London.
I applied to drama schools and was told that I would have to pay to apply, and when I asked if I would get the money back if I didn’t get in they just laughed. So, I thought I would study at evening classes first, and if I was any good then I would apply to drama schools.
Luckily for me one of the teachers had a theatre company so I did some work with him, and then got my Equity Card after auditioning for pantomime in Bromley. For my first professional role, I was the Genie in the Lamp in Aladdin at the Churchill Theatre in 1990/91. The cast included John Inman, Paul Shane, Susan Maughan, Eli Woods and David Janson.
You have numerous film, television, radio, and stage credits. If you had to choose one favourite role from each, which would they be and why?
In terms of theatre there are two that stand out. I did a play a while ago called Ruined, by Lynn Nottage, at the Almeida Theatre. The play was about the plight of women in the Congo. That play was a great experience. I played the part of Commander Osembeng, who was a really evil character, and it was a tough journey to make each night. It was a very successful play and the lead actress Jenny Jules won the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the lead character Mama Nadi.
I am currently in the cast of A Doll’s House playing the role of Dr Rank. It is a part that I didn’t really think I would get. I didn’t know the play very well. But when I met with the director and moved on from there it has proved to be a real joy and is fantastic.
In terms of television, a long time ago I did a series called The Knock, which was about Customs and Excise. I played the part of Barry Christie, and I had the time to develop the character and I really enjoyed it.
I also had a great time working on Waking The Dead, where I can remember having a very emotional scene alongside Trevor Eve.
In film, being in the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the most expensive project I have been on, I had a lot of fun and made a lot of friends. It was a really fun movie.
I did a film called Shooting Dogs with John Hurt, Hugh Dancy and Dominique Horwitz. The film is about the Rwandan genocide. I had to ask a soldier to kill me and my family, and it was a very tough role to play.
You also have many credits for ‘voice’ roles, do you have a favourite?
One that comes to mind is when I took over from Colin McFarland who was working on The Adventures of Captain Pugwash, where he was doing about six characters, but had to leave the show for some reason. That was a joy to do. The first thing they said to me was, “You can never be too big in this medium, and you can go over the top as much as you want”. That show was exhausting but a lot of fun.
Screen, stage, radio or voice-overs – where is your heart?
I would say that it flickers between stage and screen. In an ideal world I would just do theatre and film. Being in theatre can be so ‘frightening’, but once you are out there on stage it is a joy and it is all yours – it is an actor’s medium. Film is the director’s medium. I agree with Michael Caine when he says “The theatre is an operation with the scalpel, I think movie acting is an operation with the laser.” I certainly wouldn’t want to give up either acting on stage or film.
Your current stage work includes performing as Dr Rank in A Doll’s House, firstly at the Young Vic, then the Duke of York’s Theatre and in 2014 in New York. What do you enjoy most about performing the role?
There is so much going on underneath the lines. Although it was written over a hundred years ago, it is still relevant today. It is to do with loving relationships, and I guess they haven’t really changed. Dr Rank is a friend of the family, but he is also in love with Nora, and he is dying. To be honest, when you are working with actors such as Hattie Morahan it is an absolute pleasure. It is a joy every night.
We did the play at the Young Vic before going into the West End and I did talk with Hattie about me making some small changes to the way I played the role and she was happy to go with it. It has been an absolute dream playing the role and being a part of the play.
In 2006, A Doll’s House held the distinction of being the world’s most performed play. Why do you think the play has continued to be so popular?
Obviously it is great writing, but I do think it is down to loving relationships essentially remaining the same, and with the play being about the side that you show to your partner. The play talks to us at that level.
The thing about Nora is that she is playing different roles to different people. With her husband she is the ‘doll’, she caters for his every need, doesn’t challenge him too much, playing a sexy type of role. With Dr Rank I like to think she shows more of who she really is, and doesn’t have to pretend so much with him.
What are you looking forward to most about performing A Doll’s House in front of a New York audience?
I feel petrified! I go to Los Angeles quite a lot but haven’t been to New York for a long time. On the one hand I am really looking forward to it, but on the other hand what if they hate it? Obviously, I am hoping they will love it. My experience of working in front of American audiences is that they tend to be very vocal and very warm. I do think the play is universal and hope they will like it.
Your stage credits include Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice for The Royal Shakespeare Company. What can you tell us about performing with the RSC?
It is fabulous. Michael Boyd, who was the director at the time, his ethos was that not only were you rehearsing the play but that you were also going to get a kind of education, in the sense that you got to experience so many other things. For example, during the rehearsal period in London, we would not only rehearse the play but also have sessions on text and verse speaking. We also looked at the Wiesner Technique, flamenco dancing and medieval dancing. So that in itself was wonderful.
We also performed in the new revamped theatre and the space and acoustics were brilliant. You could whisper on stage and still be heard at the back of the stalls. Also working with great actors and technicians from British theatre was a brilliant experience and an absolute joy. Working with Michael Boyd and Rupert Goold was an absolute dream.
Apart from performing in A Doll’s House, what else does 2014 hold for you?
Right now I am finishing off working as part of a radio drama company. I have got a project that I have been trying to write, off and on for the last year and a half, which I hope to finally knuckle down and get done. I have written a couple of scripts which people in the business have told me show promise, which is nice.
Away from acting, what do you like to do to chill out?
A long time ago I did a film with Trevor Eve, which was the first time I met him, in a film called Doomwatch, where I had to be a climber, so I did a bit of climbing for that and really fell in love with climbing but then stopped. One of the guys in A Doll’s House, Nick, is a climber and he has reawakened my passion for climbing so that is what I am getting back in to. We meet up when we can and at some point we will go away and climb something very small. It is easy for him, but a challenge for me.
Have you any message for those following your career?
I did a show called Line of Duty, which was on the BBC and it is coming back quite soon. It has Keeley Hawes and Adrian Dunbar, so that’s the next thing. After that I haven’t the faintest idea what I will be doing.
Steve Toussaint stars in Line of Duty which returns to BBC2 this February, and will also continue to star in A Doll’s House as it transfers to New York between 21st February-16th March’
Interview questions by Neil Cheesman @LondonTheatre1
Updated 27th November 2015