It’s exactly 20 years since Mark Addy was in Sheffield, making a small- budget British movie that would cause seismic waves in the lives of all involved. The movie was The Full Monty, a story of a group of men who rediscover their dignity and purpose by standing on stage and exposing their dignity – and the rest.
“It was a crazy time, a very weird introduction to the world of film,” says Addy.
It’s arguable that of all the cast members, it’s Addy who has had the most unexpected career. Tom Wilkinson and Robert Carlyle, have, of course, made strides in Hollywood, but who among The Full Monty’s alumni has played Fred Flintstone, worked with Ridley Scott, been the lead in an American sitcom and played a pivotal role in one of television’s biggest hits of the decade, Game of Thrones? Mark Addy, that’s who.
The York born and raised actor is back in Sheffield for the world premiere of The Nap, a new comedy thriller, set in the world of snooker, by Hull-born Richard Bean, the writer responsible for the theatrical juggernaut One Man, Two Guvnors.
“We shot Full Monty in 1996, so 20 years this year,” he says, reminiscing. “It’s the first time I’ve spent time here since then. It’s really strange to be here and walking around the city. Of course an awful lot has changed in that time. I miss the cooling towers! You look and think, ‘Well, there’s a bit of architecture the city will never get back’. It was of no use, so it’s gone, but it feels like there’s something missing from the landscape.
“We shot the film in the less salubrious areas of the city – because that’s how they wanted the movie to look. I didn’t think we were doing Sheffield’s tourist industry any favours, but in its own way it helped.”
Just in case you don’t know the film The Full Monty, here’s a recap. A group of steel workers find themselves literally and metaphorically redundant in Steel City. Led by optimist Gaz, played by Robert Carlyle, a band of brothers hatch a plan to make money by whipping their kit off in a club in front of a drunken, paying, audience.
Keighley-born Simon Beaufoy was the writer who delved into the story and wrote a script in which the characters were far more than caricatures. Addy played Dave, the member of the stripping crew who, embarrassed by his overweight frame, wants to drop out.
“It’s really extraordinary to think that was the first film I ever did. I’d done a bit of TV and theatre, but it really kicked the doors open for me,” says Addy. “When I do think back, I just feel really lucky. Nobody knew at the time – none of us – what that film was going to do. I remember thinking while we were making it that I didn’t know if it was going to play outside of Yorkshire, because it was so rooted in the North. Next thing we know, it’s a huge hit in Japan and you just think, ‘Eh, what? How did that…?’.
“They had gone through a period where a load of middle management had been laid off, so the character that Tom Wilkinson played was someone they could relate to.”
The fact that he thought he was creating something that wouldn’t travel further than the Midlands, perhaps gives the key to the secret of Addy’s long career. He says: “You never know. I could never have predicted what The Full Monty was going to do, none of us could and that’s the thing – you never know, so you always treat each job equally. You can be in a particularly prestigious cast with a big budget and it might do nothing.”
Big-hearted Addy is not unlike the film which made his name. Though The Full Monty was superficially about a band of brothers triumphing against the odds, it was actually a death throes-scream for traditional British industries.
Similarly, on the surface, Addy, with the cheery face and big frame was, for many years, cast as “the fat, jolly friend”. Look beneath the surface and very quickly you’ll find he is so much more.
Last time I saw him he was in London at the National Theatre playing the title role in Tony Harrison’s Fram, a dense and poetic piece of theatre that left some scratching their heads.
By the time he arrived at the National to work with Harrison he had already taken on the role of Robert Baratheon in the epic Game of Thrones. Playing a central role in one of the biggest hit of television in modern times, Addy appears to have taken it in his stride.
“There are certain characters you get asked to play who feel quite similar – you’re the best friend or the reliable sidekick, but then something like Game of Thrones comes along,” he says.
“If that was a UK production they wouldn’t have cast me in that part. The Americans though, they looked at what I did in the audition, they weren’t thinking, ‘Can’t cast him in this because people will remember him as the funny one in that other thing’.
“That’s why I got into this game. I think people who accept a long running role on a soap it’s good that they have that, but I like doing something different every day.”
Getting into the game was no easy feat for Addy. When he was a teenager he spent three weeks on work experience at the set-building department of York Theatre Royal and enjoyed the atmosphere so much that he stayed on part-time.
It was watching performances night after night from the wings, that served as an apprenticeship for Addy. One night he asked Imelda Staunton for advice – she wrote down the address of RADA, he applied, was accepted, and the rest is movie and television history.
He’s played opposite Michael Keaton (Jack Frost) and Heath Ledger (A Knight’s Tale). He’s been directed by Ridley Scott (Robin Hood) and worked with Joan Collins (Flintstones) and now he’s back in Sheffield. Before we move on to why, there is one other, perhaps most intriguing, entry on his CV. Last year BBC One viewers will have seen Addy play Hercules in the ill-fated series Atlantis.
“Yeah, when they called about that one my response was ‘are you drunk?’. That was a weird one,” says Addy. “They said you’ll be filming in Morocco and Chepstow. Not a bad balance, you might think. Two weeks in Morocco, six and a half months in Chepstow, South Wales, in a freezing old Tesco distribution warehouse. Make-up would be saying ‘we’ll just spray some more sweat on you’ and I’d be saying ‘really? You can see my breath’.”
The show was cancelled after two series and Addy doesn’t hide his disappointment, saying they made a show aimed at the Saturday tea-time slot, but it was broadcast when the audience for that slot had gone to bed. Addy’s reputation remains intact. So why is he in Sheffield in The Nap?
“Given that I do get a fair amount of film and TV work that involves comedy, it’s useful to keep your hand in and be in the same room as the audience so that you know what and where the line is, where you draw it,” he says. “It’s keeping your comedic skills honed in a way. Also doing a play, you feel you are a part of the company, you’re all in the same boat, you’re taking it from the page to the performance and its unedited and if it goes wrong, it goes wrong and you find a way out, but everybody in that room, cast, crew and audience are part of the same thing. It reminds me of why I got into the business in the first place. It’s good for the soul.
“Plus, I’m a big fan of Richard Bean, and to be in a new play of his, about snooker, at the Crucible, directed by Richard Wilson…”
Addy holds out his hands and laughs a big, hearty laugh. “What’s not to love?”
n The Nap, Sheffield Crucible, March 11 to April 2. 0114 249 6000, sheffieldtheatres.co.uk