Yorkshire-born actor Andrew Dunn is taking to the stage in the Full Monty. He talks to Phil Penfold about his career and working with the much-missed Victoria Wood.
When the careers teacher asked him what he wanted to do when he left school, Andrew Dunn instinctively told him: “I want to be an actor”.
He recalls the conversation: “When he’d finally stopped laughing and saw that I was serious he just moved on, shaking his head slightly. Same when I went into the sixth form. I was told to get real. I was told to either go down the mines – and there were mines back then – or to get a job in the shipyards. Failing that I could always join the services. But looking back, I can see that they were just doing their jobs.”
Dunn was born in Leeds before the family moved to Tyneside when he was just nine. These days he’s back in Yorkshire living in York with his wife, the actress Andrina Carroll. He feels at home in the city where their son Elliott, 23, works. “It’s pretty much in the centre of everything. And of course, it’s a very nice place – even if it has changed a lot in the years we’ve been here,” he says. “When we arrived there were still a lot of people getting to work on their bikes in the various businesses that thrived back then. Now so many of them closed down and York turned into the tourist destination that it is today.”
He is about to hit the road again in The Full Monty – the stage version of the hit 1997 film, about a group of newly redundant Sheffield steel workers who reluctantly decide to set up as Yorkshire rivals to the Chippendales dance and strip act.
Dunn plays Gerald Cooper (played by Tom Wilkinson in the movie), who was foreman and overseer to the lads when they were in work. “He’s a few steps up the pecking order and, of course, being made jobless is devastating for him, it almost breaks his spirit. He doesn’t tell his wife that he’s out of work. He’s like the people that you saw at the job centres – men of a certain age turning up, looking exactly as if they were off to work when they left their homes. It was a blow to their pride and dignity. I’ve been up that road – so many actors have. You’re employed one minute, the job finishes and you’re looking for another job the next. So yes, I can identify with Gerald.”
At 61, Dunn is, as he puts it, “the father” of this company. “I am the oldest bloke in the show. I don’t just mean the cast, I mean the crew as well.”
The tour is a long one with dates running across the UK and Ireland until May next year. “I have to say that there’s a really good feel to it all. They’re nice people to work with, we all get on with each other really well and it’s a good piece, too. Simon Beaufoy adapted it from his film script and it played to packed houses when an earlier production was on at the Crucible.”
Dunn’s big acting break came when he was cast in two John Godber plays – Up n’ Under and Bouncers – another Yorkshire connection. “John was a few years ahead of me at Bretton Hall”, he explains. “We went there because it was a way into acting via teaching. My mum and dad were a bit anxious about the performing things, but teaching – even if it was teaching drama – had a different status to it. So I was 27 before I actually got my first professional wage from any stage work.”
His acting career has taken him all over the country and while he likes, where possible, to go back and see his family, he also likes to familiarise himself with where he’s staying. “I really get to know the place we are playing. I go to the museums, the galleries, I walk around the place and try to get to know it.”
It is now 18 years since the popular TV series Dinnerladies finished its second and final series. Andrew played the cynical and rather world-weary canteen manager opposite Victoria Woods and still gets recognised in the street. “We went over to Scarborough for a day out the other week and I think I was stopped about nine times as we walked around the town. I was getting asked for autographs and selfies and it was people of all ages. Youngsters and grannies alike. It’s still shown on the Gold channel, so it must be getting new audiences. People come up and quote lines at me, that’s how well they remember it.”
It reminds him of working alongside the multi-talented, and much missed, Victoria Wood. “It was – on the whole – a very enjoyable experience and I look back on it very fondly. Victoria was a complete and consummate professional, she was a perfectionist.”
He remembers the day she died. “I was out in York and Andrina called me. I couldn’t believe it. I went into shock. I knew that she’d been quite poorly, but we all thought that she’d pull through, put all that behind her. It was so terribly sad.”
Dunn has seen the acting profession change and not always for the better. “There was a time when every TV company in Britain had its own casting department. The output was phenomenal – and quality stuff, too. I stop and wonder, sometimes, where everyone went,” he says.
“I know that Yorkshire has some fine producing companies, but we have lost too many, as well. Back in the day, you’d hear of theatre in education going out into schools... the cuts have put paid to that. I hear of so many younger actors who simply cannot get a foot on the ladder.”
However, he is looking forward to the Full Monty tour. “I am now quite comfortable being in a small thong, “ he says, laughing. “That was not always the case at first. Now, I am relaxed about ‘thong acting’. Whether the audiences are comfortable with seeing me in it... well, that’s another case entirely.”
The Full Monty, Grand Opera House, York, October 15 – 20. Box office on 0844 871 3024.