The Big Interview: Mark Addy

Heath Ledger and Mark Addy in a Knight's Tale
Heath Ledger and Mark Addy in a Knight's Tale
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Let’s say I interview an actor on the phone and they’re coming to Yorkshire with a show. Nine times out of 10, they will finish the conversation by saying something like, “Do come and have a drink after the show” and – I never do.

Outside the stage door of the National Theatre waiting for Mark Addy to arrive, standing in a gaggle of autograph hunters, I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of having finally accepted an invitation to meet for a drink after a show. We’ve already done the interview, this is for relaxation.

Then Addy arrives, and everything is fine. Far from any awkwardness, and despite the fact that he’s just finished given a storming performance on stage a few minutes ago, he seems like an entirely normal, friendly, chatty bloke.

He starts rolling a cigarette, signs a couple of autographs and announces, “It’s bloody pandemonium in there, shall we find somewhere a bit quieter?”

Inside the National some sort of after show party is taking place. But Addy, despite being in one of the shows that is receiving high praise and the reason for tonight’s celebrations, would rather have a quiet pint elsewhere.

He is in no mood for sharing champagne with the sort of people who would attend the opening of an envelope if it got them close to a “celeb” (you know the sort – hugs, air-kisses, shrieking at the sight of a “friend” they haven’t seen for, ooh, hours). That crowd couldn’t be further from what you might call Addy’s “sort”.

A Hollywood star who has worked alongside Russell Crowe, Heath Ledger and Michael Keaton, he demonstrably remains the Yorkshire lad who started his career building sets at York Theatre Royal. When we get to the bar, he readily accepts my offer to buy the drinks. You can take the boy out of Yorkshire...

Maybe it’s something an actor never lets go of – the fear of being out of work and living in penury (and always saying yes when someone offers to buy a drink).

He might have an impressive Hollywood CV these days, but between leaving drama school in 1984 and the major hit movie that made his name, The Full Monty, there were 13 long years.

Before drama school, Addy was a young lad who, after three weeks’ work experience in the set building department of York Theatre Royal, kept working at the theatre on a part-time basis as a schoolboy.

“I went there for three weeks and loved it, so I just kept working. The guy who ran the department offered me a job but my mum and dad said I had to get a qualification, so I stayed on at school to do my A levels. Eventually, though, the hours I was putting into the theatre and into my school work meant something had to give so I decided to knock my education on the head.

“I think because my folks could see I had found something I loved doing, they were happy to support me.”

One wonders how true that is – a 17-year-old announcing he is going to give up school to build sets in a theatre receiving the backing of his parents. But it turned out to be the best decision for a young Addy and provided him with a training ground that he says “you couldn’t have paid for”.

“Rather than disappear in between scene changes I’d stand and watch from the wings, and watch the shows, see what was working and why. That was invaluable”

He also got the opportunity to speak to the actors, including Imelda Staunton, who gave him the address for Rada in London, where he auditioned, was accepted, and studied his craft.

Often, Addy doesn’t really get to show off his range. This is mainly because he is, to put it politely, a big lad and big lads tend to do comedy – and broad comedy at that.

He played a big lad in The Full Monty; he was perfect casting for Friar Tuck in Ridley Scott’s recent Robin Hood; his body shape was perfect to play Fred Flintstone, the brontosaurus burger eating caveman in a live action Hollywood version of the cartoon.

Probably his biggest success – or the one that has most made him a recognisable face in the US, is a show most of us are unlikely to have heard of – Still Standing. It is another example of the sort of broad comedy that producers look to Addy to provide.

This CBS early evening networked comedy show has an enormous audiences, ran for four years from 2005 and made Addy a famous face in America. “My character was a bit like Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin,” he says. “Basically a fat idiot.”

Cast to type again.

Some recent projects, however, have given Addy the chance to really flex those Rada defined acting muscles. He appeared alongside a stunning cast in the Red Riding trilogy, shot in Yorkshire and he has been winning great praise for his portrayal of King Robert Baratheon in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Not many laughs playing a tyrannical former great warrior who turns to heavy drinking when his best days are behind him.

On the night we meet he is playing a member of Stalin’s secret police in the bizarre and brilliant Collaborators at the National.

Over a pint in a quiet bar he admits that he realised that some “kids” might only know him as the man from the Tesco adverts, which spurs him on to get stuck into some “proper drama”, hence going back to the stage.

“Being in the same room as the audience and in something as brilliant as this, that’s why you do it.

“There was a period when I had been doing just film and telly for a long time and I realised I had to do something on stage before it became too scary to do it.”

Collaborators is written by John Hodge, who wrote the screenplays for Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Mark Addys stars alongside the man considered the greatest stage actor of his generation, Simon Russell Beale.

When you look at the career as a whole, one wonders if coming back to the National, where he worked early in his career, was part of a master plan.

It seems well thought out – learn your craft in theatre, take a role in a hit movie that opens the door to Hollywood, make some big bucks in some impressive films, fit in some dark and gritty work to remind people how good you are, every now and then, fit in a hit show at the National Theatre.

Addy laughs at the idea of having a plan.

“There’s no tick list like ‘star in a movie, play at the National’. My tick list is get up on a morning, put on socks. Maybe have some toast,” he says.

“You want to be able to pay the bills and not fall by the wayside – I feel really quite lucky to have been able to do that. Out of my year at drama school there are only about half a dozen still working as actors. That’s out of a class of 23.”

A career turning point came when Addy was touring in the early Nineties with a John Godber play, April in Paris. He’d been schlepping round the country in the two-hander for eight months, but it all looked worth the effort – the play was going to the West End.

“But the short version of the story was that it opened in the West End three weeks before we finished the tour with ’im and ’er off the telly. It was a case to me of, ‘sorry, you didn’t have the profile’.”

It was a watershed moment. Addy decided no more theatre. He appeared in a few TV shows (mainly comedies) and his first film was a tiny budget comedy set in Yorkshire about a group of unemployed steel workers from Sheffield who decide to strip their way out of financial hardship.

“We didn’t think Full Monty would play outside Yorkshire. We thought that people in London wouldn’t be interested. I’ve met people from Peru who have seen it. It was really popular in Japan.

“That was my first film and it really opened doors. But it was a really quite weird introduction to the world of film, to be in something that was so popular.”

He’s got used to it.

The family still live in York and, even though he has a place in London for when he is working, he spends as much time as possible back in the Broad Acres.

He laughs at the question of how he found the LA lifestyle. “I never really got involved in that. I’m not a LA lifestyle type. When I was out there I lived in Santa Monica where all the Brits tend to go because you can get British newspapers and proper fish and chips. It’s a bit like Brighton.”

Our time is up, he’s off to get ready to pull off a brilliant performance in Collaborators, but before he goes, he asks if I fancy meeting up for a jar after the show.

I say yes and I don’t even mind that the jars are on me.

Collaborators will be broadcast live to cinemas across the UK and the world as part of National Theatre Live on December 1. To find your nearest cinema, log on to www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ntlive. It is in rep at the National Theatre until March 31. Tickets on 020 7452 3000.