Q: What did you like about the Caligula script ?
I just thought Caligula would be an interesting part after playing Boy George whom everyone loved for so long, and being so well-liked on stage. I wanted to take on a character that would be less attractive to people, and try something different. Unfortunately they put me in make-up and a dress again, which made it slightly more difficult... I think Caligula is a really interesting story anyway without it being the musical that we did. To take that piece of history and turn it into a rock musical is fairly cool and I wanted to be part of it.
Q: What was it like playing an evil character ?
That was fantastic ! It means that you can get all that shit that you have to keep inside yourself out. As an actor in this business you have to be so bloody coy with people whom you can’t even stand half the time, and it was actually really nice to get a chance to go to work every night and be a complete cunt, because it gets it all out of you !
Q: Do you think it is possible to feel any sympathy for Caligula in spite of all the horrible deeds he perpetrated ?
I think it is imperative that you do feel sympathy for Caligula and I believe that people did. I mean, Caligula had a bit of a fucked-up life with his mum and dad being killed, and screwing his sister. Apparently he was really sick with syphilis and that was what began his crazyism. I think there’s sympathy in all evil characters, no one’s purely evil...
Q: Do you think you made him appear better than he really was ?
I made the character my interpretation of what I thought he was, so that’s my answer.
Q: Have you got an anecdote for the nude scene ?
Well, there’s no story behind the nude scene. It was almost entirely my idea because I felt that it shows his complete disregard for almost everyone in his life except his sister. It was another side of the depth of his character, and also I figured that if it was bad people would remember my penis and therefore they’d love it ! (laughs)
Q: Do you prefer playing real-life characters or fictional ones ?
To be honest it’s been so long since I’ve played a fictional one they’ve all become fictional to me. I don’t think of Boy George or Caligula as being real, otherwise you’re becoming an impersonator, which I am not. I look at them as being characters I have to imbue a part of my personality into. Obviously there are true life stories that you can look into but I never thought of Caligula or George as trying to represent that person as they were 100 %. My job as an actor is to make the character interesting enough for an audience to be able to sit through a 2-hour piece. That’s the way I approach all characters, fictional or not.
Q: What made you want to become an actor ?
Whoopi Goldberg in The Colour Purple.
Q: How old were you ?
Very young, I think I was 12 or 13 when I first saw it, maybe even a bit younger than that actually. My Mum always wanted me to become a singer, but I didn’t want to, I didn’t think people would ever take me seriously as an actor once they’d heard me sing.. I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to do any acting like I have done if I had gone straight out there and tried to be a singer. So I went into the acting world with the knowledge that I’d be able to build up both sides of the business and I love it. I love going to work, and my life is so bloody hideous that it’s really nice to pretend to be someone else !
Q: What was your very first acting experience ?
That was when I was 7 years old in the school play we did, Frosty the Snowman the musical. I played little Billy who rolled up a newspaper and threw it at a snowman. I have to say if I was going to win a Tony for anything it would have been that role ! If I had been on Broadway I would have won a Tony, I can tell you right now ! (laughs)
Q: Do you remember that experience well, was it a big revelation ?
No, the thing I remember most about that year is, I got into trouble for banging the school drum in the middle of the music class and I had to write a letter of apology to the music teacher. So I guess I was more interested in having to apologize than the show.
Q: The inspiration came later then…
I wanted to be a French teacher for a little while at one point and then I went back to just being a prostitute, which is what acting is, isn’t it ? I’m just a well-paid hooker basically ! (laughs)
Q: Can you tell me about your grandmother whom you used to do shows with at home when you were a child ?
I was like 6 years old and used to do the cancan, would do little shows for Mum… She would come in from the bingo where she was working, and Gran would open the curtains by the window… I would come out from behind and do singing songs and acting, kicking my legs…
My grandmother was a very great supporter of my talent, as was my mum, and she would have been very proud of me today if she could be here. I’m sure she’s very proud of me up there somewhere.
Q: Was she your mum’s mum ?
My mum’s mum, yes, she died in 1996.
Q: Can you tell me more about your drama teacher ?
Mhairi Gilcrist ? She was another one of those people who gave me the space to develop my dream and my talent. The people that allowed me to do my own thing were always the ones I remembered.
Q: Why was she so special ?
Because she was my drama teacher.
Q: But I suppose you’ve had several drama teachers ?
No, I only ever had one, in high school, and it was her.
Q: What was the most important thing that she taught you ?
To be yourself, to never ever ever ever ever let anyone make you any different from who you are today. I followed her advice and it’s done me very well.
Q: Can you tell me about Mountview Theatre School ? I think you got a grant ?
Yes, I did. I can’t quite remember what the grant was… In the first year they paid all my fees and they gave me a living allowance, in the second year my parents had to cover some of the fees but I still got my living allowance and then in the third year I had no living allowance and just some of my fees were covered. My parents covered the rest in the end.
I’m very lucky, I mean, like I was talking tonight on stage about how much it costs to get further educated, where I come from it’s free. My parents paid I think about $3,000 in the first year, about $3,000 in the second year and about $5,000 in the third year. So in comparison to what it costs to train here [Ed. note: the USA], it was practically a give-away for me.
Q: Today what do you like most about being an actor ?
Well, it’s not just the acting side of acting that’s fun you see, I meet lots of friends in plays I do. As an actor you get a ready-made family, sometimes you walk away and you forget those people and they forget you and you move on and things change, but sometimes you meet people like Bill Coyle and Jen Lebeau… I think the best thing about being an actor is that you get to meet new people everyday.
Q: Of all the characters you’ve played which one is closest to your personality ?
I’m not really sure that any one of the characters is particularly close to my personality. Obviously there’s a little bit of me inside of every character that I play, and I hope that’s true of every actor otherwise I’m a bad one ! There are aspects of Boy George that are very much like me, there are aspects of Caligula that are very much like me…
Q: Which aspects ?
Oh I couldn’t even begin to pick one in particular. There are days when I wake up and feel like Caligula, there are days when I feel like Boy George, and there are days when I feel like Angelo from Measure for Measure. All the characters I’ve played have some kind of resonance in me.
Q: I’ve read that you studied sign language a few years ago…
Yes I did, a long time ago, and really it was my mother who did most of the studying. I did a few of the weeks at college but I wasn’t old enough to enjoy it the same way my Mum did, so she would come back and teach me. Then she joined the deaf club so I would go with her every week and I got quite good at the British sign language at that point.
In the first play that I did outside of college, Approaching Zanzibar, I had to speak in sign language and that was really the first time I had ever used it professionally. It was really cool to know that I could speak that way. But it’s been a long time since I talked sign language.
Q: What was the first reason why you started it ?
My mum started doing it. My grandmother was quite deaf and my mother herself is now partially deaf, so that exists in our family. I think that she felt it was something she wanted to do. As soon as she came up with the idea I just thought sign language is such a beautiful language that I wanted to be able to express myself in that way. It’s a great thing for an actor to do because it uses the whole body so it’s a great acting lesson too.
Q: What was the reason why you started studying Spanish at some point ?
I love Spain, it is my favourite country in the whole wide world ! My biggest disappointment about the end of Taboo was that I wasn’t going to make enough money to buy my house in Mallorca. I’ve been to Mallorca probably 5 or 6 times now, I took my parents there recently in August and they loved it. I just love Spain, I love the people, and Spanish is such a beautiful language… I’ve been all over the country — Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia — but I just fell in love with the island of Mallorca. I really want to live there, I’m going to die there ! (laughs)
Q: Did you get to speak Spanish when you were in Mallorca ?
Oh yeah, I mean I try… My Mum and I had the phrase book out and I pulled out as much as I’d learnt in my six weeks of lessons. Mum would practice her Spanish, and I would always be complimented, people would say “Oh you have a good voice, you have a good accent, good Spanish”. I don’t know it well enough yet, hence my reason for wanting to buy a house there, I’d learn it faster.
Q: Do you play an instrument ?
I can bang out some chords on the piano... If you hand me some music and give me a month, I’ll be able to play the song, but I don’t play an instrument with any competency.
Q: When did you start the piano ?
Oh God, I started and I finished within the same year ! I taught myself the piano after that.
END OF PART 1