I had the honour of interviewing Rupert on the Sunday afternoon at MCM Comic Con in London. He was just as obliging and delightful about it as you would imagine. One of the reasons I like him so much is that, whether it’s on panels or individually, he really does try to give honest and meaningful answers to whatever he is asked.
So, let’s get into it! I started off with a couple of easy ones…
What has been your favourite role, and why?
I’ll say Sir Leon [Merlin], because it’s opened up lots of doors, and I got to spend time with people, get close to people, film with amazing people, and film in amazing locations.
What was your favourite location?
Everyone says that!
Yeah, but it was amazing. It really was.
What do you look for in a director?
One that wants to hire me! Someone who has done their work, and is very passionate about the project they’re doing – and who I trust and can get the best out of me.
You really like Metin Hüseyin.
Love Metin, yeah. Love him.
Any particular reason?
I think he’s just kind, and very good and very gentle, and not too much ego. He wants the best out of actors, he really cares about performance. So, that’s why I love him.
What did you do in the few years between leaving school and studying with LAMDA?
I did lots of things. I taught in a school, I worked in the City, I worked in The GAP, I directed plays for children, taught drama – quite a lot of things.
Actually, when I first left school, I got accepted into musical theatre at drama school, but I couldn’t get the funding together. Which, in hindsight – I think when you’ve first left school, you’re desperate to start your life – and then you go, actually, it’s quite good to not do that. But obviously I wanted to be able to do musicals. I waited, and started doing a couple of plays before drama school – but it was very hard, and I knew I had to train. I applied for LAMDA, and that was it. Because by then I knew I didn’t want to just study musicals. I liked them, but I knew that I wanted to do other things.
Do you think it’s useful, though, to live a ‘real’ life for a while, work in ‘real’ jobs?
Yes, I think so. It’s weird because when you first do acting at school, it’s an extracurricular thing, which is amazing and really fun. However, when you go into it as a job, sometimes it’s so… it takes over your whole life, and sometimes you need to have other passions to keep you sane – and in acting you need to learn a lot of different things, different skills – that’s one of the reasons I love it.
I think it’s good to take time, but some people’s careers happen when they’re very young, and others’ careers are – I like to think I was going to be a ‘leading man’ as opposed to a ‘leading boy’. [laughs] Well, maybe not ‘leading’, but ‘man’.
I think it’s just kind of going at it differently. You could do so many different versions of Much Ado About Nothing, so many different productions. I like the character a lot, I enjoy playing it. I don’t know that I’d be going into it because of a specific thing I’d do differently.
Company, I would maybe do it with more confidence, in terms of rehearsals, because you’re questioning yourself a lot. I just find it a very interesting part, and there’s so many different ways you can go down – so going back into the rehearsal room to try those things, I’d like to do that, and getting to sing the songs again, that would be great.
What is the Shakespeare role that most intrigues you, and why? (Not necessarily one you’d want to play.)
I think Posthumous in Cymbeline. I did Cymbeline ages ago, and I liked that part. I did a speech from it in drama school. There’s some amazing parts that have been done so well, but I think there’s something interesting about the ‘unknown’ ones as well, and Posthumous is an interesting character.
What do you think about the idea that the actor’s body doesn’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s acting? (It experiences everything as real.) If you think it’s true, do you avoid certain roles because of it?
No, I think there’s some things that you go – I wouldn’t necessarily put myself in an adult movie, and I wouldn’t try to sell something that would make me look stupid, but I think that’s very different. Because, at the end of the day, you’re playing a part. I’m not a method actor, but you’re getting into a part where you’re getting to a certain point. But it’s very different. Sometimes in rehearsals you’re trying to make it look natural, make it look comfortable for people. I think there is a difference, though obviously you’ve got the way you walk, the way you do things, and on the whole you bring yourself to it, and then you see what’s similar to you, and then work outwards.
It doesn’t feel like – Every job I do – I don’t fall in love as the character does, and I don’t hate the people the character hates. If I had to murder someone, I’m not thinking… That’s just different from me, but I’m bringing certain things to it.
I’m not really answering the question!
No, that’s cool. So you keep yourself separate.
Because it’s not real. You go in, and you put the costume on. And then you take the costume off and go home to your real life, and that’s very different. And real! I think it’s hard starting out, because you want to be liked, and you’re going… are you showing yourself, it’s a vulnerable thing. But it is very different. I think there are people who struggle with that, and people who don’t.
I think … I enjoy it. I always liked the idea of the evil character – but when people get it right is when you like the character who does something bad. Everyone’s got a darkness to them. Neil LaBute wrote some amazing plays which find the evil in everyday life, and it’s exploring those things like how easy one little mistake is, or how easy going from being very kind to being nice, or from genuinely nice to being narcissistic is, and it’s very different. I enjoy playing it.
And in some ways it’s easier. If you’re the baddie holding someone hostage and torturing them, that’s the easy part, because you act really normal. The guy being tied up and screaming, that’s the hard part. Then when you offer them a cup of tea, that’s really sinister. Shameless was really easy. But it was really sinister, because the girl was dressed in a school uniform, and I looked at her. And people went, “Oh… that’s horrendous!” So it was an easy role to play, weirdly – I mean, there were some hard things, but Metin was the director, so I felt safe.
It’s fun – you want to play roles that aren’t you. You get to do things in ‘fake’ life, and you get to explore things that you don’t explore every day – which is why you become an actor.
You’ve taken part in Carols in the City for Marie Curie. Does this charity have a particular significance for you?
No, I try to do as much as I can for various charities. I was asked by them two years ago to do a Carols in the City concert, and I couldn’t do it. [He appeared in the 2016 Carols in the City instead.]
It’s always nice to help out, if you can, and do fun things, and give money to charity. Marie Curie is a charity I really believe strongly in, and there’s some others I do as well – Rainbow Trust, Cancer Research. It’s just that if you can do as much as you can – not that my celebrity does much, but if you can help make people more aware, then I like to do more and help out. Because a lot of the time it’s about yourself and how you’re feeling, but when you can make a tiny bit of a difference, it’s great. And people might come and see me reading who wouldn’t ordinarily go and do that – like yourself!
Will you be at Carols in the City this year as well?
I don’t think I am, not that one. I might try and do another one, but I don’t know. It’s quite nice to do. It feels like it’s Christmas.
What’s the significance of the ring you wear on your little finger?
I’m not wearing it today!
That’s the first time I’ve seen you without it!
I’ve still got it. … It’s a family ring. Me and my brother and sister all wear the same ring. It’s like a posh tattoo.
You’re particularly lovely and generous with fans. What are your thoughts on the whole actor / fan relationship?
It’s very nice meeting people. When you do a play, you meet a lot of people, and I think that’s great. It takes two things: you’re only as good as the audience. If your show isn’t watched by people and liked by people, then the show just doesn’t survive. But also when I was younger – and even now, I’m still a person who meets people and gets excited. At these events [such as Comic Con] I see people – or I play cricket with people who I used to pretend to play cricket with in my back garden when I was a child – and I get excited. So I know how much it means to people – if people want to meet me and they’re excited, then I am in a position to make people feel happy, and I feel very privileged. One of the big things with Merlin is the kids you got to meet, and who were in awe of meeting you, and you could go talk in schools, and do things that didn’t cost me anything but made people happy.
I like meeting people, and we’ve been very lucky, and on the whole everyone’s been very polite and continues to watch us.
What is the Crown Court project recently listed on your CV? Is this the ‘little thing’ you did for ITV that you mentioned in the panel?
Yes, I think it will be on next year . It was a big show in the ’70s and ’80s, and they’re bringing it back. They made a pilot and they’re doing a one-hour episode. It’s based on a true crime, set in the courtroom. This guy’s on trial, and they’re trying to work out whether he committed murder or not.
What part do you play?
The guy who’s on trial for murder. I think that’s all I can say.
Golly gosh! OK, I know you won’t tell me what the outcome was, but is it at the back of your mind all the time, that you know for sure?
What was really nice was that when I auditioned for it, I didn’t know the outcome. But then I was told the outcome, and I didn’t want to know. Because if you know that this guy was guilty (or not) then you’re gonna go, well, this is how I’ll play it. But again – and this goes back to the evil character question – it’s much more interesting to like the person. It’s like all those Agatha Christie films, if you’re watching and you see a baddie, (1) you know it’s him, but (2) you know it probably isn’t him, because that’s too obvious. When it’s a character you really like, it’s more interesting. I’ve been watching Gotham a bit, and it’s fascinating how you start liking the baddies so much you don’t want them to get caught.
So, with Crown Court, at first I didn’t know, and then I was told, but then they said they didn’t know if it was actually the right decision in real life. It’s showing how you can go to prison for something you didn’t do, and vice versa. It’s about some people making a choice, which a lot of the time works, and a lot of times doesn’t.
Are we ever going to see Writers Retreat? It seems to have a distributor now in the US, but I haven’t found any further details.
I’ve no idea, I haven’t heard anything. Someone who was in Writers Retreat was in Crown Court with me, and they still didn’t know either.
Did you die in it?
I don’t think I can say, in case it does come out. … I can’t even remember, it was so long ago!
What can you tell us about The Tutor?
I don’t know quite what happened with that. It was something I was going to do, but it seems to have gone away since I moved agents. I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Anything else in the offing?
Right now, no – but I’ve got two auditions this week. It’s been quite a quiet year, but it’s been great for me. Having had a busy few years, it’s been nice to have a bit of time, and keep doing good things. I had a tour at the beginning of the year [Gaslight] which was really good.
What should I have asked you that I haven’t…?
Oh God… I don’t even know. … I’ll answer that next time.
Thank you very kindly indeed, Rupert!