Inside Look: George Blagden

George Blagden on the set of The Pitchfork Disney in London, UK on February 14, 2017.

We spoke to actor George Blagden about his role as Presley in the Shoreditch Town Hall production of The Pitchfork Disney.

What was the most challenging aspect of the play as you read it, that surprised you in how well it unfolded live?
The language. When you read Philip’s work for the first time, your imagination takes you to a million different places of where this sort of story-telling could work effectively. If you didn’t have the luxury of having Phil there (which we did!), you could interpret his writing in lots of different ways, and different productions of this have done the play in a number of different ways. But this is the genius of it. It is applicable and meaningful to a variety of different social/political settings. I think that is why it is just as engaging to an audience now as it was when it was first produced in 1991.

Do you generally have the same expectations for/ of your director from project to project?
Absolutely not. I think the role of director is so important because they are essentially the “chief story-teller” – we are telling whatever story it is that the director would like to express. And this can often be totally different to how you interpreted the piece when you first read it. It’s why one of the most important jobs of an actor is to trust in the director of the film/episode/play you’re doing and wholly engage in their process, because you are a tool in making their story come to life. And not having any expectations going into something is what makes our job so exciting – to be surprised and inspired by people makes you want to follow them into battle.

Much of the commentary regarding the play pays tremendous credit to the direction of Jamie Lloyd. How/ when did you become aware of his work? What separates his productions from others?
I had heard of his productions and knew that his work had inspired a lot of talented people in our industry to want to work with him. But I am so embarrassed to say that I had never seen any of Jamie’s work before this production! So when he asked me to do it, I suppose I had the luxury that I mentioned above of not having any expectations! The only thing I think I knew, from hearing about his previous work, was that I would be working with a very brave director.

Adding to the previous question, have you noticed these distinctions in Lloyd’s work altering your performance or outlook in any way?
Absolutely. When you work alongside people who are fearless in their approach to the work, it is infectious. And I feel much braver as an actor than I did before I started working with Jamie.

What made this particular project so immediate/ relevant /appealing to you at this point in your life and career?
I have wanted to work on stage for so long, and never been given the opportunity until recently. The idea that I could work with this incredible cast of actors on a Philip Ridley play with Jamie directing as one of my first professional experiences in theatre was too good to be true. It was an opportunity to challenge myself in a way that I haven’t been challenged over the last few years, and I knew it would definitely be a very rewarding experience.

What has been your favourite memory of The Pitchfork Disney that wasn’t onstage?
There were a couple of times in rehearsals where we were reminded (in amongst the chaos of trying to put on a play in 3 weeks!) of why we do this. Some real “pinch-me” moments. In an industry where you can easily get lost in focusing on stuff that isn’t about story-telling, there were times when I realised that this project is exactly why I do this. Being part of one of the best creative teams in our industry to tell a story every night that affects people in some way. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Want more? Watch our behind-the-scenes film.

George Blagden in the dressing room he shared with his castmates.

Notes on the script for The Pitchfork Disney.

Blagden changed into his all black costume.

Blagden led us from the dressing room to the performance area that had been constructed in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall.

Props which were used in the play.

Blagden gave us a tour of the performance area, standing by a bare bulb – one of many small fixtures which atmospherically lit the set.

Talking through various scenes, Blagden sat with castmates Seun Shote and Tom Rhys Harries in the chairs reserved for audience members during a performance. Unlike traditional plays with a separated stage and seating area, the audience was placed within the set.

Blagden sat for an interview with Shoreditch Town Hall.

Before every performance, Blagden ordered the soup of the day at a nearby restaurant.

Blagden and castmate Hayley Squires rehearsed a key scene.

Squires and Blagden continued to work through the scene.

Back in their dressing rooms, Blagden, Squires and Rhys Harries finished getting ready for the night’s performance.

Blagden mentally prepared himself by listening to the soundtrack to The Revenant. Hear him speak about this in our behind-the-scenes film.

Blagden and Squires worked through a few final points in the countdown to the evening’s show.

Blagden took his first position in character, awaiting the audience to enter the set.

George Blagden can be seen in The Pitchfork Disney, on now until 18 March 2017 at Shoreditch Town Hall, London (UK).

As told to Paul Vaughan for TPJ
Photographer: Jessie Craig

Inside Look: Arinzé Kene

Arinzé Kene in his dressing room at the Donmar Warehouse in London, UK on November 25, 2016.

We spoke to actor Arinzé Kene about his role as Same Cooke in the Donmar Warehouse production of One Night In Miami.

Cooke was a ground-breaking artist beyond just a creative capacity in that he crossed genres (at risk of losing his gospel career) and took control of his music management. How much do you think these chapters of his life would influence his role in the civil rights movement, or vice-versa?
There were several differing views at the time on what the best methods to combat racial injustice were. Some saw peaceful protest as an ideal route while other activists took the ‘eye for an eye’ approach. Sam Cooke, being the businessman that he was, fought a unique fight. He put his politicals in his music and it can be heard in A Change Gonna Come and that’s why the song became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.

What was a seemingly small detail about Cooke that had a significant impact on your understanding of him?
When he started his own record label and saw the benefits of keeping all of his music, he didn’t keep it to himself. He evangelised. He tried to get other artists to do the same. And live on air, when asked what his ultimate goal was, he replied “for all of my artists to have hit records”. He really wanted others to do well. He wanted to share his success and went to great lengths to do so. He hired people he knew growing up and he signed people from his church to his record label. He changed the course of music because he was so generous.

Amongst the figures depicted in the play, Cooke is unique in that he is the only one among them who is an artist rather than an athlete or a political figure. How do you feel that may have set his perspective apart from the other ones in the room, if at all?
I think that in 1964 black artists were idolised in quite a similar way to black atheletes. Sam, Cassius Clay, and Jim Brown, there was a lot of common ground they shared. I think Sam’s unique perspective comes from him being an individual, not so much that fact he was an artist or a performer.

Do you feel that there are any contemporary cultural figures who represent the people depicted in One Night In Miami? If not, why do you think that is?
I don’t think there are many but there are some. The LeBron James Family Foundation donated $41M to send kids to college. Draymond Green doesn’t make half as much as LeBron and he donated $3.1M to Michigan State. Colin Kaepernick, NFL player, took a knee during the Star Spangled Banner and when asked about it afterwards his response was, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”. I think if there are contemporary figures who represent the people in One Night In Miami, its these guys, to name a few.

Sam Cooke and Malcolm X would not make it out of the 60’s without tragic and violent ends, whereas Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali would continue to carry on their legacies of civil/ social/ racial equality. To what degree do you feel Sam Cooke would have enhanced his legacy and social change had he lived?
I think he’d have continued to fight through his music and through music management. Music changes lives. It saves lives. Through Sam Cooke, several people at the time who had aversions to black people, were able to see different. I think he’d have inspired more artists similar to him that they can do both, make money while doing what they love and fight for equality.

How aware were you of the relationships depicted in this play prior to your involvement in the project? What did you find the most intriguing or illuminating about it once you invested so much thought?
I had no idea that these men knew each other so intensely. I knew that Clay and Sam were friends and that Malcolm helped Clay become Ali, but that was all. Exploring this play really opened my mind. It showed me that it’s important to do the right thing with your power. These men gained a platform and they all used it for something that was greater than them. Greater than their legacy combined will ever be.

What Sam Cooke song does everyone reading this need to drop everything and listen to immediately?
A Change Is Gonna Come

Kene’s dressing room was filled with archive images of Cooke for reference and inspiration.

After changing into costume, Kene exited the dressing room to give us a tour of the theatre.

The stage wings of the Donmar.

Kene strummed out a Cooke song which features in the play.

The bedside table on the stage.

Kene looked out to the empty theatre before the evening’s performance.

Kene held up a prop from the play.

Back in his dressing room, Kene took a call from his agent to organize the week’s schedule.

Kene’s wig was removed to reveal his shaved head underneath.

Kene shared his dressing room with castmate Sope Dirisu and Josh Williams.

Kene changed back into his regular attire to go grab a bite to eat before the show.

Kene joked around with castmate Williams.

Arinzé Kene recently won Best Supporting Actor at the Evening Standard Film Awards for his role in The Pass, in cinemas now (UK). He can also be seen in Crazyhead on Netflix (UK). He wrote the play good dog, which opens at the Watford Palace Theatre on 14 February 2017 before touring nationally (UK).

As told to Paul Vaughan for TPJ
Photographer: Jessie Craig

Samuel Barnett

Suit jacket & trousers by ACNE. Roll neck by JOHN SMEDLEY.

In the theme of your new series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – since everyone will be asking you about the mysteries you’ve solved – what is a historically significant or famed mystery that you find completely uninteresting… or, likely possesses the least intriguing solution?
An enduring mystery lies around Shakespeare. Did he really write all of those plays…?!?!
Yep. He did. Mystery solved.

What moment in your life did you feel the most like a tourist?
I visited the giant bronze Buddha at a monastery on Lantau island. All the monks there were silent and dressed in their orange robes and I was there with a bunch of people, all of us in our shorts and flip flops, baseball caps, cameras out snapping away. Every day the monks provided free food for every single person who visited. The juxtaposition of peace and capitalism felt extreme.

Suit jacket by ACNE. Roll neck by JOHN SMEDLEY.

If you had to pick a character/ scene from a film to do a reading from, what would you pick? In the same vein of a singer covering a song.
Toni Collette has a brilliant speech in The Hours where everything you think she is gets turned upside down as she completely cracks open whilst trying to hold it together. I’d like a go at that. It’s a superb blend of acting and writing.

What is your proudest moment as an actor that wasn’t onscreen or onstage?
It was being at the Tony Awards in 2014, nominated for Best Actor. I was surrounded by friends and sitting next to my partner and I knew I wasn’t going to win so there was no pressure and I was just happy to be there. I also felt in some way validated as I had been nominated before in the supporting actor category so it felt like it wasn’t a fluke the first time around because it was happening again!

What do you love or enjoy more than the majority of people you’ve met?
The mannequin challenge. Ridiculous, right? But I find it fascinating. More than most people I’ve met. I don’t know why it thrills me so much. I keep watching them online.

What is your favorite film poster of all time?
Trainspotting. Because it has THAT speech on it.

What is the last bad habit that you’ve ridden from your life, or, what is the last good habit you’ve integrated into it?
The last good habit that I’ve integrated is meditation. Everyday. Whether I want to or not.

What is a piece of technology or innovation that blew your mind?
I still find it unreal that we can fly. I get it technically. But it still freaks me out.

Who was one of the most challenging but rewarding performers you’ve acted alongside?
I’m not gonna name names, but I’ve worked with a few challenging performers, all of them challenging for different reasons, and I’ve learned something invaluable from every encounter, either directly from the person in the form of a skill, or something about myself as a person and as an actor. It’s interesting what happens when challenges come up. I’ve learned to step up. Challenging performers are often brilliant, so the choice is either to try to come up to their level or get lost in the background.

(L) Top by FENDI. Trousers by J CREW. (R) Jumper by J CREW.

Was there a specific period of your life where you felt that you made the most artistic/ creative progress?
Actually it’s in the last 6 years since I did a play called The Whisky Taster. I followed that with a one-man show, two female Shakespeare roles, Penny Dreadful and now Dirk Gently. All these roles have been very different from one another, challenging in their own ways and requiring something new from me each time, sometimes difficult and immensely rewarding. I’ve been so lucky to get to play a variety of roles and I’ve learned something new from each one because each one has been a challenge, particularly the one-man show and the Shakespeare which I had never tackled before. It has felt like a creatively rich few years and I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I love.

What’s a (probably) great film that you haven’t watched, book you haven’t read, play you haven’t seen?
The Godfather, To Kill A Mockingbird, Top Girls.

Want more? Watch our behind-the-scenes film.

Samuel Barnett can be seen in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, available now on Netflix (UK).

As told to Paul Vaughan for TPJ
Creative Director & Photographer: Jessie Craig
Stylist: Christopher Preston
Grooming: Oliver Daw

Morfydd Clark

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Coat by A.W.A.K.E. Dress by ISABEL MARANT.

You’ll soon be appearing in Interlude in Prague about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Discounting Mozart, which child prodigy do you find most fascinating?
Rimanujan or William Gadoury, the 15-year-old Canadian boy who discovered a lost Mayan city using Google Maps.

Describe your taste in music by way of a film soundtrack.
Thelma and Louise

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Dress by ISABEL MARANT.

Cast your favourite Shakespeare play with a contemporary cast/ director.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Puck – Patsy Ferran
Oberon/ Theseus – Idris Elba
Titania/ Hippolyta – Hayley Atwell
Helena – Lydia Leonard
Hermia – Anna Kendrick
Demetrius – Simon Manyonda
Lysander – Sope Dirisu
Bottom – Michael Sheen
Peter Quince – Julian Barratt
Francis Flute – Matthew Beard
Director – Hamish Pirrie

When you want to consciously make an adjustment to your performance, do you generally find it easier to make a physical alteration or an emotional one? Or is it a stupid question because they are utterly interconnected and I’ve wasted precious bandwidth?
If I feel I need to make an adjustment to the character that I’m playing I feel it is almost always informed by the other actors onstage. I think physicality is a massive window into the emotional life of the character so I find physical changes can unearth emotional ones that would otherwise not be unlocked.

What’s something you discarded that you wish you hadn’t?
I wish I hadn’t thrown away loads of sketches I’d done of school friends as I would love to look at them now

What’s something about your life or the world right now that would blow your 12 year-old mind? (In a good way!)
Facetime! When I was 12 my best friend moved to Sheffield and I missed her so much.

If you could time travel into the audience of any 20th century performance of a Shakespearean play, which play would you pick and who was in the cast?
Anthony Sher as Richard III.

Put your iTunes or music playing device on shuffle, then switch to the next song… What is the song, and when/ where did you first hear it? What time in your life does it remind you of?
Magnetic Fields – Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin. It reminds me of sitting on the barrage in Cardiff in the summer drinking WKDs with my friends.

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Jumper by CARVEN. Skirt by ROCHAS.

What is something arguably trivial that you have come to realize makes you very competitive?
Every board game!

Assuming it is well past the statute of limitations, what was the first rebellious act you remember committing?
Pouring glue over the stationery cupboard in the classroom at school because I was sent to the back and not allowed to do arts and crafts.

King Lear: a timeless, masterful work of literature/ performance or an over-elaborate argument for vasectomies? In that same vein, how could one frame one of Shakespeare’s other works?
Romeo and Juliet – always check the other person’s dead before you kill yourself.

Want more? Watch our behind-the-scenes film.

Morfydd Clark can be seen in King Lear, on now until 3 December 2016 at the Old Vic, London (UK).

As told to Paul Vaughan for TPJ
Creative Director & Photographer: Jessie Craig
Stylist: Francesca Turner
Hair: Yusuke Morioka
Makeup: Nicola Moores-Brittin

Inside Look: Bethan Cullinane

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Bethan Cullinane in her dressing room at the Barbican Theatre in London, UK on November 19, 2016.

We spoke to actress Bethan Cullinane about her role as Innogen in Royal Shakespeare Company’s Cymbeline.

What line from Cymbeline did you look forward to saying the most on opening night?
“A large Gin and tonic, please”.
My second favourite was probably my first line of the second half. It’s the first time I directly speak to the audience. I walk out, disguised as a boy and say “I see a man’s life is a tedious one”. It tends to get a laugh, and after a very emotionally heavy first half it’s a nice refresher. It is a moment of “lighter” relief before it all goes downhill again.

Whether they knew it or not, who was most helpful in helping you find your performance or the character ?
Hiran who plays my husband, Posthumus and Ollie who plays Iachimo are both very good friends of mine. We were in the same year at drama school so I’ve known them both for 8 years (our director Melly had no idea when she cast us). I think being in the rehearsal room with those two meant that I was able to take risks at a very early stage of rehearsal. Had I not known my co-actors so well I might not have felt as brave. We had a short hand and could be very honest with each other about what felt right and what didn’t. And although it’s weird kissing one of your mates, at least it’s not awkward afterwards.

What do you think is the most subtle but significant element of Cymbeline? Whether related to a character, or a theme, setting e.t.c.
I’d say it’s to do with Truth. Roughly 90% of the characters in Cymbeline tell lies or believe them. It’s those few characters that search for the truth that guide the story back to safety. If characters like Pisania, Innogen or the Doctor (who is the unsung hero of the play), were unable to see through others deceit, the play would end as a tragedy. It’s in the final scene when everybody decides to come clean that families and countries are reunited.

What was the first important detail you learned about the story or your character?
It was Innogen’s use of language and the insight it gave me into her imagination. Not only does she talk a lot, but she has a mad, creative way of seeing things too. I think once I embraced that as part of her character I could use the language rather than finding it intimidating.
I would also say that Melly’s decision to change the gender of many of the boldest characters to female was hugely important. It created a world where women could be in charge, and behave however they liked. I was given freedom from the “pious heroine” stereotype and the chance to find a woman with her own real strengths and flaws.

There are overlapping elements between Cymbeline and Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. In what way is Cymbeline a unique departure from Shakespeare’s other works?
Well I think the fact that Cymbeline has it all makes it a significant departure from his other works. I like to think of Cymbeline as Shakespeare’s greatest hits. It’s as if he took all of his favourite bits and smashed them together into a completely wacky story. Cymbeline does not share a genre with any of Shakespeare’s other plays. In Hamlet, Polonius makes the audience chuckle when he starts listing all the genres the players could possibly perform. Starting with “tragical-historical” or “pastoral-comical” – he concludes with “tragical-comical-historical-pastoral”. I think it gets a laugh because it seems ridiculous to have so many genres in one play, but fast forward 10 years or so and Shakespeare has done it! If Cymbeline is any genre it’s “tragical-comical-historical-pastoral”- it really has it all.

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Cullinane came to her dressing room after a cast warm up to get ready for the performance.

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Cullinane did her character’s makeup.

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(L) Cullinane’s costume. (R) The hairpieces she wore at the beginning of the play.

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Cullinane with castmate Graham Turner, who plays Belarius.

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In a separate room, Cullinane had her long hairpieces attached in sections to appear more natural.

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A container of fake blood that was to be used in later scenes.

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Before long, Cullinane’s hair transformation into Innogen was nearly complete.

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Cullinane constantly had a water bottle with her to stay hydrated backstage.

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For Innogen’s costume, her shoes were Converse with customized lace detailing.

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Cullinane changed into her costume.

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After final adjustments, Cullinane headed out towards the stage for her performance.

Bethan Cullinane can be seen in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Cymbeline, on now until 17 December 2016 at the Barbican Theatre, London (UK).

As told to Paul Vaughan for TPJ
Photographer: Jessie Craig