Friday, 22 April 2016
Actor Tom Clegg listened to me quote Stacks, Royal Marine, his eyes like two-dimensional enamelled glass. He breathed before imitating Stacks back to me:
'I clearly wouldn't be standing here, would I, princess, if there was a danger of those shells coming over the wire into base? The insurgents are launching them off old bedsteads they got out of an oasis, so sit back down, stow your body armour and careful of my tea tray all laid up proper, cheers.'
Clegg is lithe and slim but when he imitated Stacks's full-on, scowling Mancunian, he seemed to be taller, fuller in the chest, and to swagger, even though he was standing still.
This happened backstage at a showcase for the Theatre in the Villages rural touring scheme. He is a fan of these schemes, as am I.
'I grew up playing heavy metal gigs in village halls and pubs. And one of my first jobs out of college was a five month tour of Dennis Kelly's play D.N.A. produced by the Hull Truck Theatre. I've got a thing about trying to do great work in that environment. John Laidlow, at Live and Local in Warwickshire, is a massive supporter of stuff I'm involved in at the moment.' As an affiliate with the theatre company Anonymous is a Woman, whose play Think of England is a success just now on the rural touring circuit. 'Too many young actors are worried that they need to be in certain venues in London and being seen by casting agents. I set out to be wherever I am, doing the best I can. It's about the joy! Looking like a tit would be just as bad in Worcestershire, where I'm originally from, as in town. And, also, actors are expected to be better in London than elsewhere. You should apparently sit and study them as they perform. I tried that with Mark Rylance once, realised I'd got right to the final curtain and missed what it was he was doing, just blown away by his performance. I'd intended to be like a mechanic looking over a car. But in spite of what I might have intended, I got into the suspended disbelief state. But then I was grateful, on the other hand, because it's only if you suspend your disbelief that you can stumble across something special. Not judging is the main thing.'
He is philosophical about not getting roles. None of the usual: everyone said I was the best at the audition - the director, the casting agent, the producer, the executive producer, the lesser clout-wielding executive producer, the positively defunct executive producer, the runner, the two students with a free afternoon from RADA in observing the auditions and the inevitable woman in a black velour tracksuit and gypsy headwear abandoning a shopping trolley with a plastic halibut in it just outside the window of the audition room - but they decided to go with a name.
Joking aside, Clegg is in line for hefty stuff and time will tell.
He mentions: 'I was quite close to getting the audiobook of John Niven's Kill Your Friends. That was just after I'd recorded The Black Door for I.D.Audio.'
The non-fiction account of the evolving relationship of successive prime ministers and the secret service, not the novel in which the heroine, a high-powered attorney, allows her sexual fantasy life to impinge on the daily round and it all gets jelly-brained silly.
'I was worried I hadn't done a good job on The Black Door. It was quite tricky to relate to, to get any drama into it. And it took longer than was expected. I had eight hour days on it over three weeks. Not every day. But the finished audiobook is twenty-five and a bit hours. I didn't think I'd done it well enough.'
It was good enough for I.D. to employ him a second time, reading The Sinking Admiral, a novel by members of the current Detection Club, including Simon Brett and Laura Wilson. 'That was more of a fun reading than The Black Door,' Clegg said without irony, 'drama, a storyline. Different characters to voice.'
He also played James Landor in the BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None. 'I had to cry a lot in that audition.'
Talking of which, he's just been helping with the first round of actors' auditions at Guildhall.
'I hope you try and talk them all out of becoming actors,' I commented.
'Not as such, but I do tell them that I have only three pounds thirty-four pence in my pocket.'
'And do they ask how you can possibly know that so specifically?'
'None have so far, but I would be able to tell them it's the change from a tin of tuna I just bought myself for lunch.'
He will go into the audition room with actors who need someone to direct a speech to. 'We've had quite a number of Romeos doing Tis torture and not mercy so I was their Friar Laurence. Walking away from them at times if I thought they needed to raise their game and get me back with them. Really focussing on them, which is what acting is all about. Sharing. Being part of the bigger whole. I'm still part of the same group formed at college six years ago: Five Guys from Guildhall. Are you still in contact with any of your singers' intake?'
I thought yet again about him not being born when I was at Guildhall. I said, 'Julia Gooding and I occasionally eat cake in the Belsize Park Euphorium and reminisce about having the phone number of the Flour Advisory Bureau on the kitchen cork boards in our respective digs. This would have been after Delia Smith wrote about the excellent work being done by the bureau back in the mid-eighties. Julia and I used to ring the Flour Advisory Bureau and sing songs that were bread related. Panis Angelicus. Dough-lente immagine. Yeast-ars of the Pleiades. In the end they blocked our numbers and wrote a letter of complaint to the college bursar.'
He was quiet for a few seconds. 'I suppose as classical singers at Guildhall - totally different from actors - you're more on your own in a studio practising, left to your own devices Actors are very much in a group, which is a Guildhall thing.'
Though he doesn't seem to be part of the usual contemporary leading actor thing of perfecting his Tom Hiddleston parody, playing ukulele versions of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and waiting for his agent to ring.
'I write a lot of letters, send emails. make sure I hang out. Invertigo, another theatre company I'm involved with, are all about that. Lots of young actors with that 'Fuck it, let's make our own work!' attitude. I'm hankering to play Billy Bibbit, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Richard the Third - his progression right through. Konstantin. And if I could do anything I wanted it would be to produce a season of Doug Lucie plays.'
May he make this happen, I say.