‘I like jobs that are a lit­tle bit dan­ger­ous’

Jim Broad­bent tells Mick Brown why he took the part of Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen in a ‘very vi­o­lent’ new play

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - THEATRE -

‘Iwas read­ing an ar­ti­cle yes­ter­day,” Jim Broad­bent says,

“about the cult of per­son­al­ity, say­ing the peo­ple in­ter­viewed in the press more than any oth­ers are ac­tors – and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m do­ing one to­mor­row.’”

There is this fas­ci­na­tion, I say. Why do you think that might be?

“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s worse than it used to be – this whole fame thing, re­al­ity TV, these so­cial net­works, which I don’t have any­thing to do with…” The thought peters into si­lence.

Fame, the cult of per­son­al­ity, so­cial net­works – the very con­junc­tion of the terms seems to pro­voke in him a pal­pa­ble shiver.

Walk­ing into the of­fices of his pub­li­cist a few min­utes ear­lier, Broad­bent – po­lite, the barest glim­mer of a smile on his face – had greeted me with all the en­thu­si­asm of some­one who had been asked to fill out his tax re­turn. Softly spo­ken, the traces of his Lin­colnshire up­bring­ing still de­tectable in his vow­els, he has the air of a man with some­thing on his mind, but he’s not about to tell you what it is. The in­ter­view, he says, is “part of the job”.

Broad­bent is back on stage for the first time in two years, play­ing Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen in a new play by Mar­tin McDon­agh, A Very, Very, Very Dark Mat­ter.

In a sense, all McDon­agh’s work for stage and screen – In Bruges, Three Bill­boards Out­side Eb­bing, Mis­souri, The Pil­low­man – deals with very dark mat­ters, but this, it seems, is darker still. The poster im­age for the new play shows a rather scary look­ing eye, star­ing out through a tear in a black cur­tain. But what’s it about?

I’d asked to see the script be­fore this in­ter­view, I tell Broad­bent, but I was re­fused. Vir­tu­ally all I know is the pub­lic­ity line de­scrib­ing it as “dan­ger­ous, twisted and funny”.

“I think that’s all they want you to know, re­ally.” He gives a slight smile.

“It is a won­der­ful play. A short play. An hour-and-a-half, no in­ter­val. It’s very funny, very dark, very vi­o­lent, and raises a load of dif­fer­ent is­sues about all sorts of things. It’s go­ing to be such a sur­prise that hope­fully it will be quite con­tro­ver­sial.”

Can he tell me some of those “sorts of things”?

“Mm­mmm.” There is a long pause. “The na­ture of cre­ativ­ity.

The mas­sacres in the Congo in the 19th cen­tury – and that’s prob­a­bly as much of a teaser as I can give.”

And you play Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen…

“Yes. Or Mar­tin McDon­agh’s ver­sion of him. But that’s prob­a­bly not much of a re­veal. And Phil Daniels is play­ing Charles Dick­ens [the two writ­ers were friends]. But not re­ally Charles Dick­ens as any­one has ever pic­tured him, so that’s…” An­other pause.

“It’s a cos­tume drama. I can let you know that.”

Broad­bent, who is 69, started out act­ing in theatre. His par­ents ran an am­a­teur dra­matic so­ci­ety and his first role was as a four-year-old in a pro­duc­tion of A Doll’s House

– “I started with Ib­sen,” as he likes to say. Af­ter drama school he worked with the Na­tional Theatre of Brent and ap­peared in Ken Camp­bell’s nine-hour Il­lu­mi­na­tus!, but his ap­pear­ances on stage have dwin­dled in re­cent years as film and tele­vi­sion took over.

If some­thing re­ally ex­cit­ing comes along, he says – which this play most def­i­nitely is – then he’s in­ter­ested. “But I no longer want to do theatre purely for its own sake.”

Across theatre, tele­vi­sion and film – from sit­com to drama, from Only Fools and Horses to Mike Leigh 2001 1992 2001 2009 2012 2014 2013 dra­mas, to Woody Allen’s Bul­lets Over Broad­way – Broad­bent has long been Bri­tain’s most ver­sa­tile char­ac­ter ac­tor. “Fairly flex­i­ble, I think is the thing,” he says, when I ask what it is that makes di­rec­tors keep com­ing back for more.

“My whole thing from the word go has been to do some­thing I haven’t been do­ing re­cently. And I’d rather do some­thing risky and odd than carry on do­ing the same thing.”

By way of il­lus­tra­tion he points

SE­RI­OUSLY GOODJim Broad­bent; and in re­hearsals with Mar­tin McDon­agh, right

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