Scots ac­tor sad­dles up for lead role in War Horse

Scots ac­tor plays Al­bert in Na­tional Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of War Horse

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - In­ter­viewed by Brian Bea­com

SCOTT Miller had never been on a horse in his life. His back­side had never even sat on a Black­pool don­key. Not even a hobby horse. For most peo­ple, it mat­ters not a jot if they don’t know which way to face when on top of a mount. But that wasn’t the case with Miller.

At the end of last year, it was im­per­a­tive the then 24-year-old could con­vince au­di­ences that he was John Wayne, that he and six and a half feet of hair, teeth and mus­cle were one and the same.

The young man from Cum­ber­nauld was go­ing through a gru­elling round of seven au­di­tions for War Horse, the Na­tional Theatre stage show cur­rently on tour.

“For one of the au­di­tions I had to leap six and a half feet into the air and jump on to the life-sized horse,” he says of the gi­ant pup­pet, his voice sug­gest­ing the fear he felt.

“Thank­fully I man­aged to get away with it and look the part, even though I’d never been near a horse in my life.”

War Horse is an adap­ta­tion of Michael Mor­purgo’s story of a young boy called

Al­bert and his horse, Joey.

Set against the back­drop of the First World War, a deeply mov­ing tale emerges when

Joey, bought by Al­bert’s fa­ther with the mort­gage money in a fit of drunken bravado, is sold to the army as a war horse and sent to France.

How­ever, Al­bert is de­ter­mined he and Joey will be re­united and the play fea­tures Al­bert’s at­tempts to con­nect.

War Horse, which pre­miered in Lon­don in 2007, is the most suc­cess­ful play ever pro­duced by the Na­tional Theatre.

So no pres­sure to land the role, then Scott? “There cer­tainly was,” he ad­mits.

Yet, while Mor­pugo de­clared that luck played a huge part in cre­at­ing his story, the story of a war horse told to him by an old man one night in a Devon pub, Miller re­veals fate played a big hand dur­ing an­other of his au­di­tions.

The part calls for a young ac­tor to repli­cate a per­fect Devon ac­cent; not one of the eas­i­est to get to grips with, the dan­ger be­ing the per­former sounds less like Ross Poldark and more like one of The Wurzels.

“As luck would have it, my flat mate when I was in drama school (at Lamda in Lon­don) was ac­tu­ally from Devon. When I heard the part called for a Devon ac­cent my first thought was ‘I know how to do this!’

“It’s a very hard ac­cent to grasp. It’s re­ally nu­anced. So I had to layer my tech­nique with a 1914 sen­si­bil­ity. I spent a lot of time on Youtube as well, and do­ing work with a voice coach. But I knew the re­ward was huge.”

Miller’s pas­sion for act­ing is un­der­lined when he re­veals the un­usual route to act­ing suc­cess. “I’d gone to Scot­tish Youth Theatre from the age of 11. I did a sum­mer course and it re­ally changed my life.”

Had his par­ents (his fa­ther is a man­age­ment con­sul­tant and his mother works for Po­lice Scot­land) had enough of their mop­ing son and de­cided to get him out of the way for the sum­mer?

“That was the case,” he says, grin­ning. “Both of them were out at work full time and they had to find some­where for me to go. But I loved SYT. I learned so much. And by the time I reached 14 I felt I knew what I wanted to do with my life. ”

He grins: “I knew by that time I wasn’t go­ing to make it as a pro foot­baller.”

Miller didn’t do act­ing at school. “I wasn’t ex­actly em­bar­rassed to act at school, but I re­ally wasn’t a huge fan of school. I didn’t fit in. I was dis­con­nected and I only wanted to learn what I wanted to learn.”

Mean­while, his friend­ships with his school pals suf­fered. “I thought, ‘Why am I hang­ing about with these peo­ple?’”

Miller was so sure he wanted to be­come an ac­tor that he left school aged 16, just after fourth year. “I needed to get out.”

He adds: “I sup­pose lots of young peo­ple feel dis­con­nected. But maybe for me the feel­ings were ac­cel­er­ated be­cause of the ex­pe­ri­ence I’d had with SYT.”

He went back to SYT, this time to work on re­cep­tion, “to do other jobs with the com­pany, work­ing up the lad­der and learn­ing.”

Did his par­ents have a say in their son leav­ing school so early?

“I don’t think I was a loose can­non as such, but it was def­i­nitely about do­ing what I wanted to do. Hope­fully I’ve grown up a bit since then. But at least I was com­mit­ted to be­ing an ac­tor.”

He smiles: “I wasn’t ar­ro­gant. Thank­fully, my par­ents sup­ported my de­ci­sion.”

While work­ing at SYT, Miller au­di­tioned for a Lon­don theatre role, which he didn’t get, but the pro­ducer rated the keen young hope­ful so much it led to in­ter­est from Vox Mo­tus theatre com­pany – which of­fered Miller a role in a new pro­duc­tion, Dragon. He ex­celled as the tor­mented teenager who loses his mother in this story of iso­la­tion and ado­les­cence. And he went on to fea­ture in Glas­gow’s Oran Mor Play, Pie and a Pint sea­son.

At this point he was ac­cepted for drama col­lege (Lamda) and took off to Lon­don.

But why not go in the first place? “I just never felt ready,” he ad­mits. “I needed to grow up and SYT al­lowed me the place to ma­ture. And at what age should you go to drama col­lege? Can you go and learn to be­come other peo­ple if you don’t yet know your­self?”

His time was now. “I was trep­i­da­tious about mov­ing to Lon­don,” he ad­mits. “And when the buzz of ar­rival wears off you re­alised you’re in amongst lots of young ac­tors who are re­ally com­mit­ted and so hard work­ing.

“It’s a hard busi­ness to be in. Straight out of drama school I was straight into work­ing in a bar. But that’s good. You meet lots of fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple, and you get a chance to learn about real life.”

How does he cope with au­di­tions and re­jec­tion? “It can be de­mand­ing, but you have to ac­cept that if the job’s not for you, that’s it. But I do try and be off-book be­fore I go in, [hav­ing learned the lines]. For this job, I learned two scenes. But by the last au­di­tion I knew all my lines. I like to be pre­pared.”

When Miller speaks of act­ing there’s a real sense he’s liv­ing the dream. He’s in his world, he’s soak­ing up ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence he can gain to make him a bet­ter ac­tor. Even his per­sonal life over­laps won­der­fully.

His part­ner, with whom he shares a flat in Clapham, is Scot­tish ac­tor Joanne Mcguin­ness, who starred in theatre hit

Our Ladies of Per­pet­ual Suc­cour. “We met in Dragon all those years ago when she played my sis­ter,” he re­calls.

What’s it like hav­ing two ac­tors in the one house?

“It’s great. We help each other with au­di­tion scripts. She’s work­ing a lot at the mo­ment but I’d love the chance to work with her at some point.”

Miller’s com­mit­ment is pay­ing off. As well as land­ing the star­ring role in War Horse, the ac­tor ap­peared in his first film this year, Bal­ance Not Sym­me­try along­side Laura Har­rier of Spi­der-man and Black Klans­man fame. “I play the guy who in­tro­duces her to a world in Glas­gow she’s never seen be­fore. It’s a nice part.”

Miller savours and ap­pre­ci­ates his cur­rent suc­cess. And he no longer dis­con­nects from old school friends. His leit­mo­tif, you sense, is hu­mil­ity. “I know for a fact I will have to go back to work­ing in a bar one day,” he of­fers. “I’ll al­ways be an ac­tor, but not al­ways a work­ing ac­tor.”

War Horse, the Clyde Au­di­to­rium, to­mor­row – Fe­bru­ary 2.

„ Scott Miller in re­hearsal for War Horse, based on Michael Mor­purg’s book about a young man’s quest to find his beloved an­i­mal.

SCOTT MILLER

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