Danny Dyer: 'I never thought I'd get the chance to do a Harold Pinter play again'
Danny Dyer has had a whirlwind couple of years, from taking over the most famous pub in the country to finding out he has royal blood and becoming an unlikely voice of the people in the Brexit debate. But later this month, he returns to his acting roots, on stage and in a Harold Pinter play.
He had a pivotal role in the premiere of Pinter's play Celebration at the Almeida in 2000, and went on to develop a reputation as a tough, foul-mouthed Cockney with appearances in films such as Mean Machine and The Football Factory. But that changed somewhat in 2013, when it was announced he would be taking over The Queen Vic in BBC soap opera EastEnders - a role for which has has been nominated for various awards.
Now, he returns to the page to appear in his fourth Harold Pinter play: The Dumb Waiter, a two-parter about a couple of hitman awaiting their instructions. He stars alongside Martin Freeman, as Jamie Lloyd's Pinter at the Pinter season reaches its conclusion.
Dyer took some time out of rehearsals to talk about his relationship with Pinter as a role model, working with Lloyd and Freeman, and how it feels to be back on stage.
Your Christmas message to the nation was ‘get yourself a Harold’, how important was he to you as you started your career?
I think the point I was trying to make was about role models, and about how important role models are in your life. It wasn’t just the career thing for me, it was more having a male role model who I felt believed in me when no-one else did.
What do you think Harold would make of the season so far?
I think he would have loved it to be honest. I’ve watched most of the Pinter season so far, and I think he'd have been over the moon to see his work still being celebrated by such great people.
And what have you thought about the productions up to now?
Quite haunting, but also very, very funny. His work’s so important for British theatre, and worldwide theatre really, and it should be celebrated at all costs.
For some people, Pinter at the Pinter has been a crash course in his work. What would you say made Harold’s plays unique?
I think his plays are unique because there’s something very human about them, about human behaviour. And you sort of discover that he’s very good at the psychology of people, characters, talking about one thing but actually meaning something bigger, something else. There’s always a subterranean menace going on and it’s very, very clever. There’s nobody who writes like Harold Pinter.
This will be the fourth Pinter play you’ve appeared in; do you have a favourite?
Well, Celebration will always be very close to my heart because that was when I first met Harold and of course it was my first introduction to his work. But I must say that The Dumb Waiter has to be the best gig. You know, it’s a two-hander with Martin Freeman, who I love and respect – I think he’s brilliant – and to be able to do a piece of Pinter’s work where I’m a main character, because I’ve never had that before, it’s perfect. And it’s not too long! It’s a short, but powerful piece and it says so much.
As The Dumb Waiter is a two-hander, is it crucial that you and Martin Freeman click in rehearsals?
Absolutely. We’ve got to rely on each other out there. It should never become actor against actor it should be me and him as a team on that stage, getting the opportunity to show off in arguably Pinter’s best work. I think there’s a mutual respect between us. We’ve both been in the game for roughly about the same time, and have crossed paths over the years as our careers have taken completely different turns. But finally, me and him on the stage, that’s what it’s about for me.
What can exactly can audiences expect from The Dumb Waiter?
The Dumb Waiter is very, very funny. But there’s also something else going on. And if you’re not into The Iceman Cometh and all them sort of long plays, then come and see this short, sharp injection of proper British theatre.
This will be your first performance in the West End for ten years, how are you feeling about being back on stage?
It’s great to be back on the stage. I think I only really enjoy doing Pinter and I never thought I’d get the opportunity to come out and do it again, now that I’m doing Eastenders, but they were very kind to let me out and I’m very grateful for that. I would probably only put myself through this stress and anxiety of going on-stage again because it’s Pinter. There’s just something about Pinter’s work that I just can’t say no to.
What’s it been like working with Jamie Lloyd on the play?
Jamie’s great. He’s young, he’s energetic and he just gets Harold. We’re discovering so much at the moment through him and I’m really enjoying the process.
Pinter 7 tickets are available now.