Mark Shenton interviews Apologia's Joseph Millson
"I am still a beggar who can't be a chooser," says Joseph Millson, surprisingly, of a career that has taken him from starring in such popular TV favourites as Peak Practice and Holby City to leading roles with the RSC and in the West End in Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. "I have rent to pay and I have to keep working. But after I did The Rover at the RSC last year, I tried to make a vow to get stuck into some telly and film for a while - I needed to earn some money and I really love working in front of a camera."
And as he self-deprecatingly puts it, "I'm at that time of my life when somebody has to be second down the list from Mark Strong! So I'm making a pitch for that, and was on a mission not to try to do theatre for a year or two. And it really was a matter of trying, because I'm addicted to it and I love it. I've done a couple of feature films this year since The Rover that will out next year; my agent was under strict instructions not to tell me about lovely theatre jobs. But then she called me and said, you know that no theatre rule we're trying to do at the moment? I think you might want to read this one!"
'This one' was Apologia, a family drama by Alexi Kaye Campbell that was originally premiered at the Bush Theatre in west London in 2009, and is now getting its West End debut at Trafalgar Studios, in an entirely new production by director Jamie Lloyd. It stars Stockard Channing as a leading art historian, who has just published a book about her life - but entirely failed to mention her two sons Peter and Simon. When they bring their respective partners to dinner, the stage is set for confrontation.
Which of the two sons is he playing? "No, Mark, I'm playing both of them!", he replies with evident delight. "It's s a brilliant stroke of genius on Jamie's part. It's really interesting; I'm not just saving them money, but it accentuates the fact that it’s slightly more than naturalistic; Jamie wants to bring out the slightly 'other' quality of the play. We are not trying to hid the fact that it’s me playing both; they are not twins. It shows how different siblings can deal with and remember the same traumas in very different ways. Anyone who has a sibling has had that experience of remembering things from their childhood. It makes for a very busy night for me. There's one scene where one leaves and the other enters, so that's interesting!"
In the original production, they were played by two actors. There's a bit of sadness in reviving the play now that one of them, Tom Beard, has since died. He touchingly says, "I'm quietly dedicating this to Tom, who left us a couple of years ago and who I adored."
There were other key reasons for taking on the role/s. "When I read it, it knocked me for six. I laughed out loud about ten times as I read it, and it hit me like a thunderbolt. He writes comedies of manners that feel easy to watch and to read, and yet it hits you in the gut like Sarah Kane. He's a really unique writer. So I could not possibly not do it! And Jamie [Lloyd] and I have been dancing around for a few years trying to work together, and it has never worked out -- but we've come close many times. It's a good fit -- I've never met anyone who's not said they don't love working with him. There's no trick - he's just very thorough and very patient and insightful and trusts and likes actors."
Working with Stockard Channing, a regular actor on the Broadway stage who was previously in the West End when she reprised her role in the original London production of Six Degrees of Separation, has been another treat: "She's fantastic and we get on great!" And he's also looking forward to doing this play at the Trafalgar Studios. "I've always loved that space. It's a bit like a gladiatorial arena!"
His biggest West End job to date - and highest profile in terms of the amount to was written about - of course was Love Never Dies, the troubled sequel to The Phantom of the Opera in 2010, in which he played the role of Raoul, now married to Christine. "The show was perfect dry tinder to be written about," he says now of the controversy it stirred. Today, he says of the show, "The bad bits were awful and the good bits were sublime. I learnt a lot from it, and got confident with my singing -- I'd not sung for 16 years and was terrified. I had to do duets with Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess!"
But he's also played such massive roles as Bastard in King John for the RSC - "he has more lines than Hamlet!" - and the title part of Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe. "When I did King John, I was also doing Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing opposite Tamsin Greig - it was the ultimate season. I'll never take for granted what an honour it was! They were directed by two young directors Josie Rourke and Marianne Elliott, doing their first shows for RSC. What became of them?", he says, laughing now.
His own RSC debut had been appearing the company's Spanish Golden Age season of five plays that transferred to the West End's Playhouse Theatre in 2005. "I loved it - I wouldn't even look at schedule, I'd get to theatre and say, what play are we doing? You can never get bored! There are few reps left, but it's a glory!"
So is his life now with wife, fellow actor Sarah-Jane Potts: "We first met on a terrible pilot for a TV series, but then we spent 18 months working all day every day on Holby City, with not a twinkle of attraction. But six months after I left that job we realised we missed each other and worked out that we'd accidentally fallen in love by proxy!"
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