From Wafers to Wickets
You're both well known on the Glasgow amateur circuit, but tell us about the professional work you've done?
Neil: My pro work started with the National Theatre of Scotland launch project HOME directed by John Tiffany, and I've since been involved with other NTS shows, including a Scottish tour of Oedipus the King. I've done two shows with The Arches including The Water Babies and I still play The Gruffalo with Julia Donaldson from time to time.
Johnny: My first professional acting gig was a production of The Diary of Anne Frank which was very well received and toured to schools. I worked with that company for a while and was approached by an agent in the audience one evening. He sent me to audition for a Scottish horror movie shot in the highlands, which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival that year. A lot of my professional acting has been smaller-scale things like role-play for training events and medical colleges, murder mystery nights and impersonation. Probably the only thing I get recognised from is a 2010 TV ad for Tunnock's, in which I play a peckish fellow passing the time his girlfriend takes to get ready by munching on a few caramel wafers.....I haven't been able to eat one since.
Impressive CVs, both of you! What's the best thing about acting professionally?
Neil: Long rehearsal periods are great for exploring and immersing yourself in character. Taking one show to different venues is fun too, though touring can be very tiring.
Johnny: Just the air of legitimacy it gives you I suppose. It's a nice feeling when someone believes in you enough to give you a job doing what you love most. That can have its own challenges though because you constantly feel like you need to prove yourself.
And the worst?
Neil: Not knowing where the next piece of work will come from and whether you'll even want to do it.
Johnny: Acting is obviously a very emotional and personal thing and it can be tough when it becomes something that simply needs to be churned out for a deadline. If your director is in a surly mood and the clock is ticking it can be difficult to deliver whilst bearing in mind the technical things such as not wandering off your mark and so on.
What puts you off accepting work?
Neil: Bad scripts mainly. I was offered some truly awful stuff which I couldn't bring myself to do.
Johnny: I did a theatre tour of the Hairy Maclary books where I wore a gigantic dog suit. I remember galloping about on all fours thinking "Oooft, this is not what I got into acting for..." It was just after I had played Radames in an amateur production of Aida and I could not shake off how much I wished I was back doing that show regardless of it not being professional because it was so much more fulfilling and enjoyable.
Neil: Family is another consideration, you have to be willing to go anywhere at any time and sometimes a six month tour is just not possible. And money! There were contracts I turned down because I could make more doing drama workshops.
And what's the best thing about doing amateur shows?
Neil: I love teaching, and this way I get to do both. You get a chance to play roles you would otherwise never get the chance to play. I've played Leo Bloom in The Producers and McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - those are two roles which are only ever filled with 'names' - the last time they were produced in the West End they were played by Lee Evans and Christian Slater.
Tell us about your roles in How to Succeed...
Neil: Finch is not instantly likeable and I think the biggest challenge will be to create a character that the audience roots for despite his obvious flaws. I want to show that behind Finch's scheming and social climbing he has a sweet nature and can show compassion and love. When you have a character who barely leaves the stage, you really get a chance to develop him fully.
Johnny: Ahhhh yes good old Mr B! I don't quite know what I did without him in my life, he does amuse me! Obviously he is the epitome of open-mindedness, forward thinking and the perfect gentleman.....in the 60s anyway. I was over the moon the night they called me to say that I'd been cast as Mr Biggley. I always had a bit of an idea of what I would do with this character.
How do you prepare for a role?
Neil: I start by reading any source text. I've read the original Shepard Mead How To Succeed... book. I watch any films made too - early on to avoid falling into trap of copying, but there is often something you can pick up from other performances. I try to look at a character's intentions for each scene - what is it that they want from the other characters in the scene and how does that inform the way they would act towards the other characters.
You're both new to GMT, how have you found it?
Neil: It's a really strong production team who know exactly what they want. The cast are terrific. It is the strength of the ensemble that really sets this production apart. Some are especially strong dancers, some stunning vocalists, others comic character actors. There really is no weak link. No-one that the audience's eye is inadvertently drawn to for the wrong reasons.
Johnny: I have found the company so warm and welcoming. The professionalism and passion of all those involved in producing GMT shows is evident on stage and it very much blurs the definitions of professional and amateur theatre. The GMT shows I have seen have been far superior to some shows I've shelled out a lot of money to see in the West End.
What's it been like to work together?
Johnny: Neil is so thorough and studied in his performance - his approach to building a character is fantastic and he has such a great work ethic. It’s a bromance, pure and simple! Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to try and put him off and make him laugh during our scenes together. He’s very professional so you know you’ve done well if you can make him crack a smile or corpse during a scene by doing something unexpected or just pulling stupid faces...what a pro eh?
Want to see Neil and Johnny in action? Nab yourself some tickets for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, running from January 28th - February 1st at Eastwood Park Theatre.