Denis Lawson: ‘I didn’t wear shoes for a year...’
- Credit: Matt Crockett
Star Wars actor Denis Lawson has revealed the lengths he will go to for his ART, including forsaking wearing shoes for a year while at drama school. In a new touring production, Denis talked to us about Ewan McGregor, feeling smug and not knitting.
When I was almost a teenager, I begged my Mum and Dad to buy a video player – after what felt like forever, they finally agreed and a player was installed by a local hire company – a Betamax: imagine my disappointment.
Living in a village not overly blessed with amenities, the nearest video hire shop was two miles away. I was despatched to cycle there to pick up a specific video – Local Hero, starring Denis Lawson – and then, after watching it, despatched back to get it back within 12 hours. As I climbed the hill to the shop in the dark, my feelings towards Lawson were mixed.
'That is hilarious!' laughs Lawson, who I speak to shortly before he goes on stage in Leeds, 'I'm surprised you're even speaking to me!'
On the road with ART, the story of three friends and one (very expensive) white painting, alongside cast mates Nigel Havers and Stephen Tompkinson,
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All three leads are hugely experienced and beloved by audiences. Nigel Havers boasts a strong theatrical pedigree for the likes of the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and countless West End and touring productions including productions of ART. He is also a familiar face on the small screen in the likes of Don't Wait Up, Pennies From Heaven, A Horseman Riding By, Downton Abbey, and Coronation Street.
Co-star Lawson is an equally familiar face on TV gaining an Emmy nomination for his role as John Jarndyce in the BBC's Bleak House, with other notable credits including DI Steve McAndrew in New Tricks, roles in the movies Local Hero and the original Star Wars trilogy, an Olivier Award-winning performance as Jim Lancaster in Mr Cinders in the West End, and an Olivier nomination for portraying George in La Cage Aux Folles also in the West End.
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Meanwhile Stephen Tompkinson also boasts a distinguished acting pedigree. His other previous work includes the West End run of Spamalot, the West End and touring productions of Charley's Aunt, productions for Ipswich's Wolsey Theatre, and TV roles in the likes of Wild At Heart, Trollied, Drop The Dead Donkey, Ballykissangel and the critically acclaimed Eric, Ernie And I.
'The other two were in ART previously and so I felt the pressure straight away,' said Lawson, 'there was no way I was turning up to rehearsals without knowing the whole thing. I got there and neither of them had done it for 18 years – so it was nice to start the friendship by feeling smug!'
In a hugely varied career, Lawson finds it impossible to pinpoint what he prefers most: theatre, film or TV.
'I love variety, quite literally, I suppose. I take a job because I am attracted to a script or a type of work – I love theatre of all kinds, from the smaller avant garde productions to musicals and now a touring show like this. But television is also a huge amount of fun,' he said.
'I think my inability to turn down work comes from my background in Glasgow. My Mum and Dad left school aged about 13 because they needed to get jobs and they both had this incredibly strong work ethic. My acting came out of left-field for them, really, but they supported me. I remember my father coming to see the first production I did at drama school and saying to me 'you are a very lucky man: you know what you want to do and you're good at it' and meant the world to me.'
In ART, Nigel Havers'character Serge buys a painting for £200,000 – while Lawson admits to being a fan of modern art ('I'm quite partial to Pollock'), he would baulk at spending so much cash on any form of artwork: 'I do have some original art on my walls, but if I was going to spend £200,000, I think I'd rather get a house!' he laughed, 'the only other art form I've dabbled in other than acting is writing – plays and books. I haven't tried knitting, but you never know.'
Lawson is uncle to actor (and fellow Star Wars veteran) Ewan McGregor – the pair come from the same small Scottish town of Crieff: 'I just wanted to be him when I was growing up,' said McGregor, 'he'd arrive up in Crieff from London, where he'd already moved, and he'd come back in the 70s, you know, with feathers in his hair, sheepskin waistcoat, no shoes and beads and stuff. I'd be like: 'I want to be that guy.''
Is it an outfit that 70-year-old Lawson still slips into? 'I'm wearing it right now,' he laughs, 'actually, I think he made the bit about the feathers up, although it's a pleasing visual, and it was a rabbit-skin waistcoat. But I'll tell you this – for a year when I was at drama school I didn't wear shoes. I have no idea why. I suffered for my art. How I managed not to freeze to death when I was living in Glasgow, I have no idea. But I'm not doing it again, that's for sure.'
* ART, is at Sheffield Lyceum and then Norwich Theatre Royal from April 23 to 28 – at 7.30pm with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £8-£35. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Over-60s, Under-18s and Groups. To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000. The
tour will then continue across the UK until June, www.arttheplay.com.