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Broadway Interview

Wed 16 Sep 2015 return to previous page

Hayden Thomas interviews Oliver "Prince William" Chris

King Charles III

Oliver Chris
Oliver Chris

Oliver Chris has graced the London stage and a host of UK TV shows and films since the year 2000. His many stage credits include 'One Man, Two Guvnors' (which also provided him his Broadway debut), 'Great Britain,' 'Seasons Greetings,' 'Well,' 'Closer' and the vital role of Prince William in Mike Bartlett's 'future history' play King Charles III, which transfers to Broadway at the Music Box Theatre from 10 October 2015.

Our reporter Hayden Thomas (Twitter: @WestEndReporter!) caught up with the soon-to-be Prince William of Broadway during rehearsals in London:

Hayden Thomas: What an incredible run King Charles III is having - from its birth off-West End at the Almeida Theatre in April 2014 to its West End transfer in September of that year to six Olivier Award nominations and winning Best New Play at this year's Oliviers and now it's about to begin its Broadway transfer at the Music Box Theatre. If you think back to the beginning at the Almedia, what were your expectations for the play?

Oliver Chris: I didn't have any expectations. I don't think any of us did. I think we all just thought it was just gonna be an interesting exercise in exploring what modern theatre is, what modern power is and what the modern monarchy is. For me, I really loved it because it is so different from the type of stuff I normally do and I was desperate to do something that was a bit more intellectual and high-brow. For me, it was just going to be an interesting, theatrical experiment and none of us were expecting it to be as successful and as popular as it was. It was a complete, wonderful surprise! There are so many shows of quality that don't strike a chord like ours has and it's so wonderful that it has resonated so much with everybody.

HT: And what was your initial reaction to being asked to audition for the coveted role of Prince William?

OC: It actually wasn't a reaction to me being asked to audition. I actually heard that they were casting it and I made a beeline for it. I contacted the director Rupert Goold myself and asked him: "I've heard you're auditioning for Prince William and why the hell haven't you called me yet?!"

HT: Well, you do have the look, Oliver!

OC: (Laughs) Yes! And so, he responded and I messaged him saying: "Listen, I'm going on holiday in three days time and if you don't see me before then, we're both going to miss out!" So he squeezed me in on the Saturday and the rest, as they say, is history.

HT: Fantastic! And look at what your pro-activeness has brought you now!

OC: Well, I'm a big fan of pro-activeness.

Oliver Chris & Tim Piggott-Smith in King Charles III
(Photo by Johan Persson)

HT: I was just looking at the West End production shots again and I have to say the resemblance is uncanny. Although I do have to say - and how can I put this politely - you're less 'follicly-challenged' than the real Prince William.

OC: (Laughs) Bless you! We did actually have a discussion about that. In the early days, we discussed whether we should recede my hairline, but in the end we decided that one of the strengths of the play is that we all have resemblances to our real counterparts but we don't do impressions of them. They aren't caricatures. We are the characters in the story and not the characters in real life. We like to think we have incorporated some of the essence of the real people but taking it too far would have stretched the play into parody and that's just not what it's about.

HT: Yes, I agree. It would not have worked had the play incorporated elements of "Spitting Image" in it. So, you've got the part, now how do you prepare and research for the role when playing a real person? Does one go so far as to stalk the individual, risking incarceration, or does one stay clear and rely on one's own interpretation?

OC: Well, of course he's someone who's been photographed since the day he was born and there is loads of interviews on YouTube and the internet and newspaper archives and I just got stuck into that. I'm not one for doing huge amounts of research because I believe a lot of what you need is on the page, but I feel we owe a debt to the real people that we are playing - not necessarily to portray them as they are in real life, but at least to have half a mind to their sensibilities. It's just a question of respect and that's where we made the effort.

HT: Was there ever an invite to Buckingham Palace for a character study... and tea and scones?

OC: Oh yeah! They actually invited me to Tooting for a kebab!

HT: A kebab? What... seriously?

OC: (Laughs) No! Of course they didn't!

HT: I thought I'd lost my mind for one split second there! So you're rehearsing in London with the entire cast at the moment. When do you head off to New York?

OC: I think we head off around the 4th of October.

HT: So you've only got about a week in the actual theatre before you begin previews on 10th October?

OC: I think it's even less than that. I think we only get a few days.

HT: Crikey!

OC: I've actually been to the Music Box Theatre before though. I did 'One Man, Two Guvnors' there a few years ago.

HT: Yes! It was the exact same theatre.

OC: Yeah, the same theatre.

HT: Well, it was meant to be, wasn't it!

OC: I look at it as a triumphant return (laughs).

Oliver Chris & Tim Piggott-Smith in King Charles III
(Photo by Johan Persson)

HT: Have there been any changes made for the Broadway production? Has playwright Mike Bartlett re-written anything?

OC: I think there are some kinks and changes. You'll get to see it in a different light, maybe more efficient and streamlined. They may cut a few things out. Once you've done it in the West End and seen what works and then you bring it to America, you get the opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes and start to re-rehearse it. At the moment though I don't know exactly what they're going to change. I guess they will definitely cut some things. That always happens - maybe some of the more archaic parliamentary politics elements, but apart from that, I think it's gonna remain the same play. I think we can improve it and streamline it but they won't change it specifically for the American audience. I think theatregoers are usually quite clever people and they don't need to be pandered to. I think they want to be elevated and stretched. They don't want to just be spoon-fed some junk. Do you know what I mean? So I don't think it'll be changed that much.

HT: When William and Kate were last in New York, the media frenzy was incredible! Do you think the 'royal factor' will really have a telling impact on drawing audiences to the play?

OC: The reputation is that the Americans are more fervent about the Royal Family than we are, but you never know how these things are going to go down. We would like to think that if they do have this passion for the British Royal Family, then there may be a similar interest for what we're doing and they would connect with the play. But you never can tell and the thing is that a lot of people found the play quite controversial and upsetting, when they saw it in London. Because we are daring to challenge the whole function of the Royal Family, maybe they will get angry. Maybe they will find it controversial. Maybe we will cause an outrage! I quite like the idea of us causing outrage on the streets of New York!

HT: (Laughs) They will be raping and pillaging, Oliver!

OC: (Laughs) Trust me! No, that'll just be me after each show!

HT: (Laughs) Oh Lord! Mothers, lock up your daughters! Here he comes!

OC: (Laughs) And I'll wear my Prince William outfit as well! They do let me borrow it, you know for special occasions.

HT: You'll be framing the good Prince for some sordid crime, if we're not careful! Anyway, how is Tim Piggott-Smith doing? He had to miss some of the West End engagement due to a broken cholar bone, right?

OC: Yes! He fell off his motorbike! He decided that the best way to get home after the show would be by motorbike. That would be the quickest way and then he would get more rest. Some say it was a bit like a royal conspiracy to put him out of action. He broke his cholar bone and he was out for about five weeks.

HT: But he's all fit and ready for Broadway now?

OC: Oh yes, he's fighting fit! I absolutely love working with Tim Piggott-Smith. He is such an amazing actor. He is a wonderful father of the company and to share the stage with him - as I obviously have some big scenes with him - I relish it every night. I think we both do actually. I formed a really special bond with him and I'm really excited about sharing the stage with Tim again. And he's very excited about going back to Broadway too. He was there quite a few years ago and he really can't wait.

HT: That's such a lovely thing. As an actor you can form these special relationships, like a father-son relationship away from your actual family.

OC: Yes, but having said that, in this play that father-son relationship doesn't end particularly well...

HT: Spoiler alert!!!

OC: Yes. Spoiler alert!!!

A scene from King Charles III
(Photo by Johan Persson)

HT: In closing then, you already mentioned your Broadway debut in 2012 with 'One Man, Two Guvnors' - how did it feel being able to tread the boards in New York?

OC: New York is just the most incredible city in the whole world. I was thrilled to go the first time and now I'm going again with a very different play. Both of the plays are amazing pieces of new writing, which is so rare, and to be able to take those to an international audience on Broadway is so fantastic. I'm just so thrilled.

HT: Well, I've really enjoyed speaking to you, Oliver and I wish you all the best with your rehearsals and hope King Charles III will be as big a success on Broadway as it was in the West End.

OC: Thank you so much. I've got all my fingers crossed!

King Charles III begins previews on 10 October 2015 at Broadway's Music Box Theatre, before an official opening on 1 November, and a limited run through to 31 January 2016.

- Edited by Tom Millward

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