Deka Walmsley

Q & A with Deka Walmsley who starred as George Brown in Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters, which played at Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre from 14 Sep - 12 Dec 2010.

Jul 22, 1965.

Place of birth?
Corbridge, Northumberland. Raised in Wallsend, about 5 miles east of Newcastle.

You now live in?
After the Broadway run finishes, my fiancé and I are looking for a new house in London.

Did you go to training school, if so which one?
I trained at Rose Bruford Drama School in London 1985-88.

As an actor, do you have a preference for stage, tv or film?
I absolutely have a preference for theatre. I love and am fascinated by the process, and find rehearsal rooms the most joyous places. The collaborative nature of making a production is something I have always adored.

Your first stage performance was?
Professionally it was in a play called Hair in the Gate at Live Theatre in Newcastle, directed by none other than Max Roberts, who directs Pitmen Painters. But I think I was the artful dodger in Oliver at school, aged about 9.

What roles would you most like to play?
How long is a piece of string? I would love to have a crack at Macbeth. My theatrical career has for the most part been involved with new work and creating roles. There are great classical and post war American roles that would be a joy to tackle.

Whats the best advice you have ever received?
A teacher at drama school once announced that we shouldn't make decisions, we should make discoveries. As a naive 22 year old I didn't really appreciate the wisdom of that. There are two other bits of advice that I have always cherished. All big moments start as little moments somewhere. Find the little moments. And when a technical rehearsal stops for some reason, never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down. Thanks to Lucy Briers for the last one.

What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
During a play at which my mother Doris was in attendance with some of her friends, I came on stage dressed as a middle aged woman (for reasons that are too complicated to explain here!) Before I could speak a line, one of my mum's friends announced very audibly "Bloody Hell Doris. It's you!"

What is the most annoying part about your job?
That it's not a meritocracy. Other than that I cant say there is much to complain about.

Briefly tell us how you become involved with The Pitmen Painters?
I have a long association with Live Theatre, Max Roberts and have known Lee since we were 15. And they asked me. And I said yes.

Briefly tell us about the character you play in The Pitmen Painters?
George is a joy. A sort of self appointed man in charge whose authority is constantly undermined. So his journey in the play is a rich one to explore.

How are Broadway audiences reacting to the show - compared to British audiances?
To be perfectly honest the audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have been very generous and involved during performance. But it is fun to explore how the New Yorkers engage with characters who may not be as immediately known to them culturally.

How many years has the ensemble for the Pitmen Painters been together for?
The ensemble has worked on this play for 3 years now. But some of us have worked together on plays for the last 25 years.

What is it like to work with the same company of actors for that length of time?
It is swings and roundabouts really. You gain an enormous amount of trust on stage, you tune into each others rhythms. But we wouldn't be human if we didn't all need a break from each other socially. You have to challenge yourself to be alert and to keep mining the text.

If you had not become a performer, what might you have done instead?
I played drums in a band called Darkness & Jive from 16/17 until I went to drama school aged 20. I loved it and miss it massively. When I told the careers advisor at school that I wanted to be a drummer in a band I was given detention!

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?
I would watch Eileen Atkins if she was washing the dishes.

If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and what would you say to them?
That's too big a question. The trite answer is I would like to meet Neil Peart and I would ask for a shot on his amazing drum kit.

Favorite after-show haunts?
I am still discovering them.

What was the last book you read, and name some of your favorite authors?
"so young, brave and handsome" by Leif Enger. I love Zola's "Germinal", and a wonderful poet called Sean O'Brien and his "The Drowned Book" collection.

What was the last film you saw, and name some of your favorite movies?
I don't really have favorites. I thought Pan's Labarynth was incredible.

Favorite TV programs?
Series two of The Wire pretty much wins hands down recently.

Favorite holiday destinations?
I would love to see the Northern Lights.

Do you have any hobbies?
I love very few things more than sitting on the upper deck of a London bus with the cryptic crossword in the Guardian newspaper on my lap, and people watching when I get stuck. Rock and roll eh?

Do you have any superstitions?
Not particularly. I suppose it depends on how much I want something to happen or not to happen.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?
Pencil and paper. Drum kit. And the BBC world service..

What are your future plans?
Enjoy living and working in New York. Drive down from Washington State to San Francisco, and then go home and marry the beautiful Chloe Lamford whom I love and miss like hell.

Originally published on

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