Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale is being live- streamed from the Barbican and one of its stars is Tunbridge Wells-born Orlando James. Here he tells Eileen Leahy how his teacher at Tonbridge School inspired him to follow his acting passion
How did you get into acting?
I started when I was at school. I had some great teachers who really took the time to try and inspire their pupils. One in particular, Gavin Henry, who now teaches at Sevenoaks School, really guided me towards pursuing acting as a career, and the efforts he put in outside of the curriculum are definitely what made me so determined. This resolve led me to go straight to drama school. I didn’t take a gap year or apply to university, I wanted the discipline and rigour of a training as soon as I could get it. And this paid off, I got into The Drama Centre, London, and trained there for three years.
What do you enjoy most about being an actor?
I am very lucky to have worked predominantly with Cheek By Jowl, a renowned international touring company, with whom I have travelled the globe. To experience various cultures, differences in theatrical heritage, meet so many wonderful people, and share with them your story, that’s the best thing about it. Bringing people together and knocking down walls.
Have you found it an easy path to tread so far?
Like most, I have had my stints of unemployment, and have worked in bars, restaurants, call centres and gyms. But as you continue forward your resilience grows and you find things to keep you creatively fulfilled in those quieter times. I taught myself photography, and now that keeps me very busy and well fed in between theatre tours or television shoots. It isn’t easy [being an actor], but the rewards are so worth the persistence and frustrations.
‘It deals with a lot of big themes:
Redemption, loss, faith, wonder, jealousy’
What have you liked about doing The Winter’s Tale?
The role of Leontes is, in itself, a dream. The material is so rich. This is one of Shakespeare’s more complicated plays. It deals with a lot of big themes: Redemption, loss, faith, wonder, jealousy. But our intention to cut through this with a line of clarity and purity of storytelling is really a compelling challenge. It is a heavily ens- emble piece, and the whole machine only powers forward if the group are together, working as one. So this is something that keeps the job ever fresh and exciting.
Do you find it easy to play Shakespeare?
I find that Shakespeare is often over-complicated, and this is why people are afraid of it – find it difficult to read, to watch, and to perform. My view of Shakespeare is very simple. His plays deal with some of the most universal, most basically human feelings and thoughts. If you strip away any concept, any ideas of trying to make it ‘relevant’, it will be understood. And if that is your goal, to be understood, then the lyricism, the joy, the impact of the text will do the rest for you.
Which other playwrights, authors and actors do you admire, and why?
I admire good storytellers. I find the work of American playwrights like Lanford Wilson, Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams, very compelling. On this side of the pond, my favourite playwright might have to be Harold Pinter. They all have such a way with dialogue, and never let up in their striving to be truthful. I am currently reading Kate Tempest’s Hold Your Own collection of poetry. She is an incredible voice of my generation. Writers that stick their head above the parapet – these are the writers who I admire.
What’s next for you, Orlando?
Well, The Winter’s Tale continues until June, when we finish in Russia. Then my plan is to spend some time at home, writing music and reconnecting after almost two years on the road.
You’re a Tunbridge Wells lad – what do you like most about your home town, and do you still live here?
I was born in Tunbridge Wells, but I live in London. I have unbelievably happy memories of the old part of town. I used to play hooky and set up with my guitar in the bricked alleyway opposite Adrian Harrington bookshop and play the ears off all the passers-by! My favourite thing has to be summer afternoons in Dunorlan Park.
The Winter’s Tale will be streamed live from the Barbican Centre today [19 April] at 7.30pm. You can watch it until May 7 at: www.cheekbyjowl.com/livestream