Interview with Oliver Britten – the Bullying Graeme of The Moor

THE Moor, playing at The Old Red Lion Theatre in London’s Islington, has received a hatful of rave reviews. Oliver Britten, who plays bully Graeme, took time out to speak to Close-Up Culture about the demands of his character – as well as his multitude of other artistic projects.

The Moor runs until March 3. Click for further details.

Q: How demanding is the role of Graeme in The Moor? He is a bully, a drunk but also not without a heart. A bit of a chameleon?

A: PLAYING Graeme has been the most demanding role I have ever worked on in a theatrical capacity.

I am sure many actors would leap at the opportunity to play such a great role, with so much obvious clout and size. Yet for me, he is not someone I would typically play which has made it a real challenge.

Of course we all experience anger, but I feel naturally distant to violence, whereas Graeme is obviously the complete opposite. Even though he is not constantly violent, it is not something foreign to him. It is in his arsenal, it is a form of communication in a sense.

So in that regard, the role is definitely a big undertaking. Also, as you say, he is a lost unhappy man; insulated, frustrated, under achieving and emotionally immature. So, to try to portray all that alongside his strength and wrath has been a monstrous task. One that I have relished and extremely grateful for.

Q: Do you think Graeme is as much a victim as an abuser?

A: I THINK he is definitely a victim of certain things. When we delved into his back story during the rehearsal process, our writer, the brilliant and lovely Catherine Lucie, provided a huge deal of insight into his upbringing and personality.

I think people are nearly always responsible for their actions, but few, if any, are born that way. So it has been fascinating to deliberate over the many things he must have experienced in order to become the man we see in the play. Although his abusive behavior is not unexplainable it is inexcusable. As a result, many audience members, I suppose with good reason, feel little sympathy for him either way.

Q: Do you enjoy playing Graeme? Is he your toughest – and darkest – acting role to date?

A: HE is without doubt the toughest and darkest role I have played to date.

As a result, to say I have enjoyed playing him is almost the wrong word. I have certainly enjoyed both director Blythe Stewart’s intricate and highly successful rehearsal process and the challenges in playing Graeme.

Furthermore, as someone who loves comedy and who admittedly is mainly cast as a comedy actor, it has been a refreshing contrast to explore the painful, mysterious and dramatic themes that run through this great play.

However, as I have endeavored to play Graeme as truthfully as possible there have been times when it would be hard to describe the feeling as enjoyment. Some of the things I have to say and do, and the emotions I have to inhabit, are not enjoyable. Yet, I can confidently describe my involvement in this production as a distinctively positive experience. Professionally satisfying, highly rewarding and due to the awesome cast and crew, great fun.

Q: How did you enjoy your role of Bluebeard in The Limehouse Golem? A film that received more accolades than brickbats.

A: IT WAS a dream come true for me. Professionally it is a career highlight because, to be honest, despite many frustratingly close castings it is my first credit in a feature film, so I was extremely happy and proud to get the work.

On top of that it was such a great experience. The role is not enormous but I got to work closely with some great actors. Olivia Cooke was an absolute delight as well as a fierce talent. Douglas Booth was utterly charming and the legendary Bill Nighy was just that – legendary. I could go on but no one likes a name dropper. I watched the film with my wife and it was great to see my scenes in the movie. I think it is awesome, really gripping and a good ol’ ‘who dunnit’.

Q: Are you a theatre or a film individual?

A: I DEFINITELY watch more film than theatre and sometimes I think I have been in more plays than I have seen. I love the theatre. It is a magical thing that never loses its potency and I always love it when I watch and when I perform. Film is incredible too and I do love a good movie. I am sure I do not qualify as a film buff per se, but I love to analyze and discuss film as well as just purely enjoy it.

Q: What is next up for you?

A: WELL I am really hoping some people will see this play and want to work with me as a result because I would love to do more theatre work.

I am also really focusing a lot on writing comedy. I feel like I have plenty going on creatively. In particular I am really hoping a script I have written with my hilarious and talented friend Sy Thomas will pick up steam.

I have also been performing a comedy walking tour on and off for the last few years with a great team called: ‘The Barry Wise, Wise Tour Of Soho’. We have been trying to develop that into a TV concept alongside our continued development of the actual show.

Aside from those specific projects, I seem to be chugging along nicely with voice-over work and regular castings for commercials, TV, film and theatre. I am always happy to be jobbing and not to be disgustingly clichéd about it but, if I can make a living doing what I love I am a happy man!

Q: You have a good line in TV adverts. I saw you pop up in an advert while I was watching Rebecka Martinsson: Artic Circles on Channel Four. Do these just help pay the bills or do you enjoy them?

A: NICE one, always good to be spotted. Yeah I seem to have been relatively successful over the years with commercial castings. Of course, financially they are a nice boost – they can help fund other passion projects and obviously paying the mortgage is sort of a good idea I suppose.

I think I have been very lucky though, in that I have done some really great adverts. I think the advertising world is always keen to produce adverts that make you chuckle, and I have done some really fun comedy as a result. Also the directors I have worked with on some jobs have been absolutely class, so I have really been able to flex my comedy muscles.

Loads of the work I do on adverts involves ‘improv’ which is great fun and good practice. I always hope they lead to other work and I have felt really proud of stuff I have done to date.

Q: You must feel proud to be recognised as one of the country’s hottest emerging talents by the BBC. Embarrassed or honoured?

A: HONESTLY, I would say honored. What is worse: false humility or truthful vanity?

It was a really nice accolade for sure. The BBC says it is committed to emerging talent and they really mean it. After working with them for a year or so, it was a privilege being invited to that networking event with Idris Elba and Tony Hall and then to be published on the hot list. It felt great.

Q: You are a multi-talented individual. Is The Oly Britten Thing still playing when it gets the chance and you get the time? What instrument do you play?

A: I AM amazed you found out about that to be honest. It was a jazz band I was involved in many years ago. We were so young and it was great fun learning together and gigging with relatively little experience.

The band were talented musically but I was just an actor who loved to sing – hungry for stage experience and money. Not that we made much. I played the saxophone when I was very young but I am not too slick with that any more. I have just started learning the piano which I love, but I need to spend more time practicing.

So really it is the singing more than anything instrumental. Now I am in a two man covers band called, ‘Jolly Fire’ with a good mate of mine who plays the guitar. It is a joy getting paid to sing whilst having a laugh at gigs, mixing songs and playing around with different covers.

I love to sing, and it is always fun when I get to do so professionally. I do audition occasionally for musicals and hopefully I will get a chance to continue singing professionally in the future – both in the band or on stage.

Q: Where does the future lie? Acting? Directing? Writing?

A: I THINK I will just keep doing what I am doing. Following opportunities where they come. I have great representation with Curtis Brown, so hopefully TV, film, and theatre work will continue to pop up – and as I said I love voice-over and I hope that continues to be a regular gig.

I really have a great deal of diverse ambition. I would love to do everything. Sitcoms, dramas, films, musicals. I really want a chance to do the lot. I am always writing and developing projects with friends and collaborators and I hope in the not too distant future that my relationship with the BBC translates into TV potential. So I suppose who knows, but I am having fun and loving every minute.

Q: You are working on a sitcom for the BBC? How is that progressing?

A: SO a great director and friend of mine, Jon Dennis, created a concept for a potential comedy. We began working on the idea together and I become co-creator. We signed a development deal with BBC Studios for a year and got to film an awesome teaser of the pilot, working with a great writer, Vicky Jones.

Unfortunately, when we pitched it for a possible commission they decided against it, but since then, they have been really keen to continue working with me. So I am now speaking with a producer at BBC Studios on a separate script, the one I mentioned earlier. We are really proud of it and we love the latest draft, so hopefully we can continue taking that forward in the right direction.

Q: Any views on Jill Macausland’s performance as Bryony in The Moor? And her singing? Does she pass the OB test?

A: Both Jill and Jonny Magnanti (Pat, the policeman) are two of the loveliest and most talented people I have worked with.

Obviously I have less actual stage time with Jonny, but we have had a great time none the less – learning from him, his experience and professionalism has been a real treat.

I always say Jill makes my job easy because she is so committed and brilliant at her work. I mean the reviews speak for themselves regarding her performance. I do not think there is anything else I could add. I love her to bits.

She is a fantastic singer! We have all had a right laugh singing together throughout the show. Harmonizing and improvising random songs. She is professionally trained and has plenty of experience singing on stage, so this job has been a walk in the park for her in that regard.

I think people will be in for a treat when they get to see her sing properly in future shows. To be honest I do not think it is a case of her passing my test, but more the other way round.

Hopefully we will get a chance to sing together at some point in the future. That is the dream!

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