mon 15/07/2024

Q&A Special: Actor Nigel Lindsay | reviews, news & interviews

Q&A Special: Actor Nigel Lindsay

Q&A Special: Actor Nigel Lindsay

From Pinter to Shrek: an actor's unlikely journey

Nigel Lindsay as Scottish ogre Shrek: 'They weren’t necessarily looking for an ugly bastard'

His only previous visit to musical theatre was as Nathan Detroit in the Donmar’s West End production of Guys and Dolls. And now Lindsay sits in the sumptuous dressing room – it feels more like a small flat – at Drury Lane once occupied, he is proud to note, by the likes of Rex Harrison. The first role in which he caught the eye was as Mugsy, the eternally optimistic victim in Patrick Marber’s poker play Dealer’s Choice.

There has since been a string of performances from the thuggish and/or yobbish end of the spectrum. He was a humourless torturer in Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman and the last Lenny Harold Pinter saw in The Homecoming.

It has been an eventful journey for Lindsay. When he decided to abandon a well-paid job in the City and go to drama school, he can’t have anticipated that one day he would have his name up in lights outside the most famous old theatre in London. Or that the rest of him would be, to all intents and purposes, invisible. He tells theartsdesk how it happened.


Nigel-LindsayJASPER REES: For theatre-goers you are a familiar figure.

NIGEL LINDSAY: I think that’s fair. There is a but at the end of that sentence. People do know who I am in the theatre, yes.

But the Shrek audience – that is the but – are probably not going to know who you are, unless of course they saw Four Lions.

I don’t think they’ll know who I am after Shrek either because I am completely unrecognisable. That is one of the good things about this part. Yes, I have flown under the radar as far as the non-theatre-going public is concerned, and I’m in so much make-up and also it takes an hour and a half to put on and half an hour to take off, I reckon I’m going to be walking out the stage door right past all those people waiting for Amanda Holden and Nigel Harman to come out and sailing out without having to be bothered.

Except all those children will want Shrek’s autograph.

Yeah, but they won’t know who it is. I’m certainly not going to say, “I’m Shrek, here I am,” as I walk out. If someone stops me, yeah. If they don’t, I’m going home. I’m going to be knackered enough.

Do you find it a piquant irony that after all these years of top-quality upscale performances in Pinter etc you are suddenly in a show which has mainstream popular appeal and your face is completely covered up?

I hadn’t thought of it like that but now you mention it it is quite a piquant irony. I was about to gainsay you and say, “No!” but actually yeah. It is quite funny, isn’t it, really? Ha ha ha ha! There’ll be a picture in the programme. That’ll do me. It’s fine. Honestly, honestly, if I did it so that my face would be recognised I’d be in the wrong game. I’d have become a taxi driver by now. When I did Guys and Dolls with Nigel Harman in the West End, he was Sky Masterson and I was Nathan Detroit. I had the same sort of feeling. When I left the stage door there would also be approximately 60 teenage girls waiting outside the stage door and as I came out they’d go [sharp intake of breath followed by deflated noise] and as I walked past them they’d go, “When’s Nigel coming out?” every night. And he used to sneak out the back door, the bugger. There was a side entrance.

You know that the cricketer Matthew Hoggard’s nickname is Shrek?

I knew Wayne Rooney’s was, I didn’t know Hoggard’s was.

What were they looking for?

They weren’t necessarily looking for an ugly bastard if that’s where you’re leading.

I’m not leading anywhere.

Because there’s an hour and a half of make-up. The young girls who play the young Fiona say, “You have to put make-up on because you’re too good-looking to be Shrek.” That’s nice. Only nine-year-olds unfortunately say it. What they’re looking for – it is a hell of a part. This is going to sound really wanky and I hope you translate it a different way. Caro Newling [Shrek's producer] said to me, “It’s like the King Lear of musicals, this part.” I think what she actually meant was stamina-wise. They did an out-of-town tour and then they took it on to Broadway for a year and now it’s on another tour, through all these different generations of Shrek, you need an actor to play the part because the make-up is so thick and the padding, you need to see a bit of humanity come through. I’m not saying they didn’t have that before. They told me they saw a lot of actors who can sing for this rather than musical actors because they wanted someone at the core of it who was an actor. Now hopefully they’ve got that. I didn't know whether they knew I can sing. You’d think Guys and Dolls is a singing part because Frank Sinatra plays the part in the film but actually it was written for a stand-up comedian who couldn’t sing. Nathan only has two songs and one is “Adelaide” which is often dropped and the other one is “Sue Me” which they even write a little stepladder in for you to get to the chorus: “Call a lawyer and sue me”, so you can get up to the note. I was amazed they called me in. I’d done no other musicals.

Nigel Lindsay has his make-up applied

Can you sing?

Yeah, I can. The song they had for the audition sorts the men out from the boys. It’s a belter of an aria called “Who I’d Be”. It’s a wonderful song but if you can’t sing you can’t sing it, basically.

Have you not had any opportunity to use your singing voice?

Not since I was in a punk band when I was at school called The Disease and I was Nauseous Nige. Our biggest hits were “Vomiting Blood” and “Anarchy in Moor Park”. Moor Park is a very suburban area near Rickmansworth, Watford, and the joke was about daring to be different in Moor Park. “Gonna wear brown shoes to the office tomorrow/ Might dare to be five minutes late/ Cos this is anarchy, total disorder/ Do you mind if I masturbate?” That sort of stuff. Written by a very bright boy who went on to get a double first at Cambridge. I was the singer and the guitarist was Alan Duncan the MP’s brother. Alan Duncan was my first head boy at school.

You went straight from The Disease to being a stockbroker, did you not?

Well, actually first I went to university and then I did a couple of ski seasons.

Which university?


What did you study?

French and English. My parents were getting more and more annoyed about the lack of ambition. I’m not a man of great foresight but the one thing I could see is that once you start working, that’s it for the rest of your life. So I deliberately did a four-year course before university, I took a year off before university and two years off after university.

So from leaving school it took you seven years to enter a profession.

Something like that.

‘I’d said to him, “I always fancied going to drama school.” He said, “What do you think they’re going to do, phone you up?”’

How did you become a stockbroker?

I was very lucky. I had a mate at school. He said they’re looking for French analysts at my company and I thought, the City sounds good because I know they pay a lot and I was getting a lot of grief from my parents. And I was relatively academic at school and they were after a financial analyst. He said, “The guy who interviews you, he’s got this thing from the old days of pre-Big Bang. He always asks about converting decimals into fractions and he’ll always ask you these three fractions. If you can convert two thirds and four sixths into decimals he’ll like that.” So I walked into the meeting knowing nothing about the City and having been a ski bum, having done no research, thinking I was God’s gift. So he said, “What do you know about OPEC?” That was his first question. I said, “Well, it’s the oily oil thing.” He went, “Right, well, you obviously know nothing about that. What about the situation in – I don’t know - South America or something? How do you think that’s going to affect bla-di-bla?” I went, “Ah, I dunno.” I could see him just thinking, what’s the point? “Just before I go, what is a third as a decimal?” And I reeled off these three questions. And he went, “Hang on a minute,” went off down the corridor, came back and offered me the job. It was ridiculous. In those days anyone could work in the City.

How long did you last?

I lasted three and a half years.

Was the money good?

It was great. I was in my early or mid-twenties.

When you consider that you’ve worked mostly in theatre, is this actually the best money you’ve been earning since then?

This? Yeah, I’d say. I did the voice of the National Lottery for a year. I took over from Tim Spall. I did all the adverts for them. That was very remunerative. I do all right. You’re on £420 at the Almeida, £450 at the Royal Court. It’s nothing. I’ve always managed to supplement my income and I’ve actually done all right. They kept putting my money up and up and up in the City and I was terrible at it because I had no interest in it. It was almost like an inverse proportion: the worse I was the more money they kept paying me. And then they started making people redundant around me, people who were much better than me. I couldn’t believe it. And then in the end I did a play for a friend of mine, a charity, something to do with the Stock Exchange. He’d been to drama school and I’d said to him, “I always fancied going to drama school.” And normally people go, “Really?” He said, “What do you think they’re going to do, phone you up?” I got home that night. It was like a weird Damascene conversion. I thought, yeah he’s right.

Why did you fancy going to drama school?

For the wrong reasons, really. I was the one that made them laugh in class at school and a bit of a show-off and also desperately needy. You know, one of those.

What you’ve described is the psychological profile of a stand-up.

I don’t think I’m good enough to write my own stuff and also I certainly don't have the balls. Anyway, I thought, he’s right. I’ve been waiting for the BBC to phone me up and say, “We know you’re a stockbroker but how do you fancy being in this three-part series?” So I applied the next day and I thought, if I get in I’ll go. And I did. And that was it. The funny thing was my boss went bananas. He’d just made another 150 people redundant, kept me on and given me a pay rise. You go in one by one and the guy that came out said, “Nige, they want you, you can ask for anything.” “Great.” So I went in and they said, “We’re going to offer you x.” I said, “It’s not enough.” Because I knew I was leaving and I didn’t care. It was beautiful. And he went, “What?” I said, “It’s not enough.” And he went, “Jesus.” “All right, how about x?” And I went, “Yuh, OK, and I want half of my bonus paid now.” Because I knew I was leaving in about three weeks. He went, “I’m the boss, not even I get my bonus paid now.” I said, “That’s the deal.” He phoned someone and said, “He wants his bonus... I know! I told him!... OK.” And then I went, “Can I have that car?” He went, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” So they gave me a car and forgot to ask for it back for six months so I was driving around in a Golf GTi at drama school.

‘The bottom line for me is we’re all going to be dead in about 100 years’ time so you’ve got to give it a go’

When I left the head of the trading floor came up to me really angrily and he went, “Where are you going? Warburgs? Merrill Lynch? Goldman Sachs? Where are you going?” And I said, “I’m going to drama school.” He went, “What?” I said, “I’m going to drama school.” And the tears came into his eyes and he put his hands on my shoulders and he said, “That’s fantastic, don’t ever come back to this place and I wish you the best of luck.” Anyway, I hadn’t heard from him for 20 years. When I got here there was a letter from him saying, “I followed your career and I really wish you luck.” I wrote him a letter back saying, “You won’t remember saying this to me but my parents wouldn’t speak to me about going to drama school, everyone else said I was bonkers. You’re the only one who said that to me and it really meant something to me at the time.” You know when you ask advice from people and they’re thinking, what advice can they give you and it’s usually rubbish? The great thing was he was a millionaire at that time and we’re talking 1989. So for him to say that filled me with confidence because I thought, he’s got all the trappings and it doesn’t matter. That made me feel much better about leaving.

I’m still curious to know why drama school? I sense that you’d not done much acting.

I hadn’t. Do you think boys want to be footballers or actors or whatever and you grow out of that phase? I haven’t worked out whether I just felt like everybody else felt – it would be nice to be an actor. But I knew somewhere in my head. Because I was relatively academic it didn't feel like a field open to me. I never thought real people were actors. So I thought, you have to earn money, you have to be a stockbroker or something like that. But there had always been the little boy inside me thinking, I’d like to be an actor. But I’d never had the guts to do it or thought that that was available to me. And then when that bloke said to me, “Well, do you think they’ll phone you up?” I thought, well, you can apply and see where it takes you. The bottom line for me is we’re all going to be dead in about 100 years’ time so you’ve got to give it a go. What’s the best thing I could possibly be? The best thing I could possibly do would be to play professional sport. But I was nowhere near good enough.

But what gave you the hunch you might be good enough at acting if you were a needy show-off?

I thought that’s what acting was about and it’s so the opposite of that. There are plenty of needy show-offs who do all right in the business but my heroes are the ones who don’t do any of that. I wonder whether I went in thinking I’d be good for the wrong reasons and I just lucked out.

What was the drama school?

Webber Douglas.

Weren’t you a bit older than everyone else?

Not that much. I was in my mid-twenties when I went.

You’ve often played quite aggressive, angry and scary people. Do you acknowledge that?

I do and I don’t. I think I’ve been really lucky in that yes, I have played a lot of aggressive nutters like Lenny in The Homecoming and Barry in Four Lions.

XDEL_DT_and_Nigel_LindsayThe Pillowman...

Oh yeah, actually, now you mention it. But I also quite often get to play the best friend parts. I think I’m really lucky in that I really haven’t been pigeonholed.

I’m not saying you have.

It’s one I take off the shelf occasionally and very pleased I am too. But what’s the question?

I’m wondering whether those three years in the City were, in a subliminal way, oddly a kind of grounding for that kind of characterisation.

What they were certainly a grounding for is real life. When I worked in the City it was a nasty place to work. A mate of mine who I worked with in ski resorts, a good bloke, straight-talking – I took him out to lunch. I was about two stone heavier than I am now and he was still bumming around so I thought I’ll take him to Wheelers or Simpsons in the Strand. Paid for everything. I thought I was being really generous. I was talking away and at the end of the meal he said, “Nige, do you mind if I say something?” I said, “No.” He said, “You’ve become a real cunt.” And I said, “What?” He said, “You’re ‘orrible, you’re so pompous. It’s all about money and bla-di-bla.” And he was right. It was a real wake-up call. I’m not saying everyone in the City is like that but if you’re slightly impressionable as I was and you’re desperate to be part of the gang you can find yourself being sucked into a world which is not very pleasant and you become unpleasant and you don’t realise it and you treat money with disdain. When I left to go to drama school I had funded my whole first year. The fees were three and a half grand a term even then. I just handed it over. I didn’t care. I didn't even think about it. And then at the end of the first year when I hadn’t done a day’s work apart from drama school I realised I had no money left. They awarded me a scholarship for the next year. Otherwise I’d have had to leave.

‘You have to know when to throw your toys out the pram but you sound a bit of a twat if you do it for the wrong reason’

What was your first job?

I was really lucky when I left drama school. My last finals play was Charley’s Aunt, that old thing, and I was the eponymous hero/heroine. And the guy who directed that was called Michael Fry and he ran a company called Great Eastern Stage which was touring Lincolnshire and the day I left drama school he asked me if I would come and be in a play about the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. So I was one of the assassins in that. The guy who was playing the lead in that - his wife was Helen Edmundson the playwright, and she was doing Anna Karenina for Shared Experience. The day I left that job they asked me to come and be Anna’s brother Steva. I went on tour with that. The last venue we played was Salisbury Playhouse and the day I finished that they asked me to come back to Salisbury and do a Nöel Coward play. I didn’t have a day off for a year and a half. I was with ICM the agency. After I finished Salisbury I phoned my agent every day for a week. After a week he phoned me up and said, “We need to go out for lunch.”  I thought he was going to sack me because I hadn’t worked for a week. And he took me for a lunch and he said, “Nige, the reason we’re here is you don’t have to phone me every bloody day. You’ve been out of work for seven days in nearly two years. It doesn’t work like that.” I had no idea. I was really lucky. I didn't choose to go into the theatre. It chose me.

Why do you think it chose you?

Because of those jobs that I got. It’s quite a clique, theatre. Once you’re in, people see you. People who go to the theatre are the same people. I’ll be playing a massive, massive part in theatre. They’ll ask me to come in for two scenes in TV and it used to piss me off. There used to be quite a mix between film and theatre. People like Rex Harrison who used to be in this dressing room when he did My Fair Lady would go from theatre to film the whole time. Gambon’s done it a bit. And then there used to be a bit of crossover with TV but not any more. TV execs don't go to the theatre and it’s slightly irksome sometimes. You have to know when to throw your toys out the pram but you sound a bit of a twat if you do it for the wrong reason. Listen, I’ve been out of work for four months in 20 years.

You were one of the actors who helped Patrick Marber devise his first play, Dealer’s Choice. Is that an organic way of creating a play?

It’s a brilliant way of creating a play. Look at Mike Leigh. To be fair to Patrick, on the first day he came in and said, “Whatever happens in this room, I am going to write something from whatever ideas come from this and if anyone’s got a problem with that, you can’t do it.” So we knew right from the beginning what he was doing.

‘Chris Morris is a brilliant man and he just saw something in me. He told me it was the way I did an audition’

Did the nasty atmosphere of the City prove thematically helpful?

I didn't find the City particularly helpful because my character Mugsy was a victim. But a lot of it came from how I perceived myself at the time. Half hero, half vulnerable. The fantasy side of me perceived myself to be this great bloke but actually the reality was I’d go home and cry myself to sleep. There was a lot of me in that part. The reason I did it was I used to play poker every Monday night with Sam West and Marber and all that lot. Patrick asked me if I’d be in that improv thing. Then when Sam West redirected it a couple of years ago Patrick was auditioning Mugsies with Sam. They kept texting me the whole time, saying, “No one’s got that stupid pomposity that you had. We can’t find that idiot!” I said, “I’m not sure whether to be complimented by this but I thank you nonetheless.” Phil Daniels told me at the time, “It’ll pass, Nigel. It’ll pass. Sometimes you get hold of a part and you can’t let it go.” And he was right.

Has that happened to you again?

Barry in Four Lions. I wouldn’t have liked to have seen anyone else do that. The parts that you create, especially if they’ve been from initial improvisation, are very hard to let go. But it’s all a learning curve and I don’t think I’d feel quite the same now.

"Can I have 12 bottles of bleach, please?" Watch the trailer to Four Lions

That again was a part created by you. How much was there at the start?

Well, the character was there. I didn't write any of the material. But Chris Morris is a brilliant man and he just saw something in me. He told me it was the way I did an audition. I came in and I just got it. The scene is not in the film any more. It was about Barry showing one of his recruits this video of an American marine getting blown up by the PLO or something. Then he wants to watch this other video of a Palestinian family being arrested and harassed but he can’t find it on the computer so he says, “All right, all right, let’s use the same one.” So he uses the same one of the American marine and he says, “Now imagine he’s a Palestinian dad, right? And that’s his family. OH MY GOD!” And he gets really, really upset about the same thing. Chris said, “You were the only one who got the complete moronic idiocy of Barry. You were so mocking the first time and you were so angry the second time.” That’s what he was looking for. I did a lot of research for it and Chris introduced me to a couple of characters to look at on the internet.

Were they white Muslims?

Yes. One was a member of the British National Party who used to stand on street corners haranguing Muslims where he lived and he bought a copy of the Koran in order to be able to harangue them better and ended up accidentally converting himself. So he was good. But I didn’t see much of him. I just read his stuff. The other guy was perfect. He worked as the janitor in the Finsbury Park mosque when Abu Hamza took over. This guy converted and became their spokesman. He was a bit like John Prescott in that he spoke really quickly and often talked complete gobbledegook but he had a brilliant way about him. He had real charisma and he’d come out of the mosque and he’d go, “Oi, Mr Policeman, you can’t stand there and...” And he’d talk like this the whole time. I used to do it to myself just before doing Barry scenes. He was wonderful. He got seven years for inciting racial hatred in the end. He was a Greek Cypriot. Abu Abdullah was his name but he was probably called Stefan Iliades or something.

‘If you are a suicide bomber you probably need your head checked and you’re going to die. Well, not much controversy in that, is there?’

But all the writing was the brilliant writing of the Peep Show boys, Simon Blackwell and Chris. Chris is wonderful. When you were doing scenes, during a take he’d shout surreal things out. There was a bit where the guy says to me, “Are you serious?” And I say, “Yeah I am serious. We gotta move on.” And Chris shouted out, “Say, 'I’m serious as beetroot!'” “I’m serious as beetroot, man” and you’re thinking, what the fuck does that mean? And then I was talking about someone dying in paradise. And he’s supposed to say to me, “He’s a little bird flying around in paradise, in’t he, brother?” And I’m supposed to go, “Yeah, he is.” And Chris goes, “Disagree with him!” “Well, he’s not a bird, is he?” “Talk about rivers of milk!” “Paradise is not birds. There’s rivers of milk.” The things that were coming out from him were wonderful. Utter rubbish but they worked.


Where did you stand on the controversy surrounding the film about whether you can laugh about blowing people up? The final moments of the film do rip the rug out from under the audience.

I think if it didn’t have that ending then I might have had a problem with doing the film. I felt Chris tackled the subject in quite a mature manner in that he never made fun of Islam as a religion. I wouldn’t have done it if he had. That was not his intention. And also he said, “Look, when people get blown up, it’s not Tom and Jerry. They die, and other people die too.” I was quite moved by the end of the film.

But it asked us to care about these characters who killed themselves.

Well, I don't necessarily think people cared about Barry. When he died I was in the cinema and they all started clapping. He ate the simcard and choked on it and someone tried to give him a Heimlich manoeuvre in his Mutant Ninja Turtle costume and they got blown up. Although we had an alternative ending which involved my trying to blow myself up by jumping up and down on a concrete floor for eight hours, and then he cut it, the bastard. But I felt very much like The Life of Brian boys felt. I remember the controversy when that came out. People who were shouting the loudest were people who hadn’t seen the film. Quite a lot of controversy was stirred up by the press but actually the only people who recognise me from the film are Muslims and they are 100 per cent really chuffed. “It’s Barry!” They love that film. I don’t think there really is any controversy about the film. What’s it saying? It’s saying if you are a suicide bomber you probably need your head checked and you’re going to die. Well, not much controversy in that, is there?

Back to the theatre. You were in the original production of The Pillowman. I’m assuming that what was on the stage was already on the page? Or did you make a contribution?

No, I’d have Martin McDonagh chasing me with a shotgun. McDonagh is very, very particular about his words being said. In fact we were doing a run-through – a run-through meaning you don’t stop - quite late on in rehearsal. And Jim Broadbent and I were doing a scene. Jim Broadbent, Oscar winner, and I were doing a scene. And Jim went, “Yeah, you know all about the murdered girl, bla bla bla bla,” and carried on. And Martin stopped and went, “’Ang on, ‘ang on. Jim, there’s only three 'bla’s.” Jim went, “Sorry? I beg your pardon?” He went, “If I want four 'bla’s I’ll write four ‘bla’s. Carry on." That’s how much we didn’t muck around with that script. I thought, blimey, what’s going to happen? And of course Jim being the lovely man that he is just carried on.

‘I tried an ice jacket but I started having heart palpitations. But then I stopped wearing it and I had heart palpitations anyway’

Were you ever directed by Harold Pinter?

Er, no. He was at the read-through when we did The Homecoming and that was scary because Lenny, I think I’m right in saying, is one of his favourite parts. He’s played it, he’s directed The Homecoming, he loves Lenny. Antonia Fraser told me that. We were reading it and Lenny’s got these really long surreal speeches. “One night down by the docks I see this old girl...” Read-throughs are quite nerve-racking anyway but when Harold Pinter is sitting where you are now, that near... I thought, I’m just going to sneak a quick look because I’ve got this speech coming, I’m just going to sneak a quick look to see if he’s watching just before I read this – it’s on the next page. And I looked at him and he was staring at me like this and I thought, oh Christ. The first time you’ve read it out loud and there he is, this genius man, not known for his light temper. He wrote me a lovely letter actually so I think I got away with it. He was a sweet man, you know, Harold. We were in a restaurant once and a waiter came up and went, “Would you like any water, sir?” And he went, “Course I don’t want any fucking water!” and we just carried on. I went up to the manager and said, “I’m really sorry about that, he’s not very well.” And the waiter said, “Oh no, Mr Pinter’s fine! He does it all the time.”

‘The stage manager was waiting for me and saying, “You missed the curtain call. You’re in utter shit”’

The Real Thing at the Donmar: was that a productive job for you?

Mm, yeah. I didn’t want to do the part at first. It was a part where the guy goes off at half-time and doesn’t come back. I’d just done a big part and I was thinking, you must choose that because then you can do that and then you can do that. It never really works like that. Most jobs come and hit you in the back of the head. So I said to my agent, “I’m not going to go in.” And she said, “OK, fine.” And I got a phone call from Anne McNulty who is still the casting director at the Donmar. She phoned me at home. “Hello, Anne?” She said, “We’ll see you at 2.30 then.” I said, “Oh God, I’m really sorry. Hasn’t my agent told you? I’m not coming in.” she said, “Yeah, no, your agent did tell me. We’ll see you at 2.30.” And I said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “Don’t be so stupid! Just come in.” And put the phone down. I thought, oh all right, so I did.

Are you grateful to her?

Yes I am because I got to do a show on Broadway. That is just unbelievable. Because we won three Tonys, it was a massive hit and every night they’d come into the dressing room and go, “Robert De Niro’s downstairs, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino... “And we’d be, “Oh all right, we’ll come and meet them.” It was just unbelievable. Paul Newman I met. So that was fun in itself. The great thing was I got to really like going off at half-time. I used to run out of the theatre and go and do a workout at the gym. Well, I’d do the pub one night and the gym the next night. I’d alternate. Except for the night when Simon Russell Beale came to see it and I ran too long on the treadmill and came back in my tracksuit as the audience were coming out. They were going, “That’s the guy who was in the first act!” The stage manager was waiting for me and saying, “You missed the curtain call. You’re in utter shit.” It was just a nightmare.

What happened?

I was never allowed out again. But after three days we nixed that. I remember Simon saying to me, “I can’t believe you didn’t do the curtain call.”

At curtain calls Americans are known for standing up for anything.

photo_review_july-aug10_1It’s very funny. Over here you know when Americans are in. I did Sucker Punch at the Royal Court last night. The choreography was brilliant and the way they took the stalls out at the Court and put in a boxing ring. I remember one night we were bowing and Daniel Kaluuya (pictured right with Lindsay) who brilliantly played the lead said to me, “Look, look.” And there was one person standing up and it was Samuel Jackson. He was going, “Yeah!!” It was hysterical for us.

Will they stand for this?

I hope so. It’s an amazing piece of theatre. The songs are great. There has been no expense spared. I’m just hoping I can get through without dying of a heart attack. It’s a hell of a thing.

How much padding do you have to wear?

[At this point Mr Lindsay got up.] I wear this huge padding and then underneath I’ve got the same for the trousers, then I’ve got an hour and a half’s prosthetic.

Every time you come offstage do you rehydrate?

I take coconut water. When they first offered me the job they said, “There’ll be people waiting for you offstage at all times.” I thought, what are they talking about? Now I understand. I tried an ice jacket which is what they wear in the desert but I started having heart palpitations. But then I stopped wearing it and I had heart palpitations anyway.

Can the kinetic energy of the film be recreated?

It’s a different genre and you have to accept it as such. You can’t recreate the film on stage. For instance I’m doing a Scottish voice but I’m not doing Mike Myers’s voice. I phoned David Tennant who is a mate of mine and said, “Can I come and tape you? I want to do a hybrid of you and Kenny Dalglish?” He said, “If you do Kenny no one will understand it.” I said, “Yeah, but you’re too fey.” He said, “I’ll butch up for you.” I went round to his place and he read a bit of the script for me.

You’re basically channelling Doctor Who?

I suppose I am really. I was worried I was making Shrek a bit angry. I spoke to the director and said, “Why don’t we make him a slobby rock star? Meat Loaf!” I quite like him being a bit angrier. I find if I do a play if I do quite a lot of nights to keep your energy going and reduce your boredom thresholds, if it’s a tragedy play it as a comedy one night. "I know, I’ll do it like Coward would do it." It doesn’t mess it up necessarily. It just gives it something else. I remember saying to Stephen Dillane one night, “I’m absolutely knackered. I can’t go on.” He said, “No, Max is knackered.” It sounds so easy but it took a huge burden off me. "Yeah, Max is knackered, I don't have to worry about it."

Stephen and Jim Broadbent are probably two of the best actors I’ve stood on a stage with. You could do anything and they’d give it back to you. You’d look them in the eye and you knew you were safe. Except with Jim once. Because I was playing Ariel [in The Pillowman] who had been sexually abuse by his father and all he wanted to do was stick the electrodes on David Tennant, I had to be really devoid of a sense of humour. Jim did one thing one night: he did a little shuffle as he came over to me and he saw me smile. And as he came offstage he said, “Why did you smile then?” I said, “I’m not telling you.” He said, “Why not?” I said, “Because if I tell you you’ll do it again.” And he got really angry and he said, “Nigel, I’ve been in the theatre for 30 years. I would never ever willingly upset another actor onstage. I just want to know so that we’re clear about it.” I said, “OK, OK, you did this little shuffle when you said that line.” “Thank you.” Next night, jut as we’re going on he whispered, “Watch the shuffle,” and he did it in exactly the same place. The bastard! And I just went completely.

Nigel Lindsay, Amanda Holden and the cast of Shrek the Musical perform "I'm a Believer" on Britain's Got Talent

The fantasy side of me perceived myself to be this great bloke but actually the reality was I’d go home and cry myself to sleep. There was a lot of me in that part’

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