BWW Interview: Joshua McGuire Talks I'M NOT RUNNING
Actor Joshua McGuire returns to the National Theatre this year, to appear in David Hare's new play I'm Not Running. Chatting to him during rehearsals, Joshua shares his love of new writing, what the play is (and is definitely not) about, and his journey from audience to actor at the National.
Do you have an early memory of seeing theatre?
Do you know what? One that stands out to me is Jerry Springer: The Opera, which was actually here at the National. That just blew my mind. It's one of the best things I've ever seen because I didn't really realise that theatre could be that.
I grew up in Warwick, so Stratford-upon-Avon, and I thought theatre was relatively uptight, Shakespeare, that kind of thing. Then I went and saw this foul-mouthed, hilarious, raucous but beautifully created piece of theatre. That was a real moment.
And do you have a particular moment that that clicked for you, in terms of wanting to act?
To be honest, I don't think there was. I joined the youth theatre that my sister went to and really enjoyed it. I never felt like I made a conscious choice to do it; I've just been lucky in that I haven't been forced to make a different choice...yet!
You've also had the good fortune of that taking you in different directions, stage and screen. Did one come first for you?
So my first job was Posh at the Royal Court, straight out of RADA. It just so happened that a play about young men was taking place on stage at that time; if I had been coming out of drama school a year later, it wouldn't have happened.
Then almost directly after that, I did The Hour for the BBC. So actually, they kind of came at the same time. And I've been really lucky that TV and stage have co-existed alongside one another.
But I think it's really interesting, not just in the world of acting but the wider world. We're constantly boxed into categories: for us, "You're a stage actor", or "You're a film actor", or "You're a television actor". I like the fact that consciously or not, I'm able to straddle those worlds.
Both The Hour and Posh were pieces of ground-breaking new writing. Is that a medium you feel particularly drawn to?
100%. And I think ever since Posh, that instilled in me that that's the kind of stuff that I love doing, new writing. You know, to sit in a room with Laura Wade and Lyndsey Turner at the Royal Court, the place where new plays are made, creating a brand new piece of work was just incredible.
But of course no matter what you tackle, if it's a remake, a new play, an adaptation, there's new things to discover.
I'm thinking of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern the other year...
Yes, that's exactly what we did. It was a 50-year-old play, but how amazing that we had the author with us.
And working with Tom Stoppard, it was almost like coming at it and working with it as if it were a newly written play that year: he added stuff, he cut stuff. And they were small and subtle changes, but it's weird because I feel like we did a new play there...but it was actually 50 years old.
So you must be loving your current job, working on David Hare's latest play I'm Not Running.
Absolutely! It's just so exciting that this is a new David Hare play - and it sounds silly, but no one in the world has ever seen this play before.
And again, to have the writer there is incredible. Being able to ask him questions - because he is so knowledgeable - about the world of the play, about Westminster, about Labour, and just how the intricacies of a Labour leadership process work. (Because it's bloody difficult, let me tell you that!)
The cast is just six of us with four more joining, so it's nice to have the time to explore the writing and ask those questions. And we're all sharing in the problem solving, which is kind of what putting on a new play is: problem solving.
What were your initial impressions of I'm Not Running?
So not only do I love new writing, but the notion of current writing.
Even though the play is 100% fictional and bears no relation to any real life characters, it's very much of this time and speaks to it. It's about an inspirational woman who could potentially be in power in England. And I think that's such an important story to tell right now.
Can you set up that world for us a bit?
So Pauline Gibson is an independent, female MP, who runs a campaign to save a hospital. And she becomes incredibly popular off the back of that campaign. And completely independent of anything she has done apart from being who she is, there's a groundswell in the country of people wanting her to run for Leader of the Labour Party.
And it's about that pressure and of course, it's called "I'm Not Running"! So it's about having responsibilities forced onto you and what you do with that, those decisions.
David mentioned how Shami Chakrabarti was one of the most popular, politically identifiable women in Britain with the advocacy group Liberty. And then she became a Labour Peer and people didn't like her, because she was suddenly part of the establishment that she railed against. And so he's trying to examine a similar trajectory here.
It's just really fascinating at this time, especially with everything that is going on with Labour and the Tories. And this plays exists in a Brexit-free world. I mean, Brexit is not mentioned once in it.
Which is something really and refreshingly rare to see on stage now!
Exactly. I think some people might be expecting a play about Brexit or something like that. And that's not what they're going to get. They're going to get something which is (like you say, a rarity at the moment) a completely fictional play about some completely fictional characters that happen to live inside our political system.
Can you tell us a bit about how your character fits into that world?
So my character Sandy serves as a general adviser to Pauline. He's kind of at the cliff face of the barrage of media attention, because of her popularity. And he of course has his own story personally, but it's about his and Pauline's relationship in terms of how they navigate that fine line of public and private with power and politics.
And this isn't your first time at the National.
No, so I did The Magistrate in the Olivier which was completely different to this! It was kind of a wild, Victorian comedy with a really heightened design and incredible use of the space.
But that was such a different animal: the Olivier is such a vast space. And I mean the Lyttelton is not small by any stretch of the imagination, but it's just a very different feeling.
So you've done two of the National's theatres then. Ticking off the dream theatres...
Yes, I'm just doing the rounds! Hopefully I can do the Dorfman after this!
But it's funny, people always ask you, "What's your dream role?" I always remember someone saying, "I'm the kind of person who in school would prefer to be told the title of my essay, than be told to make it up myself". Do you see what I mean? You fitting into something, a director's vision, rather than making the vision yourself.
Finally, returning to straddling that line between worlds and looking ahead. With films, you've been working on Artemis Fowl...
Yes. I never read the books as a kid, but I did when I got the call. And I think it's going to be really special with what Ken [Branagh] has done with it...and yes, that's all I can say without getting into trouble!
And then the world of TV. My flatmate would kill me for not asking this: is there going to be a Season 4 of Lovesick?
We don't know, I genuinely don't know. I'd tell you off the record if I did! But I don't...yet!
I think we'd all love to continue that story, but at the same time, if not I think it's at a good place.
Photo credit: Mark Douet