John Hannam Interviews – Roger Allam

I spoke to Roger about his hit TV series, opera singing and working alongside his wife… In March 2017, I wrote to one of my favourite actors, Roger Allam, at London’s Donmar Warehouse Theatre.

I’d so enjoyed many of his major series, like Endeavour, Ashes To Ashes, The Missing and The Thick Of It and I was keen to interview him – but heard nothing back. Imagine my surprise, 11 months later, when I received a very apologetic e-mail from him. My letter had been mislaid under a pile of papers in his office. He was going back into the West End to appear in The Moderate Soprano and asked if I still wanted to interview him. What a gentleman – and a real-life touch of DCI Fred Thursday.

A lot of people were worried there was not going to be another series of your hit show Endeavour. You and Shaun Evans, who plays the young Morse, are such a great team. What’s the latest news?

We begin filming the sixth series in July, after I finish this play. At the moment, I don’t know what’s happening in the scripts. I don’t know if there are plans to retire me off or if there are going to be any more family problems for Fred. I love doing the series. The art department and designer spend such a lot of time making it look right and Russell Lewis, the writer, has a fantastic ear for dialogue. Each episode takes 23 days to film, spread over four-and-a-half weeks.

In your early days, did you have aspirations to become an opera singer?

Singing was something I could always do. My father was a vicar and I sang in the choir. I also went to Christ’s Hospital School, in Sussex, which was very musical. When my voice broke, I eventually began singing lessons. Later, at Manchester University, where I studied drama, I had singing lessons from John Hargreaves, who had sung with the Sadler’s Wells Opera. I did toy with the idea but if you want to become a serious singer you have to be so dedicated to make that delightful classical sound. Also, you don’t really know how your voice will settle down. I became less interested and more keen on acting.

You were the first person to play Javert in the debut British production of Les Miserables. Were some of the early reviews not too favourable?
They were rather mixed. Some were a bit half-hearted and others were suspicious of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) doing a musical but we sold out every night. During our opening season at the Barbican, Princess Diana came and just loved it. This created a lot of publicity. When we moved into the Palace Theatre, in the West End, she came again and brought Prince Charles with her. That helped a lot. When we were first at the Palace I think Cameron Mackintosh was quite nervous as to whether it would really work. During my stay in the show every single performance was sold out.

Despite being a popular television and movie actor do you still enjoy live theatre?
I do and I try to undertake at least one play a year. I like to keep my hand in. I wouldn’t feel a real actor if I didn’t do a play fairly regularly. I do hugely enjoy television and film work and being an oldish father, with young sons, I do need to earn some money.

Were you surprised to get the role of Illyrio Mopatis in Game of Thrones?
I was delighted, as my bank balance had taken a hit while I played Falstaff at The Globe. I was offered it but knew nothing about it. I was in the first episode and then a couple more but none of us really knew what it was all about. I didn’t know what I was talking about but loved the filming in Malta. It’s a very impressive series.

You have been in huge movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Iron Lady and Lady in the Van. Any special memories?

I got to work with the glorious Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. She’s a proper actor and is so lovely to work with, she’s so much fun. There is no mystique with her. Then working with our own Maggie Smith, in Lady in the Van, was another great privilege.

In The Moderate Soprano you are bald. How long does that take to put on?

The bald cap takes 90 minutes to do and I don’t take it off between shows on matinee days. Hence you are interviewing a bald Roger Allam.Your wife, Rebecca Saire, is an actor.

Have you ever worked together?

Just the once. That was in the last series of Endeavour, when we had a brief scene together. She was cast as a rather racist hairdresser.

Finally, have you ever been to the Isle of Wight?
I think I might have come with the RSC. Can you check that one up for me? (My records indicate Roger came here in early 1984 with the RSC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Island-born Sheila Hancock. This was seen at the South Wight Sports Hall. Also in the company were Polly James and Daniel Day-Lewis.

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