An Interview with David Kershaw – By David Stephenson

 So David, why not start things off by introducing yourself to our readers?

44 years old Londoner, have been a professional actor since graduating from RADA 22 years ago.

You’ve recently appeared in your second feature film called Encounters, reviewed in this issue. Could you tell us a little about this film, and your role in this piece?

Encounters is a completely unscripted, and therefore improvised, feature set in the world of single people in south-east London looking for love, a life-partner or maybe something very particular to them. A group of disparate (and desperate, in some cases…) individuals meet each other for the first time at a speed-dating event organized by my character, Simon. Some are successful, some less so; and the remainder of the film follows some of the relationships that grow out of the speed-date.

In the film, you play a rather introverted, shy kind of character. Is this anything like the real David Kershaw, or something of a departure for you?

Maybe the best way to answer this question is by telling you that when Pat told me that the film would start with a speed-dating event my first thought (and maybe even my first words to him) were, "there’s no way I’m going to one of those!" So, I guess, the answer is yes, I am a little shy and introverted. Pat also gave me a completely free hand in creating the character; his only brief to me was, "It’s the first speed-date that he’s organized. And he’s not very good at it".

For me, the character was created on the spot as we were shooting, so I’m a little ashamed to say that the anally-retentave-control-freakery that Simon exhibits at the speed-date is probably quite close to my own behaviour – and while I cringe at his appalling behaviour, most audiences find it quite funny. I’d like to be able to say that Simon is a complete departure from the real me, but…

How do you prepare for the roles you undertake? Is there any special technique you have? Did your role in Encounters require any special preparation?

Encounters was unusual because there was no script to scour for clues or information about the character – which is where my preparation would normally start. I created a back-history for Simon as to why he was organizing the event but beyond that I did absolutely no preparation. Also, because I didn’t really know who Simon was going to be before we started shooting I determined that what would make him interesting was his attitude to the various other people he came into contact with at the speed-date.

Even I was surprised at how he responded to some of the other characters. Something I’ve learned over the years is that what makes interactions between characters on screen or stage interesting is what passes between them, so you have to focus on that. In the real world, you may have been weaned off the breast too early and had corn flakes for breakfast but how those factors manifest themselves in your day-to-day interactions are probably negligible. It’s the same for a created character. I would argue that what we all like to watch are characters that have clearly identified attitudes to each other. So, as an actor, I decide what my attitude is to the situation my character is in and then what my attitude is to any other character I come into contact with.

A little secret: because of other work commitments I’d agreed with Pat to only be involved in the speed-date which was shot over a long weekend. When Pat then said he wanted to follow the developing relationship between Simon and Carol I found it quite tricky because I felt I’d allowed Simon to become something of a monster. As for special technique – you just have to keep asking "what if?" "What if my character did this now?", or whatever. It’s called a "play" for a reason…

You say you had to totally improvise Simon and create a whole back story for him. Do you agree with this approach, or would you prefer a scripted character to fall back on?

I’m very happy with this approach; the freedom that you have when creating a character from scratch is fantastic. The only problem one may find is having too many choices available to you. To be honest, nobody can act a back-story anyway, and sometimes a writer thinks they’re helping you by giving you loads of background, but most of what they give you will be irrelevant. A good writer gives the actor really strong actable objectives from moment to moment.

What do you mean when you say Simon became something of a monster?

I felt that the Simon I created when I thought he was just going to be in the speed date section of the film was something of a pedantic, intolerant control freak; Pat wanted to follow the developing relationship between Simon and Carol because he thought (rightly, as it turned out) that it was the only potentially functional relationship on offer, so I worried about how to turn the “monster” Simon into a sort of “romantic hero”. That said, nobody who has seen the film has said they didn’t accept the change, so it’s probably just my issues. A couple of people have even said that all Simon simply needed was the love of a good woman…

You worked with the up-and-coming director Pat Kelman on this – what was he like to work with? What was his style like, and how does this contrast with your own working style and preferences?

I love working with Pat. Actually, I love Pat – I’ve known him for years. Pat’s background is as an actor so, while he is obviously very conscious of the technical limits and demands of the medium, he’s also able to take those concerns away from the actors to allow them to do their best work. His style is very relaxed and easy-going; the Encounters unit was one of the happiest I’ve worked with and that atmosphere has to come from person at the top. Fortunately, I’m able to work quite autonomously and Pat recognises that and lets me do my thing, but if I have a question for him he’s always ready with an answer.

 Why Encounters? What was it that drew you to this film, and to the role in question?

A fun idea (relationships); a fun character (the organiser of a slightly shoddy speed-date) and Pat Kelman. What’s not to be drawn to…?

Your other feature film was called Tomb Raider 2, or something. What was your role like in that movie? Any stories to tell? Any gossip?

My role in "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life" (to give it its full and rather cumbersome title) ended up being rather small… What I read for was a very nice scene with the chief baddie where I played a high-class arms dealer from the Balkans called Mr. Krev. When I was offered it, I was delighted – I only had a few lines but it was my first Hollywood movie! On the first of three day’s shooting I arrived at the studio in a big limo and was met by a very respectful floor manager who showed me to my dressing room. When we got there she asked if I had my script with me; I proudly brandished my copy. "Ah, you’ve still got a green script; we’re on pink now", she said and gave me the latest draft.

I settled down to read my scene again; glad that I had a bit of time to learn the new lines they would doubtless have written for me. I read the scene once; I read it again; I blinked hard – maybe it was less easy to see things on the pink paper; I checked the scenes before and after mine to make sure that my few lines hadn’t slipped from their correct pages… Finally, I came to terms with the truth: my lines had been cut. My character was now non-speaking. I checked the new schedule the floor-manager had given me in an attempt to comfort myself that I would get lunch at some point. The final insult came when I glanced at the cast-list: "David Kershaw – Arms Dealer No. 5"… Not only had my character been rendered mute, he’d also had his identity stolen…

Was shooting done here in the UK, or did you get to jetset off to some exotic locations? Do tell…

When I saw the finished movie and the scene opens with the exterior shot of the Lear Jet and then cuts to the interior, which looks fabulous, I had to remind myself that the whole thing was shot on a sound-stage here in the UK…

Obviously these two movies are miles apart in terms of scale, budget, genre, pace, etc. Did you feel there was a significant difference in the way the two films were made? Did you have to make any changes to the way you work because of this?

It’s just a matter of scale – the work of the actor remains the same… The difference is that on Tomb Raider I had my own dressing room and people fussing round powdering me down and adjusting the knot on my tie, on Encounters I got changed in the loo….

What was it like working (albeit briefly) with Jan de Bont (Tomb Raider 2 director) and how did this compare to working with Pat Kelman?

Obviously, working with Jan de Bont was an experience. He’s a tremendously skilled Director of Photography (just look at the pictures he paints…) and, in fact, he shot a lot of my scene himself, handheld. His working style on set is very different to Pat’s.

I hear also that you’ve been recently making a splash in the world of theatre with a new show that opened just a few days ago – could you tell us more about that? Can we still get tickets?

Yes, tickets are still available for "The Representative" at the Finborough Theatre in West London, for details.

It’s a German play written in the early 60’s about the relationship between the Vatican and the Nazis during the Holocaust and particularly about the efforts of two men (a fictional Jesuit priest and the real-life SS officer Kurt Gerstein – the man charged with sourcing the Zyklon B for the gas
chambers) to get Pope Pius XII to denounce the slaughter and break the concordat with Hitler.

I play a character simply called The Doctor. The playwright deliberately never names him (he didn’t want to glorify him by putting him explicitly in a play) but he is Josef Mengele, the notorious "Angel of Death" at Auschwitz. The Costa Gavras film, "Amen" from a couple of years back is based on the play. It’s a tremendous production and beautifully designed and played in a very small theatre where the audience sit all around and very close so that you can’t help but feel caught up in these massive and tragic events.

You’ve done a lot of TV work in this country and have become a highly recognisable face in the process. Having worked on The Bill, Bergerac and a multitude of other shows… what’s it like to work for Television as opposed to stage or the big screen? Which do you prefer?

The split comes between theatre and TV / film in my mind. I really enjoy exercising the different muscles that the different media require. Because I was fortunate enough to gain a huge amount of screen experience early on in my career, I feel very comfortable in front of a camera while not all actors in the UK do because our performance culture here is still primarily stage-based. For my money, you can’t beat the interaction and complicity between an audience and the actors that you get in theatre. You also have more control over your work in theatre: you can change and develop it at each performance and there’s no chance of your scenes being cut!

 Many people say that working in TV can never bring the satisfaction of working in film or theatre – what would you say to that?

After more than 20 years in this business, I try and pick my work quite carefully and this is easier to do in theatre. I don’t subscribe to the view that there’s nothing good happening in the TV world – inevitably, with such a huge output there will be good and less good material side by side. There are TV programmes made that can bring an enormous amount of satisfaction with them.

What would you say is your favourite type of role? Are there any types of role or show that you’d still love to do but haven’t had the chance to yet? Any regrets so far in your long and illustrious career?

Favourite roles are the ones that stretch me. That may mean making a big leap to playing a genocidal maniac or making the even bigger leap to play someone not at all a control freak! The work I love doing, in any medium, is the stuff that entertains but also makes people want to talk about it afterwards.

No major regrets, to be honest. What I’ve learned is that as long as I feel I’ve been brave and honest and done my best in my work, then there’s nothing to regret.

Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to pass on to any budding young hopeful actors reading this?

If you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else – then go for it. However, it’s a long game so relax and stop giving yourself a hard time. Train: you need that technique, even though at this stage you think you don’t. Figure out what you can do and play to those strengths. Nobody can do everything. Smile, and stop taking yourself so seriously. Be nice to people and they’ll be nice back to you. And, as the mighty James Cagney said, "Hit your marks, look the other guy in the eye and tell the truth".

What’s next for David Kershaw?

Even when there’s nothing on the horizon – something always pops up and for me that looks like it’s going to be Charles Condomine in Noel Coward’s "Blithe Spirit". It’ll be a nice change from playing a murderous Nazi…

Before you go… what did you think of the finished Tomb Raider II film? Come on, be honest now…

I loved the first Tomb Raider movie and think it was a really hard act to follow.

Now you tell me what you really think, David…

Anything else you’d like to add?

No thanks. I’ve said more than enough!