I had the pleasure of a quick chat and was on the receiving end of a very firm handshake with actor Adrian Rawlins, at a Comic Con, some time ago. He is well known for his portrayal of James Potter (Harry’s father) in the Harry Potter films. Adrian has had a long and successful career both on television and in theatre.
I began by asking Adrian what was the defining moment when he knew he wanted to be an actor: at which point he put his head on the table in despair at the blandness, at the monotony, of the question. Then we both burst into laughter and that set the tone for the rest of the interview…
AR: I sort of came to it quite late really. I did a Creative Arts degree of sorts (art was the only thing I was half decent at) so that was my main subject. I took drama as a second subject and in the second year there was a cocktail of characters who were very creative and we all sort of gravitated towards each other and just started bouncing off each other. I would call it a ‘spark’ that became a fire. I was very lucky, the passion grew very quickly. I did have quite a fierce work ethic: I knew what I wanted so I stuck at it and kept going. That was at college and it was just a fortunate cocktail of characters that I’m still mates with now; they are my closest mates really.
PC: What would you have become had you not been an actor, do you think?
AR: I don’t know. I always thought I might become a signwriter because my mate’s dad was a signwriter; it seemed like a practical but artistic thing to do – for a geezer that grew up in Stoke.
PC: Your dad ran a market stall, is that right?
AR: Yes he did. I used to help him put the stalls up, that was my first job really. When I was about 15 or 16 I used to get up at God knows what time – it would be about 5:30 every Saturday morning, putting the stalls up.
Me and my mate did have our own market stall for a couple of weeks, we were useless really, we never made any money. So yeah, that was my roots I suppose.
PC: You have done a lot of theatre work. Do you prefer being in front of a camera or in front of an audience?
AR: It changes really. I think being in front of the camera puts a bit more bread on the table, but it depends on the kind of role you have got screenwise. If you have got a great, big, fat lead role then you’re part of the daily family. But usually on a film set the family is the crew, whereas in the theatre the family is the cast. I find theatre is usually a richer experience.
I do a bit of directing in the theatre as well, which has a particular richness to it also because you’re sort of the pivot in place. I like both really: it’s a good balance to do both. I do far more screen than theatre but also theatre tends to squeeze your life out a bit more. Where in film, if you have a nice part, you can do 5 days then have two weeks off, then shoot for a couple of days, so it can be very civilised in that sense. Whereas theatre, you’re rehearsing, then you’re on. Theatre is sometimes like sitting down to a roast beef dinner after having a Big Mac, you know.
PC: Jumping straight to your role in the Harry Potter films: were you a fan of the books before you were cast?
AR : No I haven’t read the books. I got the interview and then I did a bit of very quick boning up to see what I was getting involved in.
PC: Was that the part you read for when you went for the audition?
AR: Yes, although I didn’t read for it, I just met Christopher Columbus and we had a chat. I happened to be, I think, in a pretty good mood that day but you know very fortuitous, and the gods were smiling on me that day.
PC: What was it like being part of something that is absolutely huge?
AR: It was quite surreal really because, you know, you’re just living your life, going to Tesco’s thinking, ‘Ahh…what are we going to have for tea?’ Then all of a sudden you hear, ‘There’s Harry Potter’s dad,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, sorry…I forgot.’
For that whole generation that grew up with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, it’s a massive, massive part of their lives and it is for me too, but in a different way, in a completely different way. For them it’s visceral and means so much, so it’s kind of very surreal being on this side. But I understand and absolutely respect that it’s meant so much to them and it has to me. I mean: I’m still here 16 years after that interview – it’s a boat that I happened to catch for one job and it’s still sailing.
Also I think it came at a time when the whole digital age was kicking in, and it brought a whole new generation back to books, so I think it has immense value in that respect.
PC: Taking in account all of the roles you have played which one do you consider to be one of your favourites?
AR: Oh blimey! One of my favourite jobs – and therefore role – is one I got really early on in my career, which was View From a Bridge at the National Theatre with Michael Gambon (who of course played Dumbledore in Harry Potter). I’d previously only done a little bit of theatre and it was a massive production and a hot ticket. It transferred to the West End and it gave me a leg up, so it has a very special place in my heart. But there are quite a few, I did a film called Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself which is a sort of comedy actually, from a Danish director called Lone Scherfig which I’m very proud of. But it’s one of those films where people go, ‘Oh look! It’s that film.’ Probably you wouldn’t know of it, but for me it was a wonderful experience.
PC: I suppose every role has something special about it, a memory or for some other reason.
AR: Yeah. I mean, I recently had a little part in War and Peace but it was such a gorgeous character and I had gorgeous scenes with Paul Dano – a wonderful actor. Some roles you say, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot about that,’ but there are some diamonds in the pocket. It’s been 30 years for me but I hope there are a few more to come as well.
PC: Oh yes, surely.
AR: I hope so. We will see.
PC: So final questions I ask everyone: What is your favourite word?
AR: Discombobulated: I came across it when I was in Bristol once. There was a guy on the street who was obviously homeless and he said, ‘Can you spare me some money? I’m all discombobulated.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, you are mate.’ It has a sweetness to it but I think there is a lot of discombobulating in the world at the moment.
PC: Describing your perfect day: you would wake up and…
AR: Wake up very, very slowly, and then move from the bed into an armchair with a cup of tea and probably do very little. I like doing very little, much to my missus’s annoyance
PC: She be like, ‘C’mon! Let’s get going!’
AR: Yeah, she’s always like, ‘We need to paint the hall.’
PC: But first we have to go to B&Q.
AR: How many places have you lived in that you have done up?
PC: Many. It’s what we do.
AR: I must have lived in about 15 places at least, maybe more. I don’t want to do another one up! When do you get to sit in your chair and have a cup of tea?
(At this point we are in stitches)
PC: I’ve made a cuppa. Come on. I want to just sit down and drink it!
AR: I will be in my deathbed and she will be saying, ‘The hall needs painting.’
PC: She will be saying, ‘Come on Adrian shake yourself man! She’s a terrible woman!
PC: My next question is: what can’t you live without? Some people say their wives but…
PC: Is there a song that you think everybody should hear or one that’s special to you or a particular artist?
AR: Prefab Sprout! You know when people ask, ‘Who would you invite to your dinner party?’ and some say Jesus or whoever…I’d have Paddy Macaloon. I would. I mean for me he is THE songwriter.
PC: He made something quite recently didn’t he?
AR: He released an album called Crimson Red about two years ago, mainly because his accountants were getting onto him. Apparently he has albums worth of material that’s he’s never released; he wrote them and they never got made and it’s quite an effort to go back and explore them for him. I would love him to put more out.
Thanks to Adrian for a very fun chat.