Interviews - Daniel Johns

Daniel Johns
Role: III Councillor

What's the best Shakespeare performance you've seen?

Peter Brook/Paul Schofield's "King Lear" and Glenda Jackson's "Lear." Schofield was the first time I'd ever seen Lear on stage and it was such an illuminating production, not only with Schofield, but people like Irene Worth and Diana Rigg. I cannot say which was better. Schofield had such a beauty of verse, but Jackson had this over-reacting frailty, and very unusual (but wonderful) readings of the texts.

Did you have any experience with "Timon of Athens" before this project?

Yes, I saw the National Theatre production with Simon Russell Beale and it was terrible. The verse went for nothing. I was bitterly disappointed.

You worked with the legendary Jacques Lecoq; how much does that training still influence your work? Can you give an example of any Lecoq goodness you're bringing to the Councillor?

I think all my acting is informed by Lecoq methodology. The movement of 'the Character' as an expression of character, which comes from the mask work we did and also as a mode of expressing emotion.

You spent a lot of your life teaching in Istanbul. Are there noticeable differences between how Shakespeare is acted in Turkey, compared to the UK?

Turkish performers play Shakespeare for the story and often cut any of the verse which does not advance the plot, which is a mistake in my opinion. For example in "Antony and Cleopatra" the whole of Enobarbus' speech is cut, but it sets the scene of Cleopatra coming down the Nile and the atmosphere of the play. It loses the richness of the narrative, when it's only plot driven. Possibly the verse doesn't translate into Turkish, which is why they cut it.

You've had a very prolific film career, working with such greats as Peter Cushing and Denholm Elliott; and most recently won Best Actor for your lead role in "The Bookkeeper". What challenges you about bringing such a theatrical medium of Shakespeare into the minutely controlled art of film?

The challenge is not really for the actor except for the normal requirement of film to make things smaller. It is really for the director to find the frame to play it in.

What do you take away from the story of “Timon of Athens”?

That a society based on greed and self-interest is doomed to failure.

How do you feel about your role? Do you like your character? Was it easy to relate to your character's motives and intentions?

An actor has always to find something in the character to like even if it is the most horrible. I find the Councillor easy to relate to, because he's probably the most liberal of the three councillors, and the wisest because of his age.

Do you feel your work as a teacher informs helps you on the poise and energy for the Councillor?

Acting and teaching are the same thing. When you stand in front of a class you are performing. If you are teaching the present/perfect, for example, and each new class you explain exactly the same thing to, each time you have to make it fresh. So it's exactly the same as performing a play in the theatre. You make the same jokes, and you have to make it seem like it just occurred to you each time. So, wonderful preparation for stage.

You've played a wide variety of Shakespeare roles in your career, from lords or lowly serfs. Do you enjoy playing the higher status characters (such as the Councillor) or is it more fun playing more salt of the earth roles?

The lower class comedy characters are the most fun to play, unless it is the porter in the Scottish play or the fool in "As You Like It". A lot of the jokes in Shakespeare don't work today because they are not relevant. So you have to find a way to make the audience laugh without using the dialogue because the play requires the audience, at that point, to laugh. Sir Angrew Aguecheek (from "Twelfth Night"). It's fun to play, because he's so silly. And it's slapstick, and I like slapstick.

Have you worked with CGI before?

Yes, twice. A couple of short films where they had a fantasy ending, so we shot the 'normal' stuff on location and then we did the final fantasy pieces on green screen. One was a short film, an adaptation of "The Matchstick Girl" (but it was a boy) and I played the dead grandfather of the homeless boy. And I had to be lifted up to heaven at the end, and that was done on green screen. Doing green screen requires more imagination, which is fun.

What do you expect from a Director?
Clear guidance and well formed vision.

Lastly, what will happen to your character AFTER? Do you feel there is hope for your character/for the world, by the end of the film?

Shakespeare always offers hope.