Interviews - David Sayers

David Sayers
Role: Apemantus

What is the best Shakespeare performance you've seen?

Oh, that's a good question. The best- I don't know, I can't think of 'the best' I've seen. I can think of the ones that made the impression on me. I remember when I was at school we had a trip to the Barbican and there was a production of "the Tempest". I don't know who directed it, I don't actually know who was Prospero. But I do remember Simon Russell Beale was Ariel. A very thin Simon Russell Beale actually, so a long time ago. And Greg Hicks as Caliban. And I remember the very beginning of the play, with Simon Russell Beale standing on a chair, or some sort of platform in the middle of the stage. And there was a light-bulb hanging down. And he just knocked the light-bulb to start creating the storm. So that made an impression on me. In terms of other Shakespeare, I suppose it's been more film. I admire the (Kenneth) Branagh films, especially "Hamlet" because most Shakespeare is cut and Branagh decided not to cut it, and it looks gorgeous. And I've always quite liked Mel Gibson's "Hamlet" (directed by Franco Zeffirelli), and the fact Zeffierelli cast him AFTER watching "Lethal Weapon" (1987) is even better.

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

Yes. I had seen a productions of "Timon of Athens" at the National theatre. Again Simon Russell Beale playing the part. It was a play I wasn't familiar with before I saw it, and I took away images from the play, and Simon Russell Beale is always brilliant; but I don't remember taking away a huge amount of anything else from the whole production. I remember going "that was a bit of a weird Shakespeare play" (laughs). So apart from that, no I hadn't seen it before. And really when I came to audition for Maximianno and I got the part, my knowledge (at the time) was simply based on that production at the National.

The role of ritual is key in this film, how do you feel your character is part of/or away from such ceremonies?

In as far as ritual is very important in this civilization, Apemantus cannot NOT be apart of it... but in contradictory he very much is. He uses it as basically something to belittle people and as a weapon. He will call on the gods the same way Timon does and other people do, but he's doing it in a very cynical and ironic way. He doesn't believe in the gods. I think there's probably a lot of characters in this film who don't believe in the gods, but they say they do! He's very honest about the fact he doesn't believe in any of that, at all. Which makes his relationship with Praxilla very interesting because she is very much part of that world. It's almost like she's an angel for Timon and Apemantus the devil; the devil in a sense, although he's part of this whole mythology, he's very happy to just throw doubt in there. Causing confusion in people.

Related to that, how do you feel about your role? Was it easy to relate to such an embittered, grumpy old fuddy duddy?

What are you saying Ellis?

The truth!

(laughs) Can I relate to the role of Apemantus? No. Very difficult to relate to him, because I find with any character, I want to bring a bit of emotion, emotional connection to other people. It's very difficult to just be bitter and just be sarcastic and twisted and not really show there was some sort of history to it, where he maybe was different in the past. And that's not really what Maximianno wants with Apemantus. He describes him as the Joker in "the Dark Knight" (2008); an agent of chaos. And I found that very difficult to relate to; because I can't understand those people. But I'm getting closer to finding it. That said if a bit of human emotion does creep through now and then, I apologies. That's simply just David invading the character.

Ah, following on from that: what expectations did you have about your character before we started, that has since changed?

I didn't think he was going to be as cynical, as bitter, as distant as Maximianno saw him. I thought (originally), even when it came to the final scene with Timon... I think they were meant to be almost two old people sitting together, two groups relating to each other because they are cynical. And Maximianno doesn't want that, he wants me to very much enjoying Timon's suffering. Enjoy the banter that's going on between us, yes, but in a devilish way, in a way that is- is unhealthy. And that I suppose is the difference. So it's that unhealthy aspect of the character that I didn't think would be there for the entire piece.

So besides the cynical aspect, what challenged you most about this role?

The biggest challenge is going to be when we get to Portugal. And i think that's going to be the case with everyone. It's interesting being in a rehearsal room with people who have mostly done Shakespeare on stage. They've still got film experience and screen experience, of course, but a lot of them seem to be forgetting the fact this is not Shakespeare on stage. And that's changed actually over the last year, through rehearsals. When we first started, that first read through everyone was giving 'a performance' and it became very clear this is still a film, and literally the camera is going to be that close to you. You can't see me do this, but when I say 'that close' it's literally five centimetres away from my face (laughs). So that's going to be the challenge for everyone. And I think it's so important that people need to really get past the verse, get past all the scary things they have with Shakespeare a lot of the time, to the point the lines are so embedded in there that actually what comes out is such a natural thing there that people forget they are watching Shakespeare.

One key pillar of "Timon of Athens" is the political world. Can you compare your character to a modern politician?

I can't... really- because when it comes to modern politics, they all blend into one. No-one stands out as being a particular person; you can't go: this is this person, this is that person. It's all a mess these days.

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

It's an interesting one because I find my character is a very separate from the story. He is an observer who just likes to comment... and bitch... about different characters and really is very happy, or unhappy, with his lot. But it doesn't really influence him at the centre which is quite interesting. I find in this day and age, in this political climate that you brought up, there's a lot of people who are very much an Apemantus, who are very happy to sort of dig and bitch and moan about things that are happening and say things should be better and we should do things differently, and everything like that, and be a little bit of a devil in someone's ear... but actually they are not prepared to contribute themselves. So that's my sort of character and that's, I think, very certainly in the UK at the moment, there's a lot of people on social media like that.

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?

Because he's so different from everyone else, it's not like Timon's death will have an impact on him, where he will be mourning the loss of Timon. The only thing he possibly will mourn will be that he's had someone, in more recent times, to actually spar against. But he will just keep on going. Wealth means nothing to him; and he has a certain power within Athens, because he doesn't care, there is an element he will just carry on. Now Alcibiades has taken charge and there is certainly no love loss between Alcibiades and Apemantus but even if he was put to death by Alcibiades he will go there with his head held high and sticking two fingers up at Alcibiades. He doesn't fear anything and if someone doesn't fear anything... they can get away with everything.