Interviews - Tim Barton

Tim Burton
Role: II Councillor

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

Best Shakespeare performance I've seen... Emma Jay as Rosalind in "As You Like It". This was in 1999, and it was an open-air summer tour. I was in the cast, so I saw her in rehearsal, and was on stage with her some of the time. I've since seen it done by the RSC at Stratford-upon-Avon, and was involved with another production of it, but neither of those Rosalind’s were as good.

You're incredibly well travelled, you've been to some of the most exotic places in the world, from riding the railways in India, to the beaches of Australia, travelling north of the Arctic Circle and backpacking across Peru. How does your experiences of so many different cultures and locations influence understand the psyche of the characters you play?

I travelled a lot in my early 20s, which gave me a lot of confidence and self-reliance. Other things have helped me understand different characters as well though - I've done a wide range of jobs, and have a university degree. I'm also quite widely read (if I do say so myself, ha). It's very difficult to separate the effect of my travelling from my other life experiences.

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

There are two sorts of ritual in the film: There's an official one, when the Council first enter, to begin the hearing of the case of Alcibiades's friend. I'm certainly part of that - it's part of my job. There's a less official ritual which happens regularly at Timon's house - feasting and drinking. I'm not part of that. My character is pretty upright and sober.

You're not just a theatre actor, but you have a lot of experience in musical theatre. How does that skill in music help with the lyrical skill required when delivering Shakespeare?

For the record: I trained as an all-round actor, rather than just for musical theatre. I'm from a musical family. Both my parents played the piano, and I play the guitar. I'd say my acting training, and my father's love of poetry (he was an English teacher) are more significant influences than (my experiences in) musical theatre.

You are also no stranger to film work, having worked with such titans as Brian Blessed; what challenges do you find going from theatre to film?

Everyone knows that film work requires actors to be more precise in their movements. 'Less is more' is a phrase you often hear in connection with film acting (it may be a cliché, but it's absolutely true). Theatre actors are expected to be a bit more expressive physically (‘relaxed’ is probably a better word). We've all heard the phrase “everything was wooden except the scenery” in connection with poor theatre performances.

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

My character perhaps enjoys his high status too much, but he's in a responsible position. He helps to run the city/state of Athens. I relate to his respect for the law. He's not as extreme as the First Councillor, who banishes Alcibiades for dissent. I've never been keen on people who ask for preferential treatment, and then refer to the people they've dealt with as 'jobsworths', because they wouldn't bend the rules for them.

Is it fair to say, in Shakespeare (and stage), you often play more 'nefarious' characters. Do you think the Council of Elders are antagonists, a necessary evil or just in their behaviour??

I don't think it’s fair to say that I often play more nefarious characters. I've played a wide range of parts, and I really enjoy playing comedy. I have played a couple of pantomime villains, and in one or two short films I've played quite threatening characters.

How has the process been for you, thus far?

I'm glad that last year I was asked to grow my hair and beard longer, in anticipation of the filming. It's a useful look. I had new headshots done and within a few weeks got a new agent. I played Father Christmas last year with my real beard, not a false one, and I think some other acting work has come my way because of it. I wouldn't have thought of growing my beard this long without "Misanthropos".

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

The phrases 'A friend in need is a friend indeed' and 'You can't buy friendship' spring to mind. Timon seems to feel the need to be more generous than anybody else. I think he's lonely, and needs company all the time, even if he's paying for everything.

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?

My character has got on the wrong side of Alcibiades, who is now taking over Athens. At the least he's going to have to eat some humble pie, and it could be worse for him. His life is going to change: he will lose his status, possibly more than that. Alcibiades isn't keen on the Councillors.