April 17, 2016
The prolific former Doctor Who took to the stage of a small Berkshire theatre to raise funds for it, thrilling hundreds of fans with an overview of his stage, film and TV career.
Goodness knows what the ‘regular’ theatre patrons thought when approaching the box office to the theatre – up to two hundred Doctor Who fans decked with DVD covers, TARDISes and posters were standing in the car park waiting for Doctor number 9 to appear. They’d be forgiven for thinking that they had arrived at a mini sci-fi convention – and in many ways it was.
Christopher Eccleston is one of the few who had a great career prior to being the Time Lord, and still appears on prime-time BBC1 eleven years later. And while a large contingent of the audience were visibly fans of Doctor Who, this was never in danger of focusing attention on this one single year in his varied career.
The Watermill’s new artistic director Paul Hart welcomed Eccleston to the stage, revealing that the two of them had a shared interest in football and Ibsen, which was ignited when Chris appeared in A Doll’s House at the Donmar Warehouse in 2009. Today’s fund-raiser was in response to Chris’ promise that he’d help the theatre, which produces a dozen or more shows a year.
Sitting on the sparse set of two chairs and a table from current production One Million Tiny Plays About Britain, the two then spent the next forty minutes discussing Chris’ career, from drama school to the currently-showing drama The A Word. A good twenty minutes was also given to audience questions to round things off.
Cutting to the chase, no, nobody asked him why he left Doctor Who or passed on the 50th anniversary. The answers are (in part at least) known and thus the elephant remained in the auditorium. And Chris was in buoyant mood, far funnier than you might think, so no-one wanted to antagonise him or sour the event.
In total, only five minutes or so were spent talking about Doctor Who in the the interview. He had to audition for the role which he actively wanted to get. It was encouraging when he said that one of he reasons he wanted the role was to give it some credibility again after it unfairly became something of a joke in some people’s minds. He made it quite clear that this had been nothing to do with the the previous actors who had played the Doctor and all done an excellent job. “It’s a hard job. I know – I did it.”
He reflected on the seven hours plus he spent in the make-up chair for Thor 2: The Dark World and expressed regret about taking on the lead villain in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. He touched on Heroes before sharing that he’s shortly off to the States for filming series three of The Leftovers before a significant amount of filming is completed in Australia. He shared how his character is in just one page of the source novel and how he convinced show runner Damon Lindelof to expand it.
After The Leftovers, he hopes to return to the main stage – his true love – which he misses dearly. He explained that his professional career highlight has been taking to the Olivier Stage at the National Theatre in Antigone – having previously sold ice creams and programmes there after leaving drama school. Watching the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen treading the boards, he decided that if he too could lead a play on the same stage than he’d have made it. He did, and he has.
Stories and anecdotes followed around Let Him Have It, Jude the Obscure, his great respect for Jimmy McGovern (Cracker) and The A Word. He shared the difficulties of getting a role if you’re seen as a working-class actor and how it was easy for him to be pigeon-holed as a very serious man. And yes, he does have Doctor Who action figures of himself (and Claude from Heroes) which he mock confessed that he talks to for advice or conversation when he’s lonely.
At the end of the session we all came away with a better understanding of the man. He clearly sticks to his principles and is driven to find truth in what he does. He’s also a lot of fun, and contrary to what some corners of fandom might fear, very respectful of his fans. He spent a lot of time post-show signing autographs and posing for photos. This isn’t a man who has turned his back on Doctor Who fandom.
Verdict: He was… fantastic! 10/10