Based on the classic Paramount Pictures Corporation motion picture, James Dearden’s intoxicating new stage play of Fatal Attraction, brings the definitive movie thriller to Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre. I had the opportunity to have a chat with Oliver Farnworth – who plays the lead male role of Dan Gallagher – ahead of the show arriving in Birmingham this week.
Fatal Attraction is coming to the Alexandra Theatre. What can the Birmingham audience expect from Fatal Attraction?
I think the title ‘Fatal Attraction’ will be fairly familiar to a lot of the audience. The notion of the ‘bunny boiler’ was born from the iconic ‘80s film with Michael Douglas and Glenn Close playing the two protagonists. There will be a familiarity with the original story which is obviously very tense and twisted, a gripping psychological thriller. With any adaptation you wouldn’t necessarily want to go and see a film word for word put on stage, so there is very much a theatrical adaptation. James Dearden the writer has been on board and he’s updated the script – there’s a bit more of a twist in the ending. I’d say he’s brought it into more modern day as far as there are more questions around culpability and motives, blame and consequence, It’s very much a classic thriller but brought into an updated, modernised stage version using lots of theatrical licence, twists and tricks. But fans of the original won’t be disappointed – we’ve kept a lot of the original content. There’s a lot to enjoy.
You play the role of Dan Gallagher which was made famous by Michael Douglas, how do you prepare for a role like that? Did you take any inspiration from his characterisation or have you made it more of your own?
It’s an interesting one. I was aware of the film, growing up in the ‘80s I saw the film when I was younger. I didn’t choose to revisit the film – my approach whenever I am doing any kind of adaptation of anything iconic, just because I think it’s dangerous in that you can fall into the trap of trying to mimic or recreate something that has gone before you, and as actor my job is to put my own stamp on something and bring a fresh approach, a fresh pair of eyes, a fresh twist to a part. We pay reverence to what has come before us, but at the same time we have to put it into our own words and create our own characters. That’s not to say we’re doing an avant-garde adaptation or physical theatre dance piece – it’s sticking to what the audience is expecting to see – but from an acting point of view I always like to come up with something fresh and try and put my own twist on something to avoid trying to mimic what has gone before.
What would you say have been your biggest challenges when taking on a role like this?
I think it’s mainly personal challenges. Having come out of covid, as everyone has – in all senses people have been working hard on the front line – it’s been a tricky few years and for all of us in the entertainment industry it’s a privilege to have audiences come back and have full theatres again. That’s been really exciting but after two years away, the trepidation is feeling a little bit rusty, your own insecurities coming through, wondering if you’re going to sustain the intensity of the performances, and it is quite a full-on show to be in. I really don’t leave the stage for the whole show including costume changes – they all happen on stage – so there isn’t any let up to have a cup of tea. You have to remember not to drink too much water before you go on stage! I think the challenges have mainly been me being in my own head really, and it’s been about working through those doing the rehearsal process and trusting everyone around me who I’m working with. We’ve got a really great team, from all sides – the stage management, the acting side, the directing side – and when we go into buildings it’s really nice to have a positive response and the place is really buzzing. You take a lot from that and any kind of insecurities melts away quite quickly. It’s been really nice to face those and work through those.
Have you had to do any physical preparation for the role?
Not really, no. I’m not method in that “this role requires this, this role requires that…” It’s been quite nice doing a show like this because it’s so intense, you kind of get back in tune with your own body and voice. My main preparations are really intense vocal warm-ups. Accent wise we have a great dialect coach who was on board from very early on. We came at it with general American but there’s a slight New York twist, and she is brilliant because she really gets to the root of accents. She doesn’t go “oh, they say it like this,” she will say “there’s a reason why this is the influence from that particular part of New York from Irish immigrants 100 years ago, so that inflection will be like that because of that,” or “these people came across from the west coast during this time.” This is truly helpful because it helps you to place a voice… that’s been invaluable I think.
What does your general day look like when you’re on tour?
Normally it can vary from week to week. We’re doing a lot of extra rehearsals at the minute for a cast change, so there’s a lot of time in the theatre, a lot of time switching the kettle on. On a two day show I come in early and do a bit of admin. I do like to go and have a look around the cities that we’re in, particularly if I’ve not visited or haven’t been to for a while, so when the opportunities come up I will have a walk around, get my bearings, go for some food. Normally I’m quite low-key on tour. I always have a feeling in the back of my head and back of my heart that we’re performing in a few hours so I find it difficult to go “oh, we’re going to jog 20 miles today” or run up a mountain because I always have that understanding that we have to gear up and our day really starts at 7.00pm when most people are winding down. For me it’s difficult to get up at 9.00am and do a full day of things, so it’s about energy preservation as well as enjoying myself.
You’re an accomplished actor both on stage and screen (Oliver has had roles in numerous TV Shows including Hollyoaks, Coronation Street, Mr Selfridge and Endeavour). What’s the best best thing about being on stage as opposed to a TV set?
I think it’s the age-old actors answer, but it’s the immediacy of it. You can go onto a set and I absolutely love filming things, I love filming dramas – especially period dramas – I think they’re great. But you can get up very early, go in your trailer, you wait for a few hours, they’re ready for you on set, you get 20 takes on one line. With something like this you get one chance, or two chances if you’ve got a matinee every day to get those lines out. They might come out slightly differently and the person opposite you might deliver the lines slightly differently, the audience might react in a different way and you’ve just got to roll with it. No performance is ever the same and that’s the exciting thing – the immediacy of it.
You’re playing a role made famous by an iconic Hollywood actor. If you were to have a movie made about your life so far, who do you think would be best suited to play me?
First of all I think I’d want Shane Meadows (This is England) to direct me – if he’s listening. I think if Steve Carrell and Michael Fassbender had a love child, that would be a nice mixture of the two.
A friend of mine went to stage school and he made a comment once about being asked to pretend to be an egg frying in a pan during a workshop. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to do either during a rehearsal, at drama school or on stage itself?
Drama school we did some pretty out there things. I remember one day we had to take off our socks and use them as glove puppets but it was a really hot day in Bristol (note: Oliver trained at the Old Vic). Our dance studio was known as ‘The Goldfish Bowl’ because it was so hot, and the public used to walk past and see us all in leotards. So we decided to take this particular lesson out on the Clifton Downs, and it was a really nice day and people were having picnics, and all of a sudden twenty drama students in our dance wear trudged up there. I can’t remember why, but we had to take out socks off and make puppets out of them, which was horrendous because we had been dancing in them. We had to talk to them and make up narratives and there’s people walking past and standing around us wondering ‘what on earth is going on there?’ That was a particular highlight. I’m not knocking drama school, there has to be an element of weirdness I think. I’ve never needed that (the sock puppets) in my professional career, but…
[Cue a discussion about the America’s Got Talent performer, Tape Face]
What’s your favourite thing to watch in your down time?
I watch lots of what may be considered to be ‘terrible’ TV – loads of Food Network, Outback Opal Hunters, Aussie Gold Divers, mad axe tree fellers, things like that – but we’ve also been absolutely loving Succession, it’s blown me away! I was taken to see Cabaret recently as a treat, and I wouldn’t normally go and see something like that, but I thought it was absolutely brilliant!
(We had a discussion about how theatre seems to have changed since everything reopened and the sheer quality and energy of the performances).
I think everyone is hungry for the work. Everyone is so appreciative to have the audiences back, and to do what they do, and it’s exciting and a buzz.
In Birmingham we have a fantastic cohort of fantastic up and coming performers who are set to go on to drama school. What’s the best advice you have for young performers who want to be on stage and screen?
Something I didn’t heed to at the time was absolutely know your casting. Know who you are, know what your voice is, know your strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately people are going to want to employ you because of who you are at your core. If you know what that is, you know what your strengths as a performer are, then half the battle is already won because you won’t going into rooms pretending to be someone else from the off. Be comfortable in your own skin, be comfortable in your own voice, be comfortable with who you are. Speak the truth, find the truth in every script and listen, both on and off stage.
Oliver will be starring opposite Kim Marsh (Hear’Say, Coronation Street), and Susie Amy (Footballer’s Wives). Fatal Attraction will be on stage at The Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday 1st March – Saturday 5th March 2022. Purchase your tickets here!